Their Witness, and Ours

3communion6_JNBy David Ray

 

If only trees could talk . . .

Outside the walls of Jerusalem, across the Kidron Valley and near the foot of a rising hillside, was a garden called Gethsemane. It held a grove of olive trees, perhaps privately owned and set off from public space, but graciously made available to Jesus and his disciples whenever needed.

A place of quiet retreat, it was far enough away to escape the hectic press of the city, but still close enough to see the temple clearly. By day, the garden was a cooler place, with shade found under hanging branches and broad leaves. At night, the olive trees supplied a sheltering canopy for sleep. Jesus spent a lot of time with his disciples there, the garden likely offering not just a private place to rest, but to teach.

If only trees could talk . . . I wonder what those standing there might have learned?

On a last night, after celebrating Passover and instituting the meal we are about to share, Jesus and his disciples made their way once again to Gethsemane. It was very late, and Jesus revealed the deep anguish of his heart. He asked his disciples to watch and pray, but they fell asleep. It was alone in this olive grove that Jesus finally accepted the cross, saying to God: “Do what you want, not what I want” (Matthew 26:39*).

If only trees could talk . . . what more might they tell us about Jesus’ anguish there?

Judas was well familiar with this garden, too. He had no trouble guessing where Jesus would be, and he led the chief priests and temple guards up the path to find him. “The man I kiss is Jesus” (v. 48), Judas said, the betrayal made beneath the olive trees.

If only trees could talk . . . what could they say about this tragic moment?

Those who visit Jerusalem today still find ancient olive trees on that hillside. A few years ago, carbon-dating confirmed that some of the trees are almost 1,000 years old. DNA testing further revealed that eight trees have the same genetic profile—that is, they may have been planted with cuttings from a single “parent” tree. Perhaps someone didn’t want the witness to be lost forever. While these ancient trees did not “hear” and “see” Jesus, a common ancestor in that olive grove may have witnessed these events.

If only trees could talk . . . but a witness still begs to be shared. Paul wrote: “Every time you eat this bread and drink this cup you are telling others about the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26). Trees might not talk, but this meal does. Listen and then pass it on! People can talk.

________

 

*All Scripture verses are from the New Century Version.

 

David Ray is professor of practical ministries and academic dean of the seminary at Cincinnati (Ohio) Christian University.

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