In the Garden of Gethsemane in Israel: An Easter Glimpse
“The Greeks have butchered my language,” he grins. Ophir is our Jewish tour guide in Israel.
We’re standing in an enclosed garden with olive trees and flowers, our group of twenty-three people and Ophir.
“Gethsemane should be gat shemanim, place of oil, oil presses,” Ophir said. “Jesus and his disciples would have been praying in an olive tree grove with an olive press,” he said. These were common sights then and now in Israel.
Sunshine slides off silvery narrow olive tree leaves and hides in the old gnarled trunks. Olives still grow on the trees, green on the branches and royal purple and black when we find them in the grass or trampled underfoot.
Wild rosemary grows in lush waist-high bushes everywhere in Israel and in this walled-in garden too. I run a rosemary sprig through my fingers, pressing it lightly. Fragrant rosemary oil scents my fingers and rushes into my nostrils as I bring my fingers to my face.
“Israel smells like rosemary to me,” I think and breathe it in again.
To harvest olives, tarps are placed below the trees and then the trees are struck again and again. Striking the branches when the olives are ripe causes the olives to fall from the trees onto the tarps.
They are not ready for use yet, though.
“You can’t eat olives straight from the trees,” we’re taught. “It would be like eating rocks.”
Raw olives are hard and bitter, and give stomach aches. Instead raw olives need to be soaked in jars with water and spices for three to six months to make the bitterness go away and to get soft.
“Then they are ready and can be used and eaten.”
“So many parallels in life,” I muse and the tour guide continues.
To make olive oil, the olives must be pressed and pressed by heavy rock vises, weighted down to extract all the oil out of the olives. First fruits oil from that pressing makes the best, the purest, oil, which in Jesus’s time would have been given to the priests to use in the temple.
My group and I wander through the Garden of Gethsemane, the olive tree grove where Jesus and his disciples would have spent their last night together before his death. This garden where Jesus knelt and talked with the Father and regained strength for the agonizing, ex crux, (“from the cross”), excruciating death that was imminent.
“But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed.”
“…For he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.”
Verses and ideas from the ancient Hebrew text in the book of Isaiah 53 come to mind.
“He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; for ‘by his wounds you have been healed’. For ‘you were like sheep going astray’ but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls,” argues the apostle and disciple Peter from 30 AD who lived alongside and knew Jesus, who saw him die and then live again resurrected. Peter, through the inspiration of God’s Holy Spirit in him, connects the dots from Isaiah’s prophecies in the 700s BC about what the Coming God-in-human-skin from heaven will do, this Messiah, lining the prophecies up with what Jesus accomplished on the cross. A death sentence that brought life for all who choose to accept it.
Sitting in the Garden of Oil Press, I think of Jesus praying. I think of the fierce hits, and whipping, and battering, and pressing down that he was about to undergo, out of love for you and me and all of humanity.
Sunshine and beauty and birdsong belie the momentous moment, and I’m warmed by his love, his brave sacrifice, and warrior rescue.
Familiar verses about God’s love come to mind now and I look them up to read them in all accuracy.
“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: Wile we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
We stayed in the garden for awhile, sitting, praying, remembering, and thanking God for his love, his sacrifice.
Home now from Israel, I scroll through my photos, remember fondly, and think of Easter truths. Typing a message to my kids, I send pictures of chocolates for them, and then turn reflective.
“Just something small and chocolately to celebrate the amazing fact that Jesus loves us all so much that he would die for us and resurrect to make a way for the world to have a forever relationship with him and a more joy-filled and purposeful life.
He’s the only God (the one true God) who recognizes the depth of humans’ depravity, seeing it as their sad judge, seeing the sin debt that weighs heavily on each of us,
he then chooses to step away from the judge’s seat and he takes the death penalty upon himself, as the only way to rescue us forever.
What extravagant love and strength and courage he shows. What a warrior rescuer to step in to that on our behalf.
I am joyful and thankful with you over here at his love for every creature and person.”
My phone cursor blinks white on a green screen at me, as I hit send.
Happy Easter, friends.
Israel was amazing! I can’t wait to tell you more about it…
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Jennifer speaks often at MOPS/MomsNext groups, at conferences, churches, retreats, camps, home school co-ops and more. She loves getting to know people and making new friends.