HYMN 354 The Hour in Dark Gethsemane
Malagasy: Lay ora tao Getsemane
Norwegian: Den stunden i Getsemane
Luke 22: 39-46
Text: Edward Payson Hammond (1831-1910) Tune: Asa Hull (1828-1907)
1. The hour in dark Gethsemane I never shall forget, When Christ alone the battle fought, In grief and bloody sweat. R/Gethsemane, Gethsemane, I must remember thee, Where God’s eternal son I saw In prayer on bended knee.
2. When I among thy solemn trees, In spirit gazed around; I saw the burden of my sin On him with judgment bound. R/
3. I saw him tempted to despair, By anguish, grief, bent low; The depth of pain he suffered there No man can fully know. R/
4. If ever, Lord, my love to thee Should cold and fruitless be, O show me in Gethsemane Thy suffering there for me. R/
Tr. T. O. Burntvedt
When I was growing up, in the living room in our home, over the upright piano, was a picture of Jesus praying on the Mount of Olives by Josef Untersberger. A popular picture of Jesus, it shows him above Jerusalem as he prays to his Father that this cup be removed from him. It was always there, but I am not sure I ever really looked at it, other than to see Jesus praying. The picture was in blue and green, I recall, and it is the colors I remember especially. Maybe because they fit the scene so well—a dark luminous night with threatening horrors, heaven shining over the scene to the left.
Gethsemane means oil press. When Jesus goes to the garden with his friends, he is going to a place where he has been many times with his disciples. It is a place of refuge for him. On this night, however, it will be like the place where the battle began in Eden, another garden. Here, in a place where he had enjoyed his friendship with his disciples, one will betray him, and the others flee. Jesus will be pressed like the olives in the olive press. But he will win. The Passion by Mel Gibson gets this right—we see Jesus foot crush the head of the serpent. Eden’s promise coming true.
It is in Gethsemane where we see everything Jesus has been predicting begin. His disciples, his closest friends, fall asleep as his agony deepens. As they did at the Transfiguration, so do they now—fall asleep. Almost as if they cannot take the revelation of his divinity nor can they take the absolute depths of his struggle with evil. They cannot watch even one hour, as Jesus notes when he upbraids them.
Is it the devil that puts them to sleep? Or is it a gracious thing to keep them from fully comprehending the horrors, the cosmic battle going on before them in the prayers of Jesus? Hallgrímur Pétursson, the great Icelandic poet of the passion, suggests it is almost a gracious thing for them to slumber during the depths of Jesus’ Agony. “He spared them, let them have their rest…” and then when Judas arrives with the troops, it is time to awaken. However, on another level, he sees that this sleep is a sleep in sin and wantonness. From this Jesus also awakens us. Instead of Judas being the great betrayer, it is now death that betrays us. Jesus will also triumph over that.
While the cross is where his agony ends, the spiritual agony in the garden is where we hear him speaking about it and feel it most keenly. After the soldiers arrest him, he says very little. In the garden, we see his humanity in its deepest and fullest as he does battle.
And in this moment, as Jesus is pressed by the weight of the world’s sins, and weeps, his sweat, bloody and hot, now blesses the soiled ground after Adam and Eve’s sin and Abel’s blood which cried out from the ground. In Jesus’ bloody sweat even the earth is redeemed.
The picture above our piano, which I have not remembered well, but now I see, is not just Jesus all alone on the Mount of Olives praying, he is looking down, Jerusalem beneath him. One can hear echoes of his lament over the Daughters of Jerusalem and we can imagine that it is not his own death he is praying about—as he prays for the cup to be removed. The painter makes us see the world beneath him. It must be on his mind as he adds, "Nevertheless, Father, if it be thy will." The painter helps me think so.
HYMN INFO This is an interesting hymn story. The original hymn by Hammond was in English. Like many others of his contemporaries working in church music, he made his way to Dwight L. Moody and his group of influential musicians. Born in Connecticut, he had been converted when he heard the Watts‘ hymn, "Alas! and Did my Savior Bleed." He went to Scotland where he studied and began preaching in places where there was little evidence of Christian activity. Successful at that he returned to America and continued writing hymns and thinking about preaching to children. In 1866 he and his wife traveled to the Mid East, visiting sites in Egypt and the Holy Land. It is thought he wrote this hymn while in or just after his visit to Gethsemane.
Asa Hull, a prolific American composer who owned a publishing house in New York, set the text to music. The hymn became known around the world. It had been translated into Norwegian by Bishop Bernt Støylen in 1906, and it became a beloved hymn. Støylen, a popular bishop, knew many of the Norwegian American church leaders. Thorvald Olsen Burntvedt, a native of Kragerø, later President of The Lutheran Free Church, and an editor of the Concordia Hymnal translated it into English without knowing about the original. While the hymn has not been popular in English of late, its story shows us much about the worldwide reach of evangelical hymn writers in the 19th century. It has been beloved in Norway and among those with close connections to the Norwegian, Swedish, Norwegian American community, and the Malagsy Lutheran Church.
The Hour in Dark Gethsemane Artur Erikson https://youtu.be/Qn1KQbxSCFc
Laestadian congregation singing it https://youtu.be/QR13XhIS1SU
Lay ora tao Getsemane/Malagasy version
A Swede Finn version of it/with a somewhat different tune https://youtu.be/SPels0V5QOs
Next month, April 6, my book of sonnets, Jesus The Harmony, will be released by Augsburg Fortress. One can pre-order it on Amazon now.