Tall palms stand sentry. Low carob trees clutch leaf bundles. But it is the olive trees that define this place. Each trunk is a tangle of ropes braided together. Gnarly knuckle branches end with the emblematic olive leaf, a gray green oval. The olive branch has been a symbol of peace and victory for ages. This week we connect it with neither for this is the Garden of Gethsemane.
I walk near the trees standing in formation like soldiers. The Garden of Gethsemane is like that oasis in the city where people like to walk through but don’t linger. Except for the tourists it would have been a quiet place. No wonder Jesus came here to pray. It would have been a place I would have chosen, as well.
Such a simple place for such complex prayer.
Gethsemane means oil press. They still harvest the olives and press oil from them. The roots of some of these trees have been here since the time of Christ. Unfortunately, the trees themselves were casualties of Roman destruction. But the roots remained. Roots last.
There is a church built over the rock said to be the place where Jesus pressed His Father, pressed so hard that blood vessels burst and blood seeped through flesh like sweat. We look to this night as the one that set in motion what sealed Jesus’ fate, but freed us from ours. No matter what I have surrendered, it was nothing compared to what Jesus laid aside. Here’s my short list: the right to be understood, to be left alone, to use his power and authority to protect himself, to speak up for himself, to manipulate popular accolades for his own benefit, to life out his life in peace. I look at the list and understand how I have struggled in some of these areas of surrender. That Jesus was willing to ask to be released from what lay ahead underlines his intimacy with his father. But when Jesus accepted His Father’s “no” without impugning His Father’s character, takes surrender to a deeper level.
I would have liked to come to the Garden alone and try to hear the “not my will but yours” echo through the years. I would let it focus me not on what I must surrender, but Who I must take hold of. I would re-center my will not on a goal or a dream or anything else I could put my imagination to. I would use it to remember that whatever the Father would have me lay down is nothing compared to what He waits to give me.
Thankfully, I don’t have to go back to Israel to do that.