Saturday 28th June 2014
This morning one of our group doing the Ecce Homo biblical studies programme had arranged for an 8.00am Mass in the Garden of Gethsemane. I concelebrated the Mass along with another priest from our group. We were given an open-air altar on the slope of the Mount of Olives. There was a canopy overhead to protect us from the sun, as it was already quite hot even at that hour of the morning.
Naturally, being in the place where it happened, for the Gospel for the Mass we read the account of Jesus’ Agony in the Garden, according to Matthew:
Jesus Prays in Gethsemane
36 Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” 37 He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and agitated. 38 Then he said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.” 39 And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.” 40 Then he came to the disciples and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, “So, could you not stay awake with me one hour? 41 Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial;[e] the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 42 Again he went away for the second time and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” 43 Again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. 44 So leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words. 45 Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46 Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.” (Mt 26:36-46)
We were mindful of the terrible cost of loving, of the passionate love that God has for each one of us, that although God’s Son shrinks from pain and suffering, as we all do, nonetheless in fidelity to God and out of love for us, he is willing to undergo it for our sakes, to drink the cup to the brim, without retaliating, so that we can be freed from sin, freed to become the people God created us to be, freed to love with the very same love with which God loved us.
Assured of God’s love, we no longer need to base our sense of self-worth on putting ourselves up at the expense of putting others down. Rather, following in the way of Jesus, we are enabled to endure whatever suffering comes our way without retaliating in kind. In the power of Christ’s Spirit, we can become agents of peace and reconciliation among peoples.
There is another account of the Agony in the Garden in the Gospel of Mark:
Jesus Prays in Gethsemane
32 They went to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” 33 He took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be distressed and agitated. 34 And he said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake.” 35 And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. 36 He said, “Abba,[h] Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.” 37 He came and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep awake one hour? 38 Keep awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 39 And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. 40 And once more he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy; and they did not know what to say to him. 41 He came a third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? Enough! The hour has come; the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 42 Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.” (Mk 14:32-42)
The setting in the Garden of Gethsemane was very poignant, not only because of recalling the intense agony that Jesus endured there two thousand years ago on the night before his passion and death, but also because of being mindful of the contemporary situation today. The congregation had a wonderful view overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem, sacred to the three monotheistic faiths of the Abrahamic tradition, the followers of which have tragically been divided over the centuries and into the present. Instead of being kindred believers, too often we have been mortal enemies. Instead of seeing ourselves as descendants of the one Father, too often we have seen ourselves as belonging to separate nations. Instead of being children of the one God, too often we have followed gods of our own making and sacrificed the other on the altars of our man-made religious apartheid. May the God of Abraham bring about reconciliation and peace among us. May the peace that Jesus Christ won at such a terrible price here in this city flow out from Jerusalem to all the nations of the earth.
After the Mass I walked up the Mount of Olives a little further to the chapel “Dominus Flevit“, Latin for “The Lord Wept”. It recalls the moment when Jesus, coming up from Galilee to Jerusalem for the Passover, having followed the River Jordan to Jericho and then climbed up through the Judean desert (just as we had done in the bus two days ago), arrives at the Mount of Olives and overlooks the city. Here is how Matthew describes that moment:
The Lament over Jerusalem
37 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 38 See, your house is left to you, desolate. 39 For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’” (Mt 23:37-39)
May we be counted among those who come in the name of The Lord. May we be agents of God’s peace in our world.
When I arrived at the church one Mass was just finishing and another was about to start so I was not able to enter into the chapel. However, I did look out over the modern day city, as Jesus had looked out over the city of his day. Here is the view:
Tomorrow will be the first day of Ramadan, when Muslims fast from dawn till dusk for the entire month. May the physical discipline of fasting and the spiritual devotion that motivates them find grace and favour in God’s eyes.
Jerusalem is sacred to Muslims because of its patrimony of biblical prophets who spoke God’s word here, including, according to Muslim tradition, the Prophet Muhammad, who had a mystical night journey to this city where he prayed (commemorated by the al-Aqsa Mosque) and ascended to the highest heaven (commemorated by the Dome of the Rock). For a more detailed account see my earlier post about my visit to the Temple Mount.
Here is a view of the Dome of the Rock, sacred to the Muslims, as seen from Dominus Flevit. The Western Wall, sacred to the Jews, is out of view down behind the Dome of the Rock. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, sacred to Christians, is the double grey dome up and to the right of the Dome of the Rock. May the followers of these three religions grow in closeness to reflect the proximity of these sacred buildings.
Later in the morning we concluded our lecture series on Catholic-Jewish Relations.
It has been a very hot day. I did not go for a walk after lunch as it was too hot. Instead I had a sleep! I had intended to go for a walk later in the afternoon, but time slipped away and it was too late to go out and back so I wrote this post instead.
I am invited out for dinner tonight to the home of a Jewish woman whom I met in Sydney on a number of occasions at interfaith events. She is now living here in Jerusalem. Her brother, who lives in Sydney, is also very involved in interfaith events and is a friend whom I have met on many occasions. He arrived in Jerusalem yesterday to visit his sister and will also be at the dinner. I am looking forward to catching up with these friends.
Shalom, Peace, Salaam!!!