The First Prayer

And when He had gone forward a little, and was withdrawn away from them a stone's cast, kneeling down, He fell flat on the ground upon His face; and prayed, saying: "Father, if Thou wilt, remove this chalice from Me, nevertheless not My will but Thine be done. O My Father, if it is possible, let this chalice pass from Me. Nevertheless not as I will but as Thou wilt. Abba, Father, all things are possible to Thee. Take away this chalice from Me. But not what I will, but what Thou wilt." Matthew 26:36-39; Mark 14:32-36; Luke 22:40-42

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1. Here the first phase of the Passion begins. Before any man has yet touched Him, before any wound has been inflicted on Him, we find Our Lord more broken by suffering than we shall again see Him during the whole course of the Passion. Here He appears as a broken man; we shall not see that again; on the contrary, as we shall have reason again and again to recall, His very independence and unbrokenness is perhaps the chief feature of the rest of the story. But here He is bowed down: He falls, first to His knees, then flat on His face upon the ground. Such scenes, of men broken by whatever sorrow, are always terrible; this surpasses them all. Let it be remembered that in this, and throughout the whole Passion, there is no pretending. Our Lord suffered that which brought His humanity to such a pass. We wonder what it could have been; Saint Paul gives the key: "Christ loved me, and gave Himself for me."

2. But can we go no deeper? Can we with any certainty analyze the ingredients of the chalice which He so abhorred? It could not have been merely a fear of the coming Passion; it is impossible to believe that Our Lord would pray so vehemently against that which, on other occasions, He had even said He desired. But if we have ever felt remorse at some shameful thing we have done, if we have ever shared the shame of another by receiving some of the blame or the stain of his misdeeds a relation, a friend, a disciple, with whom we have been connected, or for whom we have been responsible then we may understand a little, a very little, of the shame of Him who had made Himself man, who had shared all with man, who in consequence took upon Himself the burthen of man's evil, who felt it equally with man nay, more than man, since He alone could comprehend the meaning of sin, who, as it were, that night felt Himself guilty, not of one sin, nor of one man's sins, but of all the sins of all the world. The sense of guilt has driven men to madness, to suicide; it is the ingredient of Hell, in this world and in the next. Then, what must that agony have been of Him who for man was, as Saint Paul tells us, "made sin"!

3. This, then, was the agony He would have removed "if it were possible." He appeals with a kind of protest. "Father! O My Father! Abba, Father!" He cries out, as if the claim of Sonship should be enough. Had it not been enough for the Prodigal Son in the parable, and was He not, even if He had taken upon Himself all the sins of all men, still the very Son of His Father? But there was something else to be considered. The Father loved His Son dearly; but He also loved mankind. The Son loved the Father dearly; but He, too, dearly loved mankind. And on this account that the chalice should be removed was not possible; for then love would never have been satisfied.


1. Our Lord is here more bent beneath His burthen than in any other scene of the Passion.

2. The content of that burthen was mainly all the sins of all mankind.

3. The prayer was genuine; but love made it that it could not be heard.

- from The Crown of Sorrow, by Archbishop Alban Goodier