Gethsemane – leaning on the everlasting arms #HolyWeek

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Garden of Gethsemane

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

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Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives

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.

Gethsemane:

GethsemaneThe 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.”

Reaching-Toward-EasterScientists 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.

@[696483709:2048:Derek Maul] on Mount of OlivesToday 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…?

– DEREK

Gethsemane, betrayal, politics, and grace…

Jerusalem!

One of the exciting things about travel is posing for those long anticipated “bucket list” photographs. You know, the one’s you had in mind from the time you first imagined the trip. This tour was full with such “Kodachrome” moments and Jerusalem Day Two was no exception.

The Old City from the Mount of Olives is, of course, a classic image. Typically the shot is taken with a baking hot sun reflecting from the white buildings and the golden dome on the Temple Mount shimmering.

Jerusalem the Golden!

This day was cold, wet and breezy – but the city shimmered anyway.  So we got out of the bus, wrapped our jackets tight (it was the last time they’d be dry until we returned to the hotel) and took in the amazing panorama. It’s easy to see the outline of the temple renovations Herod completed in 19 BC. So we wiped the rain from our lenses and tried to capture both the view and the emotions before making our way down to the Garden of Gethsemane.

The memory of Trees...

GARDEN: In Gethsemane a collection of gnarled ancient olive trees, some dating back to the time of Christ, reside in a walled garden adjacent to The Church of All Nations, also known as The Basilica of The Agony. The trees stand as silent sentinel to Christ’s deliberate choice to love me beyond reason and beyond even hope. When I reached through the fence and touched the bark I imagined I sensed a lingering resonance, an echo of the imprint of the physical presence of Jesus. Or maybe it wasn’t my imagination at all.

They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.” Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” (Mark 14:32-36)

The Basilica of The Agony

Inside the basilica we found ourselves in a place of haunting beauty. The church is ornate in design, with elaborate paint and tile work. But it doesn’t feature the gaudy bangles and hanging decorations so often found in the region. In consequence I found myself – naturally and gratefully – in a contemplative frame of mind.

I needed much more than the scant half hour or so to thoroughly engage the meaning and the emotional impact of Gethsemane, and so I left the church reluctantly, bound for our next destination but still, spiritually, in The Garden with Jesus.

And I wondered to myself as I boarded the bus, “Would we crucify Him today?”

And the answer was a hesitant but honest, “YES.” And I’m sure that the most pointed resistance to Christ’s challenging message would begin in the church that bears his name.

We saw a lot more that day, but this morning I can’t break myself away:

  • I can’t break myself away from the Mount of Olives.
  • I can’t disengage from the memory of those ancient trees.
  • I can’t wrap my mind around the dishonor we do to the Spirit of Christ whenever we try to use the name of Jesus to advance our own, more cynical, agendas.
  • I can’t believe anyone would dare to manipulate this Jesus to advance their brand of politics.
And we betray Jesus still...

“Enough!” Jesus said. “The hour has come. Look, the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!” (Mark 14:41-42)

And we betray Jesus still….

– DEREK