One of the highlights of our weekend in Jerusalem was our short visit to the Garden of Gethsemane. As members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we believe that Jesus Christ suffered for our sins in the Garden of Gethsemane, praying to His Father in Heaven for help bearing this heavy burden (Luke 22). The strain was so great that He bled from every pore. Along with our sins, we believe that He took upon Himself our pains, sicknesses, and every unpleasant experience humans could ever experience, so that He could know better how to help us in our extremity (Alma 7:11-12). It was a self-less and eternal sacrifice for all mankind, so that we can return to live with our Father in Heaven (God), the literal Father of our spirits, after this life on earth if we repent and turn to God. This site is so sacred and holy to us, and it was great to be there early in the morning before a ton of tourists arrived. Gethsemane means “olive press” and, like I explained in my Nazareth village post, there are many parallels between olive oil making and the Atonement of Jesus Christ in the garden. The sun was coming up over the Mt. of Olives and shining through the olive trees. The actual garden is fairly small and has a fence around it to preserve it. Although the trees in the garden were not around at the time of Christ, there are trees in the orchard that are over 1,000 years old.
Right next to the Garden of Gethsemane is the Church of All Nations, or the Basilica of the Agony, built over a section of rock where Jesus is said to have prayed in the garden of Gethsemane. The whole church had an olive tree motif, which was really neat, and the ceiling had twelve separate domes in commemoration of the twelve countries that donated to its construction in the early 1900s. Each dome was painted with stars and olive trees on the corners, like we were looking up at a night sky from an olive orchard. A very small mass was going on in an Asian language that we couldn’t quite place as we visited. Again, we were impressed by the myriad of countries that pilgrims come from to visit the holy sites in Jerusalem!
Along the walls were more painted scenes of the events that took place here, including the agony and arrest of Jesus. I loved the muted color scheme, and the angel coming to comfort Jesus as He suffered. Outside the church, mosaics on the upper exterior walls depicted Jesus with his disciples. As we walked around and contemplated the events that took place here, I felt an overwhelming gratitude for all that Jesus did for me. I think that even Landon felt it for awhile, before he started complaining that it was too cold because he refused to wear his coat…
Because we approached the Garden from up the Mt. of Olives, we entered and exited through the garden. I liked that we could revisit it for a few more moments after going in the church, trying to ignore the whining preschooler and restless toddler and really reflect on the events that took place here. There are not many places to stand off to the side of the walkway, so I can imagine that later on in the day it can get crowded with tour groups. I am grateful for our relatively peaceful time in the garden, and that we could see this place in person. Later in the day, we attended Sunday services at the BYU Jerusalem center, where Landon attended a small Primary (children’s) class. They sang a beautiful song titled, “Gethsemane,” and Landon was so excited that he burst out, “We went there this morning!” After that Primary meeting, Landon and I learned the song from Youtube videos and it is now one of his favorites.
After we finished with the Garden, we trekked back up the Mt. of Olives to pick up our car and go to church. The west facing side of the Mt. of Olives facing Old Jerusalem is covered with raised, stone graves. It brought to mind the verses in Matthew 23:27: “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness.” I’m not sure how old these sepulchers are, but the white stone hillside is difficult to miss from the Old city. The tour buses were lined up by the overlook on top of the Mt. of Olives, so we were glad that we were out and about so early!
Some nearby places that we did not have time visit (and I didn’t know they were there!) were the grotto where the disciple’s slept while Jesus was in the garden, and the Tomb of Mary, mother of Jesus. With the boys and a limited amount of time in Jerusalem, we were just trying to hit the highlights, and I think we accomplished that. Also, the Greek Orthodox church near the garden looked amazing from far away, but we couldn’t figure out how to reach it. With the garden and surrounding places, this area could easily be explored in a few hours. We used our stroller to get from the Mt. of Olives to the Garden and back, and it was for the most part handicap/stroller accessible. If you’re in Jerusalem, take a moment to visit this spiritually significant site!