Mount of Olives panorama

Mount of Olives panorama
A panoramic view of the Mount of Olives

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Jerusalem Day 2, End of Our Pilgrimage

Our second full day in Jerusalem was also the end of our pilgrimage.  Although there were other events and visits in the middle, it was framed by two places that represent the nexus points of our atonement theology.  We started in Gethsemane, where Jesus took upon himself our sins, sorrows, and infirmities, and ended in the Garden Tomb, which, regardless of its historical and archaeological claims, provides an ideal setting to recount Jesus' death on the cross and his triumph over death.

 The gospels record that on the night that Jesus was betrayed and taken he first went to the Mount of Olives, a garden, or a place called Gethsemane or "the place of the oil press."  Since Byzantine times there was a rock called the "rock of the agony" where Jesus was believed to have prayed his final night, asking that the cup could pass.  The Byzantine church was replaced by a Crusader church, and now the modern Basilica of the Agony (also known as the Church of All Nations) stands on the spot.  On its north side are some really old olive trees reminiscent of those among which Jesus may have suffered (there is an alternate tradition of a cave where there was an olive press, which is nearby next to the Tomb of Mary).

One of the old olive trees in the churchyard of the Basilica of All Nations
Looking up at the Golden Gate of the Temple Mount from Gethsemane. Could Jesus have looked up at the temple during his agony?

The Qidron Valley and its tombs from Gethsemane

The Russian Orthodox church of Mary Magdalene above Gethsemane
In a walled garden across the street from the church compound itself are spots for teaching and meeting.  Each of the three buses in our group met in a separate corner of this garden.  For our devotional we first read from Luke 22 and then  Mosiah 3, and D&C 19, and Alma 7.  I refered to some McConkie, Maxwell, and Holland, and then shared a few of my own readings of the texts and understanding of the doctrine, stressing that this was the beginning of the atoning process but only part of it.  We then sang "Reverently and Meekly Now," the only LDS hymn that speaks directly of the Gethsemane experience.  After hearing from Larry Larsen and sharing my own testimony, we called some of the brethren forward to consecrate some oil pressed here in Jerusalem.  We then sang "In Remembrance of Thy Sufferings" before dismissing everyone for twenty minutes of quiet time for meditation and prayer.


We then went over to look at the old olive trees in the main church yard and visited the Basilica of the Agony.

The dark purple colors of the windows of the basilica are mean to evoke the darkness of that terrible night

 After a quick photo opportunity at the top of the Mount of Olives at the Seven Arches overlook (picture forthcoming), we went down to the Dung Gate, where we entered the Davidson Archaeological Park.  That allowed us to examine the Herodian retaining walls close up, see the stones thrown over from the top when the temple was destroyed in A.D. 70, and then go sit on some of the first century steps leading up to the old Huldah Gates that entered the sacred compound.  There we sang "I Love to See the Temple."

We then passed through security and approached the Western Wall, the current holiest spot in Judaism, for a chance to pray and leave a note.

 While in the Jewish Quarter, we got lunch in a place, appropriately enough, called "The Holy Bagel."

The next stop on our itinerary was a visit to the BYU Jerusalem Center (JC), the place that my family called home from 2011-2012.  As we pulled up and even before I got off the bus, I waved at one of the security staff, Bashar, whom I had known two years ago.  He did a double-take and started to wave excitedly.  I bounded off the bus and gave him a bear hug and was soon greeted by another friend, Mahmoud.  This scene was repeated again and again inside, with security, custodial, and administrative staff.  How I love these people and love this place.

Rachel, still a bit weepy about being home.

As I walked into the JC hand-in-hand with my sweet daughter, Rachel began to cry.  We were coming home.  We could hardly sit still during the obligatory tour presentations.  Some of the most precious moments to me was when I visited meaningful spots to me on the grounds, a sheltered and private view of the Temple Mount that was a daily retreat for worship and prayed and an old olive tree under which I would frequently read and prepare my Old or New Testament lessons for the next day.

 The final stop of our official tour was to the Garden Tomb.  Regardless of its relatively recent popularity and lack of archaeological or historical credentials, this beautiful spot it a favorite of many Protestants and most Latter-day Saints because it provides such a fitting setting to remember the events of that first Easter morning and and celebrate the miracle of the Resurrection.
We began with the standard introduction to the site by Ann, a member of the Garden Tomb Society staff.  We then visited Skull Hill, which overlooks Gordon's Calvary, the rocky cliff face that Charles Gordon "discovered" in 1883 and thought looked like a skull.

 We then went an visited the tomb.

 After this, we held our devotional in the middle of the garden, with Debra Ellis Smith playing "God So Loved the World" on her Bows system. After reading from John 19:14-19, we listened to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir's "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross," and discussed "Why the Cross?" Reading John 19:23-30 and sang "Upon the Cross of Calvary." 

After reading John 20:1-18 we stood and sang "He Is Risen!" I related the story of Samuel's school program at the Garden Tomb two years ago and the miracle that occurred on that occasion.   After listening to Ryan Murphy's "Jesus Is Risen," we provided time for members of the group to share their testimonies. We concluded by singing "Christ the Lord Is Risen Today" and having a prayer led by Jill Brown Shumway. It was a fitting end to our pilgrimage.

In this picture from April 2012, I stand with my son, Samuel, in front of the Garden Tomb

1 comment:

  1. At the Garden Tomb our guide greeted us and found that we were a Mormon group. He made mention of us being the Mormon Tabernacle Choir which I said no they will be coming a little later. When your group started to sing a little bit later I ran over and grabbed him to say that your group had a few members of the Choir in it. He was so excited to hear your group sing and he even showed me the goose bumps on his arm from hearing you sing. I stood by him for a several minutes and watched as he smiled from ear to ear, beaming with so much joy to hear such beautiful music. He also mentioned that he was just enjoying the choir's new CD. It was great to see him so touched by the spirit through such wonderful music.

    Devon Ogden