After Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem, he spent the next few days teaching at the temple; most likely on the steps I mentioned in last week’s blog post.
Each day Jesus was teaching at the temple, and each evening he went out to spend the night on the hill called the Mount of Olives, and all the people came early in the morning to hear him at the temple. Luke 21:37-38 (NIV)
The Upper Room
Jerusalem was teeming with people, it was almost time to celebrate Passover. Can you imagine the sights, sounds and smells of the crowded city? Jesus sent his disciples Peter and John ahead to make preparations for their Passover meal. He told them that a man carrying a jar of water would meet them and they were to follow him to the house he entered and tell him that the Teacher would like to use his guest room upstairs for a Passover meal. You can read the entire account of the Last Supper in Luke 22.
The Cenacle was one of our stops in our tour of Jerusalem last December. While the exact location of the Last Supper is not known for sure, Biblical scholars believe that it was in this neighborhood on Mt. Zion. The Hall of the Last Supper we visited is a room built by the Crusaders in the 12th Century over ruins of an earlier church. It was built over the traditional tomb of King David. Muslims took control of the building from the 1500’s until 1948.
This may or may not have been the exact location but we stood in awe in this ancient room as we listened to the account of Christ’s last meal with his disciples.
The Garden of Gethsemane
When the Passover meal ended and Judas left to do his evil deed, Jesus and the rest of the disciples went back to the Mount of Olives for the evening. Jesus paused to pray at the Garden of Gethsemane. He asked Peter, James and John to stay with him while he prayed (Mark 14:32-33). The gospel of Luke tells us that Jesus prayed so earnestly that his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground (Luke 22:44). He was under intense pressure, the weight of the world was on him.
I had another “aha” moment when we visited the Garden of Gethsemane. Our guide shared with us that the word gethsemane means oil-press. Think about what happened at an oil press. The fruit of the olive trees, the olives, were put under heavy, intense pressure until the oil came out. The oil was collected and used to light the lamps. Light after heavy pressure. Jesus — the light of the world.
We visited the Garden of Gethsemane. It is at the base of the Mount of Olives, across the Kidron Valley from the Eastern Gate. It was peaceful and serene as we walked around the ancient olive trees. I thought it was fitting that the paths through the garden formed a cross. The olive trees we saw were not there at the time of Christ. According to the ancient historian Josephus, the Romans cut down all of the olive trees when they destroyed Jerusalem in 70 AD. Even so, it is possible that the trees we saw were descendants of the trees present in Jesus’s time; a few of them considered ancient. Evidently, when an olive tree is cut down, shoots will come up from the remaining roots and new trees will form. So, while we may not have prayed under the same tree as Jesus, it did bring that portion of the scriptures to life.
A Sanctuary of Prayer
Next to the garden, there was a beautiful church, the Basilica of the Agony or The Church of All Nations. During the Byzantine era, a church was built on top of a rock outcrop on which it was believed Jesus prayed in agony the night before he was crucified. That church was destroyed and then rebuilt by the crusaders. The crusaders church was also destroyed. In the 1920’s, Antonio Barluzzi designed and built the current building. He created a sanctuary that gives you the feeling of being in a garden at night. It was a beautiful space with the rock of agony at the altar. Quite moving.
If you know even a little bit about the Bible and the life of Jesus, can you sense what is coming next? We felt the tension building as we visited the sites of Jesus’s last week on our trip to the Holy Land. I feel it now in this season of Lent as I reflect on the life of my Savior. This year, I have physical reminders to aid in my reflection. It’s such a blessing.
Thank you so much for joining me in this virtual trip to Jerusalem. Please be sure to join me next week. I will be sharing about the place that was the most emotionally charged for me as we continue our walk to Easter Sunday.