In life there are certain moments that stand out in our memories. They are surreal experiences where time seems to slow down and our senses become keener. The sights and sounds and smells and tastes of those moments become later triggers for reliving the events vividly in our minds.
My recent trip to Israel left me with many treasured memories. And of course, I have been asked on multiple occasions to recall my favorite or outstanding places. And there is one place. There is a moment when the earth’s rotation seemed to halt, and I felt the presence of something beyond this reality. It is hard to put into words, but I think we all have experienced this sort of spiritual connection and enlightenment. For me, it happened in the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus agonizingly prayed before his betrayal and arrest. The essence of that connection continues to be stirred and forever will occur in my mind. It happens when I smell fresh rosemary, when I hear Scripture read out loud and when I feel the warm sun intertwined with a cool breeze. These experiences will take me back to that garden because just as I carry them with me, I also have never left it.
Of course, these are just a few of the sensory experiences that lead me back to where Jesus wrestled with his fate on the cross. And it wasn’t just being in the garden nor was it the geographical location. Rather, there was a presence, a still and calming spirit. It was a spirit that comforted me and told me that this was only part of the whole story. It was the realization of the whole story of humanity, that encompassed everything leading up to that moment and everything that has followed. And how, I had to ask, how in this land of turmoil, wars, political and religious controversy could there be such a calming, comforting spirit?
Only one word comes to mind and that is HOPE. In Christian Evangelical circles, we speak of everyone having their own Gardens of Gethsemane. A place where there is a struggle with wanting our burdens to be lifted and remaining faithful to God’s will and path for our lives. Yet, I was challenged by this journey to zoom out and see the struggle of humanity from the macro level. We see the larger picture of turmoil and tragedy in human history. Israel is relevant in the way that religious culture and identity collide, especially in Jerusalem. However, I can know and be reassured that there is hope. This hope comes with the actualization of Christ’s commitment to follow God’s will and his sacrifice on the cross for the redemption of humanity. And as I continue to remember this garden experience, I also remember that there is a second garden with an empty tomb. And it is in these gardens that I see God’s promises to us fulfilled, now and in the days to come.