The Garden of Gethsemane

Matthew 26:36-38 – Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.”  He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled.  Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”

There are four locations that all claim to be the place that Jesus prayed on the night that he was betrayed.  The site we visited is located at the bottom of the slope of the Mt. of Olives opposite the Temple Mount.  Byzantine, Crusader and a modern church known as the Church of All Nations were all built successively at this site.  Adjacent to the Church of All Nations is an ancient olive garden.  Olive trees do not have rings and so their age cannot be precisely determined, but scholars estimate the trees in this garden are anywhere between one and two thousand years old.  It is unlikely that these trees were here in the time of Christ because of the report that the Romans cut down all the trees in the area in their siege of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.

I have a lot of mixed emotions about our visit to this site.  Knowing that it is one of four locations claiming to be “the” site makes it difficult to get all worked up about it.  Add to that the fact that we were immediately descended upon by several very insistent vendors wanting to sell us crosses, snacks and disks for our cameras as we tried to negotiate our way through hundreds of other pilgrims – I found that what I actually ended up with was a very stressful experience.  I wanted to take photos; I wanted to connect with the sacred; I had people pressing in on me from all directions; time was limited, and I came uncomfortably close at one point to a panic attack when I lost sight of my group.  It was like a feeding frenzy for contact with the divine.  And even if it was the correct spot, which is unlikely, I picture Jesus standing there shaking his head and saying “what a bunch of dopes”.

The garden really is beautiful, but I had always pictured a spot that was much further out of town and well hidden.  This spot is small and very much visible from the wall.  It is not any larger that a good sized front yard and I had always pictured more of an orchard.  The garden and the church are loaded down with icons and memorabilia…there is a large stone in the church that is thought to be the actual stone that Jesus prayed on.  Everyone wants to touch it and I am sure that people would lay on it if they could, but it is surrounded by a little iron fence that prevents people from doing that.  There is a lot going on to engage the senses, and it is easy to get hooked into the frenzy and the emotion – especially if you are there on a spiritual journey in the first place.  Personally, and this is just me, I think that it is a shrine that has been artfully perfected over the years to stir passions and inspire donations.  I don’t know, it’s like we get so hung up on wanting to touch and worship “stuff” that Jesus may or may not have touched, that we completely lose sight of the message which was love of God and love of each other.  I am just as guilty.  I went there wanting to touch stuff, and I was convinced that if I did I would be infused with something special and forever changed.  But touching “stuff” is not where I find my connection.  Actually, if you want to know the truth, my most meaningful connections find me.

So I learned a lot in the garden…but as always, what I learned was not what I was expecting to learn.

To see my photos click on the album cover:

Garden of Gethsemane

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