In 1838, Friedrich Froebel instituted a
learning place for very young children that came
to be known as “kindergarten.” “Kindergarten” is
a German noun that combines two words,
“kinder,” meaning children, and “garten”
meaning garden. In effect, Froebel established a
garden for children. He understood that plants
grow healthy and strong (in other words, they
mature appropriately) under the careful nurture
and guidance of expert gardeners. This led him
to create the first kindergartens—environments
where experts can nurture and care for young
children, helping these children to learn, grow,
and mature. In the US, in fact, we long ago
coopted the untranslated German word to
describe the schools we have for very young
children. These kindergartens, like all gardens,
are places of life, growth, and hope.
Two of our neighbors are expert
gardeners. I have mentioned before that our
house backs up to an easement. These two
neighbors live on the same side of the street as
we do, so they have ample room behind their
homes to plant and grow. I often walk the dog
down the easement, and I always enjoy
watching the progress of their work. It is
amazing to see how much they are able to
accomplish. One neighbor started about four
years ago and primarily grows smaller plants for
spices (although she has branched out lately
into some vegetables, as well as added a
greenhouse and a storage shed). Her garden
grows every year. The other neighbor has been
gardening for decades, and his operation also
grows every year.
Just a sampling of what he planted this year: 47 tomato plants, a few
dozen squash plants, various peppers, and an assortment of berries. In the past,
he has also planted corn. These gardens, like all gardens, are places of life,
growth, and hope.
In John 18, Jesus and his disciples cross over the brook Kidron and enter
a garden. Neither John nor Luke names the garden—it is left to Matthew and
Mark to record it as Gethsemane. The three synoptic gospels detail the prayers
that Jesus offered to God in the garden. John does not. In fact, John says very
little about the garden itself except to say that it was across the Kidron brook, and
that Judas was familiar with it—as were all the disciples—because Jesus often
took them there.
John does not record at all the prayer or the related interaction between
Jesus and the disciples. This is particularly interesting because out of the four
gospel writers, John is the only one besides Matthew who witnessed the event.
Maybe John leaves out the garden prayer because he has just recorded the
lengthy “high priestly” prayer in the previous chapter. Or maybe he does not
record it because the other gospel writers already have (and John most likely
wrote his gospel well after the other three gospels were circulated). Maybe he
avoids it because the memory of his own failures is too painful. Nobody knows.
Regardless, John tells this portion of the story with an economy of words.
Truthfully, his account in vv. 1-11 carries with it an air of detachment. Like a
historian would do (which John is not), he simply gives the details. It is an
antiseptic telling of the betrayal and arrest, but it nevertheless is filled with great
drama and tension. This garden, unlike other gardens, was a place of trial and
Before this darkest moment in the life of Jesus, virtually everyone had
questioned him and his purpose. Now, in the garden, the disciples appear to do
the same. By their actions and by their obvious disbelief (disbelief manifested by
those actions), they, too, “question” Jesus.