Christ in Gethsemane,
Painted by Heinrich Hofmann (1824-1911),
Painted in 1886,
Oil on canvas
© Riverside Church, New York, NY
Feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Eternal High Priest
Jesus came with them to a small estate called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, ‘Stay here while I go over there to pray.’ He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee with him. And sadness came over him, and great distress. Then he said to them, ‘My soul is sorrowful to the point of death. Wait here and keep awake with me.’
And going on a little further he fell on his face and prayed: ‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass me by. Nevertheless, let it be as you, not I, would have it.’
He came back to the disciples and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter: ‘So you had not the strength to keep awake with me one hour? You should be awake, and praying not to be put to the test. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.’
Again, a second time, he went away and prayed: ‘My Father, if this cup cannot pass by without my drinking it, your will be done!’
Reflection on the painting
Today we celebrate the Feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ the Eternal High Priest. There are over 400,000 ordained priests in the worldwide Catholic Church But of course by our Baptism we have all been made priests. The whole Church participates in the mission of Christ the Priest. Through the sacraments of Christian initiation we are all called to participate in Christ’s priesthood and are rendered capable of sanctifying the world through secular affairs.
Through his own sacrifice, Jesus showed us what priesthood takes: full obedience and sacrifice. That is highlighted in today's Gospel reading. Immediately after the Last Supper, Jesus went away with John, James and Peter to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane. This was Christ's darkest hour. From the words he spoke to his Father, we can feel that his prayer was very intense. Jesus was in a moment of agony and anxiety. Jesus is completely honest towards his Father and shares exactly how he feels, whilst being completely accepting of his Father's will.
Our painting by Heinrich Hoffman shows Jesus praying to his Father (a gentle light is coming down from the sky), whilst the disciples are asleep in the background. The thorny bush in the bottom left corner foretells the Passion which is about to commence. The expression on Christ's face and his outstretched arms show his resolve and acceptance that his hour has come. Hoffman is a German late 19th century painter known for his religious scenes; he was one of the pre-eminent painters of his time. The Sunday Strand, at that time a very popular British magazine, describes him as the most influential contemporary German painter.
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