From the Mount of Olives, our car inches down a steep, one-lane road, stone walls bordering each side. At the bottom, we wait. Thick wooden doors soon swing open to admit us on foot into the Garden of Gethsemane. Graveled paths guide pilgrims through the grove of ancient olive trees, some of them dating back to the 300s.
The garden is not large. One could miss it completely, hidden as it is by walls and trees. One side is bordered by the Church of all Nations, one of Jerusalem’s more colorful landmarks with its facade of ornate columns and striking mural under the gable eaves.
The church and garden face Derekh Yeriho, the busy road to Jericho. Even with noisy traffic just outside and jostling tourists in the garden, there is a sense of calm here. At first, it isn’t easy to envision loud and boisterous soldiers who came with Judas to interrupt Jesus’ prayer and place him under arrest. Still, I try to slip on Peter’s sandals.
What must he have felt and thought? Peace and assurance? Fear and anger? What would I have felt? Then it hits me – too often, I’m much more like Judas. So I find a corner to pause and pray and confess that I, too, caused the soldiers to come that night. I, too, caused the wounds he would soon suffer at Golgotha.
Another garden, larger than Gethsemane, anchors the ground at the foot of Golgotha. What irony that quiet, peaceful gardens should form the backdrop for the tragic drama of Jesus’ arrest, crucifixion, and burial. After His crucifixion, our Savior was buried in a borrowed tomb. I am struck by the fact that even now, Jerusalem is the center of controversy and conflict, the place where divergent faiths still do battle. A small sign beside a walkway near the garden tomb pleads, “Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem.”
This second garden is larger than Gethsemane’s olive grove. It has broad paths among the trees and a place from which to view the skull-shaped features in a nearby rock cliff, which some believe was Golgotha, place of the skull.
Quiet corners with benches invite pilgrims to rest or pause for a time of private prayer, worship, and meditation. In a secluded pavilion, one group gathers for worship and observance of the Lord’s Supper.
I have eagerly anticipated visiting the garden’s empty tomb, but one thing I am not prepared for – the music. An ethereal and engaging melody of many languages wafts through the air. As incoherent as it first sounds, a sense of praise and worship inhabits its reverent tones.
Walking the garden paths, we come near a group of pilgrims, seated and singing at one of the worship areas. Then suddenly I recognize the song, not their German words, but the tune. They are singing: Amazing grace, how sweet the sound/That saved a wretch like me.
We walk a few steps along the path. Their hymn fades, another builds. Pilgrims from Spain are singing: On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross/The emblem of suffering and shame.
Then rounding the next curve in the path, we hear British brothers and sisters singing: Because He lives, I can face tomorrow/Because He lives all fear is gone.
Different languages and varied hymns in perfect harmony flow together into an indescribable chorus of praise. It is an anthem quiet yet strong. Reserved yet bold. Sorrowful yet joyful.
At last, there it is, right before us – a short doorway carved into a wall of stone. Each pilgrim takes his turn, bending low to enter the small opening and spend a brief moment in the dark empty tomb. Some believe we are in the very garden where Jesus was buried. The darkness inside is sobering.
Many exit the dark tomb, coming back into the light weeping with mixed emotions – sorrow for our sins that put Him there, and joy for the reality of an empty tomb.
Praise God, the tomb is empty! He is still the Light of the World!