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.
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.
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)
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.
"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....