Jesus told them, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” He went on a little farther and bowed with his face to the ground, praying, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” Then he returned to the disciples and found them asleep. He said to Peter, “Couldn’t you watch with me even one hour?” – Matthew 26:38-40
Jerusalem is an amazing place. On one hand it’s a truly modern international city, teeming with people from all over the world – and on the other it’s easy to wander into an ancient quarter and find yourself transported in time to the First Century, Roman occupation, and the life of Jesus.
It’s not just the sites, the archaeology, the artifacts, and the museums, but the spirit of the place that speaks so clearly. The evidence of The Greatest Story Ever Told goes deeper than the excavations, Hezekiah’s tunnel, David’s palace, the Wailing Wall, walking on the same paved surface Jesus and the disciples walked outside the temple, the Pool of Bethesda, the Mount of Olives, the Via Dolorosa, or even The Garden Tomb.
The effect is cumulative, a kind of density, the weight of all the stories. Whatever it is, you can feel it, and maybe nowhere more profoundly than Gethsemane; the garden where Jesus went to pray after that last dinner party with his closest friends; the sanctuary where The Prince of Peace was arrested by the religious police; the place where Christ’s anguish, and commitment, and love came together in a prayer that still resonates today: “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.”
- The garden where Jesus went to pray after that last dinner party with his closest friends;
- The sanctuary where The Prince of Peace was arrested by the religious police;
- The place where Christ’s anguish, and commitment, and love came together in a prayer that still resonates today: “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.”
Scientists have dated some of the ancient olive trees at well over two thousand years. And there, across from the old city of Jerusalem, I was able to sit on the stony ground and lean against a tree that Jesus himself may have leaned against on that awful, blessed night.
I imagine that – deep in the heart of that particular tree and resonating in the prehistoric stones – are the literal echoes of the Teacher’s courageous words. Words addressed to all who listened then and who listen still, to every person willing to grasp the timelessness of God’s intention and the integrity of Jesus’ willing sacrifice…
Jesus was flesh and blood, human being – faced with the horror of torment, shame, and painful death. Jesus was and is God made flesh so that he could bear the burden of our shortcomings. And he did this voluntarily, with his eyes wide open, of his own free will… (Excerpt from Reaching Toward Easter, pp 124-125)
And so on this day, Thursday of Holy Week, my mind always wanders back to Gethsemane, to the Mount of Olives, to that wondrous view of the old city from the place where Jesus thought of me, loved me, and chose to die in order that I might live.
Today those ancient trees are fenced off from the touch of casual tourists, and I am grateful to have been there at a time when I could literally sit on the ground and lean into the ancient wood.
But we all can lean into the ancient arms, the everlasting arms, and feel the embrace of pure goodness and unselfish love. That’s what I’ll be doing this evening when I meet with my church family for communion. Leaning on the everlasting arms.
Maybe I’ll see you there…?