Agony in the Garden by El Greco
Agony in the Garden by El Greco

If you met me, you would never guess that I am a very emotional person. I have a good poker face, but I’m moved fairly easily. I’ve not been a big cryer since I’ve been adult, and I’m certainly not one to cry a lot in corporate worship. That being said, there are two times when I can specifically remember bawling my eyes out during a church service.

One Advent season at our old church in Nashville, I was playing the piano as Jessica was singing, “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” Then, for whatever reason a particular verse hit me like ton of bricks. The second verse goes like this:

For Christ is born of Mary, and gathered all above,
While mortals sleep, the angels keep their watch of wondering love.
O morning stars together, proclaim the holy birth,
And praises sing to God the King, and peace to men on earth!

As Jessica sang this verse, I was captivated by this poignant picture. I thought of the LORD’s words to Job when he says:

[4] “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. [5] Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? [6] On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, [7] when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy? (Job 38:4-7 ESV)

I always think of Haydn’s masterpiece, “The Creation,” which says of the angels:

“Und die Engel rührten ihr’ unsterblichen Harfen (And the angels struck their immortal harps). In holder Anmut stehn (In fairest raiment). Der Herr ist groß in seiner Macht (The Lord is great in his might). (The Creation by Joseph Haydn, Part II, Nos. 17-19).

It was the heavenly hosts that sang praises to God upon the creation of the universe. These angles “shouted” for joy when God “laid the foundation of the earth.”

These same angels appear again at the birth of Christ singing, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased” (Lk. 2:14 ESV).

I could almost picture these angels that beheld the glorious work of God in creation now peering over the portals of heaven to see just what this might mean that the one whom they had worshiped, the very Son of God (Heb. 1:6), would take on flesh and be born as a man. My mind went immediately to the words of 1 Peter 1 when he says:

[10] Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, [11] inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. [12] It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look. (1 Peter 1:10-12 ESV)

The miracle of the incarnation, the glory of God become a man in the person of Jesus Christ; this was the miracle of salvation, the glory of God into which “angels longed to look.” Suddenly, the sheer weight of it hit me and I was gone. I could barely finish the song and had to let Jessica sing the rest of it by herself.

It was a few months later, past the season of Lent and well into Holy Week on our church’s Maundy Thursday service. Again, I was playing a hymn while Jessica sang behind me when what should just happen to be the theme of a particular verse?

’Tis midnight, and from ether plains
Is borne the song that angels know;
Unheard by mortals are the strains
That sweetly soothe the Savior’s woe.

Yep, you guessed it… waterworks again. Good thing I wasn’t supposed to sing on this one.

This hymn, “‘Tis Midnight and on Olive’s Brow,” centers on the theme of Christ’s agony in the Garden of Gethsemane as he writhed beneath the ensuing downpour of God’s wrath. Yet in the midst of this agony, as he embraces the awful cup that the Father offers, Luke says that an angel appeared “strengthening him” (Lk. 22:43b). Here is the Almighty Creator of Heaven and earth, emptied, wringing with sweat, crying alone, abandoned in the still of the night with only the mangled olive branches as his company. Yet here in this agonizing scene of despair and heartache, an angel appears to strengthen the Son of God. The only other time angels step down from glory to aide our Lord was after his temptation by the Devil after fasting for forty days and forty nights. There must have been something so crushing about the Gethsemane experience that was similar to fasting for forty days and forty nights before being assaulted personally by Satan himself.

As we enter the crux of Holy Week that leads us through Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and ultimately to the vacated tomb of Easter Sunday, may we learn to look with the angels in wonder of the mighty works of God. May we join them singing, “the Lord is great in his might.” And may we join them in their “festal gathering,” (Heb. 12:22) that is but a foretaste of the glory that is to come all because a “Savior came from glory,” writhed in anguish, and died our death “for us and for our salvation.”

As we behold the cross of Good Friday, may we look to it with wonder and awe singing the “song of Moses and the Lamb:”

“Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations! [4] Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship you, for your righteous acts have been revealed.” (Revelation 15:3b-4 ESV)

And may we sing with amazement the song that the angels cannot sing, “I am redeemed!”




One thought on “Angels Make me Cry

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