In the light of the occasion a slight detour from Qumran but not so far from the Temple Mount.
A Reflective Stroll around the Garden of Gethsemane
(Click here for a VR Tour of The Garden of Gethsemane)
And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy; and they did not know what to answer him. And he came the third time, and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? It is enough; the hour has come; the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.”
And immediately, while he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I shall kiss is the man; seize him and lead him away under guard.” And when he came, he went up to him at once, and said, “Master!” And he kissed him. And they laid hands on him and seized him. But one of those who stood by drew his sword, and struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his ear. And Jesus said to them, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me? Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me. But let the scriptures be fulfilled.” And they all forsook him, and fled. (Mark 14:39-52)
The Garden of Gethsemane and The Church of All Nations
Nearly two thousand years ago here, or somewhere in the vicinity, a dramatic scene of historic proportions took place and a decision of all decisions was finalized. A Jewish man, prophet, savior and proclaimed Messiah stood at the brink of making a step, which only he could take. He was torn, he was sweating blood in his intense turmoil, wrestling with his ironic destiny as Messiah and Son of God: instead of triumphantly creating an eternal kingdom from Jerusalem, he was first to suffer and be executed. A decision to withdraw would be a wise choice if he wanted to survive. And so did he implore his Father: “Take this cup (of suffering) from me.” Nevertheless, his final decision was to relent and surrender to the seemingly absurd and disastrous higher way with irreversible but eternal consequences as he said, “Nevertheless, let not my will be done but yours instead.” If he were to cross the narrow Kidron Brook, which separates the Garden from the city of Jerusalem, there would be no going back. It was the Rubicon of Jesus’ life: A destiny which would lead to profound and, at that time, incredible consequences for the lives of billions of people worldwide for the next two millennia. By this step one Jew would fulfill the calling of Abraham and his children to become a light to all nations, so that countless new people would share the same God and same Biblical path that, until then, only one nation had access to.
Today, a section of exposed limestone bedrock marks the spot traditionally held to be the place of Jesus’ deeply troubled prayer. It lays beneath the central apse of a church built by many of the nations whose religion and character were molded as a consequence of the person, the words, and the deeds of this one man Jesus, the Christ. The Basilica has twelve beautiful mosaic domes, tiled to evoke the heavens, one dome for each of the twelve main nations responsible for its construction. However, not limiting the scope of the devoted act of its construction, the structure is called the “Church of All Nations.” Outside, on its grounds stands the oldest surviving grove on the Mt. Of Olives, with some of the trees being hundreds (some would say, thousands!) of years old. Are these not the very trees, or at least the offspring of the very trees, among which Jesus and his disciples prayed that night? It is here where the pilgrim can come to participate meditatively in the event.
Tonight on Maundy Thursday or Holy Thursday, those of many nations conjoin for a moment of prayer and scripture reading. This is evident by the mix of languages, fashion, perfumes and demeanor. Around the rock, under the church’s central apse stands a circle of clergy, headed by Pierbatista Pizzaballa, the recently appointed Custos of the Franciscan order, who are the official custodians of the Christian holy sites in the Holy Land. With him are attendants and readers who are prepared to read and pray in seven languages: Arabic, Hebrew, Italian, English, German, French, and Spanish.
The church is filled to capacity with more than 900 local and international clergy, laity, and news media personnel looking on from seated (for those who came early enough to find a chair!) or standing positions. At least 150 more pilgrims crowd the steps outside.
Are they all connecting in? Of those inside, only a fraction have a view of the events around the rock. Many can only see the back of a column or the back of the person standing in front of them. With dozens of nations at hand, only a portion can understand even one of the speakers. Those outside can hardly hear what is being said inside. The barking dogs, the exhaust from the trucks and cars, and the stench of a blocked sewage line hardly seems noticeable. The melancholy whining of a peacock comes from an olive grove in the Kidron below separates the church from the wall of the ancient temple mount with the Golden Gate facing us above.
Some how each in their own way seems aware that they are participating in a once historical, and now timeless, event. We cannot question the pilgirim’s heart and whether there is a spiritual connection happening. We do not know to what extent there is actual participation or spiritual transformation in any given individual, and in what way this will influence their life in the future. But one thing is sure, this is a very personal quest, which can be observed in truth only by the all seeing eye of God, or perhaps the truth may be reflected in the tear that drops from the pilgrim’s eye.
The Garden of Gethsemane and the Church of All Nations are open to people of all faiths, Mondays-Saturdays, from 8:00 am to 12:00 p.m. and from 2:30 to 6:00 p.m. (2:30 to 5:00 September to March), free of charge.