Thursday, January 20, 2011

Pilgrims' Progress: Thursday In Gethsemane

We've been in the Holy Land nine days. We've seen more churches than we can probably remember right off the bat (Quick: Was that fresco you loved in the Holy Sepulcher, Dominus Flevit, or the Church of the Annunciation?). We have sipped cold water from Jacob's well, stood in the ruins of the Capernaum synagogue where Jesus may have taught, climbed the same steps he may have used to enter the Second Temple, stooped to touch Golgotha, and draped ourselves over his burial slab.

And then this morning, after a long walk across the Temple Mount and through the Old City, as we arrived in the Garden of Gethsemane (I can only speak for myself; I'm sure all the other St. John's pilgrims were more devout), I briefly wondered what we were going to have for lunch back at St. George's.

The gnarled olive trees themselves, probably fed by the same roots as the ones that sheltered Jesus Christ and his slumberous disciples the night of his betrayal, seem to proclaim his suffering. I'd been there twice before, it's true. But how could the faithful pilgrim's mind wander for even a moment?

Could you not keep awake one hour?
Waiting until the last few days of a sometimes grueling Christian pilgrimage before visiting Gethsemane and St. Peter in Galicantu helpfully tempts us to reenact the disciples' far more fateful 11th-hour distraction. Gali cantu means "cock crows." Churches often commemorate saints' best moments. Here, we remember Jesus's prediction that his friend will deny him three times.

Denying him my own full attention illustrated a truth a Nixon colleague taught me after a decisive three-hour meeting we sat through together: "All that really counts is how you behave in the last three minutes." Jesus's disciples had their ups and downs during his three years of public ministry, but in the end, they utterly failed him. Together with his smiters, his best friends contributed to his desolate experience of complete abandonment. Our ministry after our pilgrimage will be to do better for him and one another.

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