And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down upon the ground. (Luke 22:44)
And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)
I have always been a high introvert. Even though I love being with my family, I often spend long periods alone, often in the outdoors. I find great comfort in my isolation. Being apart from others helps me recharge and allows me to venture deep within my soul where I walk a solitary journey to discover the person I am and the person I am becoming day by day.
Because of the recent world crisis, I found that my usual Lenten routines of fasting and abstinence, devotional reading and prayer, was turned upside down. I was eating more and studying less. But one thing I noticed was that my times in the wilderness were becoming increasingly important periods of personal reflection. The more I withdrew from the world, the greater a connection I had to the separation and sorrow that Christ experienced. This led to a deeper appreciation for the joy that is ours when we live with the resurrection in mind.
The Solitary Places
Jesus often spent time in “lonely places” (Mark 1:35), where he prayed. Some translations use “solitary” or “desolate.” The idea is that our Lord was far from the distractions of daily living, where he could sit with the sorrows of the day and take joy in the comfort of communion with the Father, seeking the Father’s perfect will. There, in the wilderness, he could enter into that place where the chaos of life met the eternal peace of redemption working itself out through his ministry of love.
On my hikes through the woods, where I often push my body beyond what it can take, I find myself laying bear all my troubled thoughts and terrible transgressions, my worries, and my woes, before heaven’s throne and the Father’s listening ear. There in my desolate place, I experience both profound loneliness and a greater nearness to the heart of God. In that tender exchange, I discover the transformative beauty of surrender. Christ takes my fears and offers forgiveness. He nails my transgressions to the cross as the blood and water of his sacrifice flow into my life.
The Two Gardens
The Gospels present a picture of redemption in the perfect submission of Christ, who bore our sorrows to the fullest. The first Adam rebelled against the Father in a garden, choosing the kingdom of self over the Kingdom of God. The second Adam surrendered his life to the Father in another garden, choosing to sacrifice himself for the sins of humanity. We may never fully comprehend the separation and the utter rejection that Jesus experienced as the cup of God’s wrath was poured out upon him.
In those lonely places where I come face to face with who I am, my selfishness is met by the selflessness of Christ. It is only when I step off the throne of the kingdom of self and allow my godly sorrow to lead me to where I become keenly aware of my need for God, that I can be filled with his presence and his peace. The mystery of the Man of Sorrows who sweat blood in agony for the sins he was taking upon himself begins to overwhelm me and leads me to where I cry out for mercy. In his utter isolation and unfathomable sorrow, the beauty joy of salvation reveals itself to my own lonely heart.
The Agony of Abandonment and the Cry of the Suffering Savior
On Good Friday, as Jesus hung upon the cross, he cried out “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). He was quoting the opening verse from Psalm 22, and, in doing so, showed his fulfillment of the entire psalm. No one could ever fully know what it was like for our Lord, in His humanity, to bear the full weight of our transgressions and the sense of abandonment he faced in his suffering for our sin.
However, it is important to remember that Jesus never despaired on the cross, nor did the Father abandon his Son. Jesus was experiencing to the fullest, the suffering of the righteous servant of God. He was facing the humiliation of the cross and the rejection of men. His was the agony of being poured out as a sinless sacrifice before the mocking laughter of his enemies. And yet, as Christ recited the words of the Psalm, he was declaring his complete trust in the One who would vindicate him in the end.
Embracing the Sorrow, Not the Despair
This uncertain and critical time in our history has caused me to look upon the suffering and sorrow of Christ with new eyes. It has led me to reconsider my Lenten spiritual disciplines and the purpose they have for my life. I realize that far too often I have used fasting and abstinence either as a way to check off all the right spiritual boxes or a weapon to beat myself into a state of spiritual inaction. Both places may seem safe, but they are certainly disconnected from the true purposes of Lent.
In those lonely places where I contemplate the prayers of the Man of Sorrows, I have opened my broken heart more fully to the transformative power of the resurrection, I find I need not fear my times of isolation and sadness but should embrace them with joy and present them as a fragrant offering before the One who faced ultimate sorrow, rejection, and the cross for me. In my sweet communion with my Savior, I see that I too will be vindicated because of the sacrifice he endured on my behalf.
A Message for the Lonely
This Easter may be an especially lonely time for you. It may seem like the world around you is falling apart. Your sorrow and your fear may be too much for you to bear. Your sins may be many and great. Lent may have come and gone and you may have failed in all your spiritual disciplines. You may be experiencing your own agony in the Garden like our Lord. But do not despair, for there is hope.
Our Lord knows your sorrow and your pain because he faced the darkest night of the soul, the cruelest cross, and the greatest evil of every hellish sin mankind could commit. But in his sorrow, he put his trust in his heavenly Father, endured the cross, and rose from the grave on Easter morn. He did that for you!
As you celebrate the Easter season this year, know that the joy, the freedom, and the peace of the resurrection are yours. Know that all your sorrows, your loneliness, and your sins are taken away by the Savior’s death and resurrection. Take courage and let his love transform your sorrows into perfect joy! Have a blessed Easter!