Pressed

Mark 14:32-42 (May 7, 2012)

We were in Cyprus, May 2-8, for meetings with MCC staff from Europe and the Middle East. It was a good change of pace from our ordinary routines, and the waters of the Mediterranean Sea provided a beautiful background for our gathering.

One day we traveled to Ayia Napa and visited an ancient church site that had served alternatively as a monastery and nunnery for several centuries. We took time for silence, prayers and singing hymns in an ancient church.

View from inside the Ayia Napa monastery chapel

Daryl shared the following reflection during a communion service at the conclusion of the Europe-Middle East retreat.

Immediately after sharing the Last Supper with his disciples, Jesus went to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray.

The word Gethsemane means “oil press” — likely since the Garden is situated in a large olive grove at the base of the Mt. of Olives.

The image of a heavy oil press is also symbolically relevant as Gethsemane represented the peak of pressure building on Jesus as he faced what he knew to be imminent death. Gethsemane was his last chance to turn away; his last chance to try to escape from what God had called him to do.

Monastery

Mark writes that Jesus was “distressed, agitated and deeply grieved” and that Jesus “threw himself to the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him.” (Mark 14:32-36)

Luke adds: “In his anguish Jesus prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground.” (Luke 22:44)

To make matters worse, his closest friends could not stay awake and stand vigil with him in his time of distress.

In Gethsemane, Jesus was squeezed like olives pressed for oil. He pleaded with God. He struggled. In the end, he surrendered and entrusted himself to God’s providential care.

In our work with MCC, many of us accompany folks who live under enormous stress and pressure as they are squeezed into tighter and tighter economic, political and physical spaces.

We have had opportunity to speak with some of the Syrian refugees arriving in Jordan. They no longer have jobs; their living situation in Jordan is uncertain; they have no idea when they will be able to return to Syria; they worry about relatives left behind in Syria. In short, the number of things over which they exercise control diminishes day by day.

Many Palestinians also know the reality of being pressed as their lives are literally squeezed into smaller and smaller cantons in the West Bank and Gaza.

500-year-old sycamore tree on the monastery grounds

Many of us know the reality of being pressed as well. In addition to the ordinary stresses of life:

  • We face fears associated with the Arab Spring. What will be the outcome? How much more violence will there be? Will MCC be able to continue working in all the countries where we currently have programs?
  • The threat of war is a sobering reality in several of the countries where we work.
  • We have uncertainties about the structural changes in MCC. What will this mean for our work on the ground? Will we receive the support we need to do our work?

Sometimes, like Jesus, we feel distressed, agitated and deeply grieved. Perhaps we wonder whether God cares or why God doesn’t intervene. It is natural to feel this way. Mother Teresa, who was surrounded by grinding poverty struggled with enormous doubts about whether God cared and whether God loved her.

Entering the monastery

As we receive the bread and cup, let us:

  • Do so with gratitude for the model of Jesus who showed us what it looks like to trust God under the greatest stress imaginable – the threat to death itself.
  • Accept the stressful realities in our own lives as the press in which God is seeking to mold us to greater obedience and trust; knowing that Jesus suffers alongside us.
  • Remember that it is only as olives are pressed that they produce the oil that provides light and sustenance and healing for the world.
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