"I’m sorry, but no one is
allowed in the garden area." The tall Franciscan monk spoke with a firm
voice in answer to my request to photograph inside the Garden of Gethsemane.
Determined to return another day and try again, I walked down the gradual slope
of the Mount of Olives and crossed the top end of Kidron Valley on the way to
the old city of Jerusalem.
A paved highway runs down this upper end of the valley; it
rises and winds around the base of the Mount of Olives on its way to Jericho.
Gethsemane sits to one side of the road, next to the hustle of buses and taxis
and donkeys braying with heavy loads of goods on the way to markets of the Old
Gethsemane is just a simple grove of trees in a garden on the
side of a rocky hill. It is a quiet place, except for the occasional tourist
groups and hawking peddlers, and the nearby traffic.
Yet, in this grove of ancient trees one of the most important
events in the history of mankind took place. In this little garden the Savior
agonized as he suffered for the sins of all the world. He made it possible for
us to return to the presence of God. That means that if we repent and live in
sweet obedience to the Father’s will, we will not be required to pay the awful
debt for the sins we have committed; Jesus did that in Gethsemane.
Leaving Gethsemane, you can easily see old Jerusalem above
terraced hillsides. Next to the wall of the city, Arab shepherd boys often bring
their sheep and goats to graze in the grass around the Moslem gravestones.
Seeing the sheep silhouetted against the sky, it is easy to imagine what it was
like here during the Savior’s lifetime.
Further up the hill, the road branches to one side, going up
to Saint Stephen’s Gate and the base of the ancient temple mount. Here you can
look back at Gethsemane from above. On this particular afternoon, the garden lay
half in shadow with the sun glistening in several light-filled corners. A few
Arab buses careened noisily around the serpentine curves of the highway below,
but the air seemed somehow quiet. There in the stillness of my thoughts, I
wondered about the little procession of disciples meandering across the valley
toward Gethsemane, the Savior leading them in calm dignity as he approached the
terrors of that incredible night.
Darkness falls swiftly in Jerusalem, and soon the blackness of
the night was all around me. There was a slight chill in the evening air as I
Several days later I arrived after closing time, and the great
iron doors to the garden were shut and locked. After much persistent bell
ringing, a monk came to the gate and kindly allowed me to enter the empty
courtyard. We talked for a minute, and then he surprised me with, "Would
you like to go into the garden area?" Taking a hand-forged key from his
belt, he opened the small iron gate that led into the garden.
I wandered along the flower-lined gravel paths, next to the
great patriarch olive trees. The color of the red flowers reminded me of the
blood that came from every pore of the Savior’s body as he suffered here. The
old gnarled and pitted trunks of the olive trees spoke of the struggle and pain
of spirit that Jesus felt in this garden. Pondering these things, I didn’t
notice the darkness gathering around the garden.
Reverently and privately I knelt for a moment, there in
Gethsemane, to thank God for the blessing of his Son. The trees were dark and
gray as I left them, but looking up toward the city I could see one of its
radiant sunsets. Jerusalem, the "City of Gold," still the hope of ages past,
present, and future because of the atonement that took place here.