Friday, 19 June 2009

Pilgrimage 2009 - Garden of Gethsemane

Gethsemane, the place of wine and olives, is a name that has resonance for Christians. It is here that Jesus faced the temptation to take the easy way out, to quit.
His decision would affect humanity forever. Yet Jesus was human and felt fear. The bible story tells us that he didn't take the decision alone, and also that his friends were human too. I find double meaning in "the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak." The disciples were weak because they slept when they wanted to keep watch. Jesus' body was weak because it would be broken on a cross if he decided to go forwards. Would his spirit be strong enough to take him through death?
'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."
Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. "Simon," he said to Peter, "are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak."

Once more he went away and prayed the same thing. When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. They did not know what to say to him.
Returning the third time, he said to them, "Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! The hour has come.
Look, the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!"
Just as he was speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, appeared. With him was a crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders.
Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: "The one I kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard." Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, "Rabbi!" and kissed him.
The men seized Jesus and arrested him. Then one of those standing near drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear.
"Am I leading a rebellion," said Jesus, "that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I was with you, teaching in the temple courts, and you did not arrest me. But the Scriptures must be fulfilled." Then everyone deserted him and fled.' Mark 14:32-50

Our journey took us into the garden, which is another site maintained by the Franciscans. These arms are a mark of a Fransiscan site, as is the Jerusalem cross here seen on the door to the garden.

The olive trees and the garden actually spread right and left of the road, but the public is permitted entry only to the left side, and of course, a very beautiful church has been built on the site.

This is part of the church doors, also based on a theme of olive trees.

Inside the church there are beautiful wall pictures; this one shows Judas' betrayal of Jesus with a kiss.

The windows are glazed with alabaster and the light is suffused and cool, making the inside of the church quite dark.

The centrepiece of the church is the stone on which Jesus is said to have prayed.

The story is told outside the church as well in various carvings and plaster reliefs. This niche is in a rock outside the church. It's worth adding that most of these are tucked away, and if you are wandering around and not actually 'looking' they would be easy to miss. So for me there was a slight air of the treasure hunt about 'finding' the nuggets of the story. Which, of course, after years of writing theological refelctions sends me off on another train of thought. But I'll leave it to you, dear reader, to find your own treasures.

'Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. On reaching the place, he said to them, "Pray that you will not fall into temptation." He withdrew about a stone's throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed,"Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done." An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.' Luke 22:39-44
Here Jesus is shown asking for the 'cup' to be removed.

Here we see Jesus under arrest. The pivotal decision for humanity has been taken.

Some of the olive trees in the garden are very old, and all are carefully tended by gardeners. They are also fenced off from the public - I guess that otherwise everyone would be taking cuttings home with them (or is it just me?).

Some of the trees have dedications attached to them, and the Pope's recent visit is commemorated here. I was told a story after I returned about a British 'Friend of Israel' who has a tree planted in the garden in his memory. Both of us became quite emotional talking about the person, who obviously had a major and unsung history. How many people do we know like that, who seem very ordinary, in our daily lives?

It must be possible to visit these places as a tourist and not be touched, but it would be to miss a dimension of the place. This is the place where Jesus' betrayal was made concrete. Before we feel too smug, we all betray Jesus every day in our different ways, even as we seek to be more like him. His death for us and the salvation that has brought us is at a price. This is the place where the price of our salvation began to be paid - where the first overt betrayal was recognised,and where we begin to recognise the cost and the value of those actions.

Outside the church the gate, with the Alpha and Omega symbols of our faith looks out over the closed Golden Gate. I appreciated the juxtaposition of ideas.


  1. I really like that last photo... as for those doors, wow!

  2. Thank you Sally. The doors were a feature of several churches, and another example of how we tell our story. I'll try to include others in due source.