Sunday, March 6, 2011

Holy Land Pilgrimage – Lessons from the Garden of Gethsemane

Note: In January 2011 my wife and I went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. This post is part of a series of blogs I have written to convey what I learned while on this life changing trip. You can read about the entire trip in the devotional book Touching the Footprints of Jesus.

The Garden of Gethsemane is an understated oasis on the edge of the modern bustling city of Jerusalem. It sits at the foot of the Mount of Olives across the Kidron Valley from the Temple Mount. It is most famous for being the place where Jesus and his disciples prayed the night Jesus was betrayed by Judas and placed into the hands of the Romans to be crucified. All four of the New Testament Gospels say that immediately following the Last Supper in the Upper Room that Jesus took a walk through the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. Jesus left the main group of disciples in one section of the Garden while continuing His walk in the company of Peter, James and John. Jesus asked these three disciples to watch and pray. Jesus then walked "a stone's throw away," and engaged His Father in intense prayer. Jesus prayed "My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass me by. Nevertheless, let Your will, not mine, be done.” Jesus prayed this intense prayer three times, checking on Peter, James and John between each prayer. The story can be found in Luke 22:43–44 where we also learn that Jesus was in such anguish at what was to come that His sweat was like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. Each time Jesus rose from His intense prayer to check on His disciples, He found them asleep instead of watching and praying. Jesus then said that famous line, "The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak."

As I walked through the garden thinking of my own relationship with Jesus, I must admit that I have often been spiritually asleep when I should have been watching and praying. I wonder how often Jesus has checked up on me only to find that I failed Him when it mattered most. After 2000 years, those of us who endeavor to follow Jesus with our whole lives still find that our spirits are willing but our flesh is often weak. Lord, help us learn the importance of watching and praying with greater faithfulness than we have had in the past.

While visiting the Garden, we stepped inside one of the churches located on the site. There was a Catholic Mass in progress when we slipped in the back door. Our tour guide attempted to whisper certain pieces of information to us about the building, but a priest appeared from a corner and insisted that he remain quiet during the Mass. To be honest, I was glad the priest said something because I thought the tour guide was being disrespectful anyway. We stayed for a while in the rear of the church while the Mass progressed. The Mass was in Polish and we could not understand the words. I am not Catholic, so I am only vaguely familiar with the liturgy of the Mass. But I could sense that the Spirit was present and that those gathered at the front of the church were in a true attitude of worship. As I reflect back on that experience, it was the attitude of worship and the presence of the Spirit that mattered most. It did not matter that I never got to hear the tour guide offer mundane details about the history of the building or the mosaics on the walls and floors. It did not matter that I could not understand the words being said or grasp of all the symbolism of the liturgy being used. What mattered was the people had gathered in that place, as they have for centuries, and remembered with great reverence the anguish our Lord suffered in that garden as He prayed for God’s will to be done. The Lord honored the worship of those Christians with His Holy Presence. What more could anyone ask for in a worship service? As we prepare for worship today in our own church, perhaps we should ask ourselves if someone came into our church service this morning and did not understand the language we were speaking, would they still sense the Spirit?

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