There is an old hymn from 1912—more than a hundred years old—entitled “In the Garden.” It was written by C. Austin Miles, an American songwriter. It became popular thanks to its use by the evangelist Billy Sunday. Later, it was performed by such well-known artists at Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Perry Como, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, and Willie Nelson.
The lyrics are probably familiar:
I come to the garden alone,
While the dew is still on the roses;
And the voice I hear, falling on my ear,
The Son of God discloses.
And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own,
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.
He speaks, and the sound of His voice
Is so sweet the birds hush their singing;
And the melody that He gave to me
Within my heart is ringing.
I’d stay in the garden with Him
Tho’ the night around me be falling;
But He bids me go; thro’ the voice of woe,
His voice to me is calling.
In John 18 Jesus walks with his disciples to the nearby Garden of Gethsemane. It still exists today as a garden, dominated by olive trees old enough to have been there on that night when Jesus was arrested. Jesus and his disciples had frequently been to that garden on the Mt. of Olives and together had spent a lot of time there praying. On this final gloomy night, although his disciples were physically present with Jesus, for all practical purposes he spent his last hours alone: they just kept falling asleep. It had been a busy week, after all, and it was very late at night. Several of his disciples were fishermen, who were more accustomed to arising early in the morning than staying up late. Night owls, they weren’t.
Jesus’ experience on his final evening reminds us that in our darkest moments we will be just as alone as Jesus was. That is, his closest friends were there, but only barely. It mirrors my own experience more than twenty years ago when our foster son died; people did their best, but there’s only so much that anyone can do for you when everything crashes down around you. Several people informed me explicitly that they simply couldn’t be there for me. Those that didn’t abandon me were about as helpful as Jesus’ disciples were to him on that final night. Not because they didn’t care, but because they can’t crawl into your head with you.
But, Jesus’ experience reminds us, too, that we really aren’t alone. Jesus spent that night in deep conversation with his Father, which echoes the words of the best-known psalm:
Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me. (Psalm 23:4)
God never leaves us or abandons us, even through the worst moments of our lives. And no one can be closer or care more desperately than him.