It was July 2000 and I was standing next to the oldest olive trees in the world, growing in what historians believe to be the Garden of Gethsemane. These trees had seen it all — drought, floods, wartime, and peace, or at least moments of quiet between storms both natural and manmade. The garden offered a lush reprieve from the hot desert sun and the crowded streets of Jerusalem just outside the walls. I longed to time travel, to watch the darkness of night create a sanctuary for Jesus of Nazareth to find refuge in his last moments of freedom.
Rereading the accounts in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John of that fateful night in the garden, I am struck by their haunting beauty, and the spiraling events that followed, still shrouded in mystery. Can you imagine knowing you are about to die, unjustly, at the hands of a violent, terrorizing mob, sanctioned by the government, powered by the priest, backed by the religious establishment, betrayed by your friend and devoted follower, for just thirty pieces of silver? And to know that you could stop it, you could run. You could change the course of history and refuse to fulfill the prophecies and the sole purpose of your life on this earth. What a whole lot of weight to bear on one pair of shoulders.
Jesus had gone to Gethsemane with his disciples, and he asked Peter, James, and John to follow him further into the garden, where he confessed, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”
Jesus retreated further into the garden and made his first surrender of many that would lead to his death. “‘Father,’ he said, ‘everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.’”
When he returned to his friends, he found them sleeping. It must have felt so incredibly lonely to stand in that place with those silent trees bearing witness.
They say the olive trees that I was standing next to in the Garden of Gethsemane are over 900 years old. That’s about as eternal as any living breathing organism we have with us today. How powerful to think that each started as a seed, fallen from a mother tree, descending into what seems like utter darkness, even death, only to crack open at the very last moment, bear roots and burst forth into life.
Not long before that night in the garden, Jesus told his followers, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” As we near the end of Lent and the dark days of winter, let’s remember that these periods of grief and loss we’ve endured and may still be in the midst of, are part of the process. Like the seeds that grew into those resilient olive trees, we can trust that there is a deeper love at work. This hope will transform us.
May your week be full of Easter light and many reasons to hope.
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