A while back, I published a meditation on the Joyful Mysteries of the rosary. In revisiting that piece recently, having just prayed the Sorrowful Mysteries, I was struck by the parallels of many of the mysteries. The approach of God to ask for something important, the “fiat” of both Jesus and Mary, the journeys they both undertake immediately afterward, and the birth of Christ into life – Earthly, and later, Heavenly.
However, today I want to focus specifically on the Agony in the Garden and the Annunciation. It seems fitting to me that the Agony would be the first of the Sorrowful Mysteries not solely because it marks the beginning of Our Lord’s passion. The Agony in the Garden perfectly mirrors, or parallels, the Annunciation in the joyful mysteries.
In the Agony, Christ is faced with God asking to use Christ’s body to accomplish His salvific work. Christ must decide to say yes or no, just as Mary was asked by God to use her body and had to say yes or no. Just as Mary, conceived without sin, would of course say yes, so too we know that Christ will of course submit Himself to the will of the Father.
Yet this almost makes the experience worse. In meditating on Agony, we are the audience observing a Greek Drama. We see the end, we are helpless to stop it, and we know it must happen. (We are blessed in a way that Greek Dramas aren’t in that we know that the end is really the most wonderful end there could be, but the process of getting there is pretty hard to take in. Go re-watch The Passion if you need a reminder!). By meditating on the Agony, we begin to see those places where the Lord is asking something painful and necessary of us. In reflecting on Christ’s words: “let this cup pass from me” we all feel vindicated in not wanting to assent to the Lord’s will. In the next breath, however, we learn to assent to God as Christ said “yet not my will, but yours.”
Now, the Annunciation was a joyful and heartfelt yes that resulted in a physical experience of God in our lives. Christ was made incarnate in Mary’s womb. When we say “yes” to God the first time it is often a very physical experience. We feel joyful and excited to get to know God!
However, in the “yes” of the Agony, we experience a loss of God. While the Lord is still with us, He removes Himself so drastically that all we experience is the strength to continue, something we are often unaware of. Christ suffered the extreme separation of Himself from His Heavenly Father, which we see in His cry on the cross – “My God, why have you forsaken me?” – yet we know that the Lord provided Him the physical strength to continue through the Passion.
Indeed, the Lord was so close to Christ throughout the Passion, providing heavenly strength to continue, that Christ could not see Him! So the same may be true of us. When we accept the Lord’s plan and feel abandoned in the process, we are closer to Him than ever before. Even when we feel the most abandoned, or the most confused (“I said yes and now everything is terrible”), we can know that it is not the feelings of closeness that bring us close to God, but the faith that He will not abandon us even in times when we are alone with our cross.
We also see in the Agony in the Garden the maturation of the spiritual life. The Joyful mysteries take place before the Sorrowful mysteries.
Annunciation before Agony.
Joy before pain.
So too, the annunciation of our own lives often occurs before an agony experience. When we first encounter the Lord, it is a joyful and exciting occurrence, if a little scary. Only when our spiritual life has matured and we are intimate with the Lord, does He ask for “everything” in our own Agony in the Garden.
Yet, the two are not separate experiences. Every Annunciation comes with an Agony. The Agony in the Garden is simply the other side of the “Annunciation coin.” Just as God eternally presents Himself to us in an on-going annunciation, continually asking to be made present in our lives, so too He is eternally asking us to sacrifice everything for love of Him and His people.
Mary knew what she was getting into when she said “yes” in her garden. She knew her child was coming to save His people, and that meant a pretty painful end. Yet there was joy in embracing the Lord’s plan, a joy so great that there is a whole set of mysteries devoted solely to that virtue. So too, when the Agony in the Garden is presented to us, and we meditate on our own “Agony experience,” we can trust that the other side of that painful, lonely, agonizing, torturous decision is the hidden joy of the Annunciation and the promise of God made manifest in our lives.