The perfect backdrop for the most stressful night of Jesus’ life

Olive Tree against sky Garden of Gethsemane

Olive trees still provide shade in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus would have been very familiar with a view like this one during the Passover holiday. (William Haun photo)

logo 12 daysGethsemane is just exactly where you’d expect to find it. It’s at the bottom of the Mount of Olives.

If you’ve ever harvested a crop, this makes perfect sense. Whether you’re picking apples, pecans, cotton, tomatoes or olives, if you gather a basket or so, you’re dealing with a heavy load.

Now. Do you want to carry that load up a hill … or down?

Or do you even know what “Gethsemane” means?

“Gat” is “oil.” “Shemane” is “press.” So our “Gethsemane” is the location of the oil press on the Mount of Olives.

And olives can be quite heavy during the harvest. So no kidding, it’s at the bottom of the hill.

The process for turning ripe olives into cash is two-fold. Part One is cracking the olives open with a mill stone. That first bit of “virgin oil” is collected and sold at a premium price. Part Two involves putting the cracked olives into porous bags, stacking the bags, and then pressing those bags until every last drop of oil is drained from the olives.

Olive press illustration

After olives were cracked with a millstone, they were bagged, stacked and pressed until every drop of oil had been collected. In the photo, the stones with holes in them were used as weights for the “gat-shemane.”

The press is a fairly simple contraption of a huge beam, heavy weights and time. Stack the bags of cracked olives, tie the weights to the beam, and gravity will do the rest.

As you know, one of the most famous images from the Week of Passion is  of Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. It makes perfect sense that Jesus and the disciples would like camping out in such a location. Since olives are harvested in the fall, the area would have been quiet and comfortable in the spring.

Remember, too, that Jesus had attended a lot of Passovers in Jerusalem. Mary and Joseph (check out Luke 2:41) took their growing family to Jerusalem every year for the holiday. It’s not inconceivable that Jesus had spent a lot of Passover nights in the garden at the base of the Mount of Olives.

But what we remember, of course, is the last night he spent there.

The Passover meal had been a roller coaster of emotions. The disciples arrived in bad moods. They still weren’t over the power play James and John had made on the walk up from Jericho. Their mom, you’ll remember, had asked Jesus to let her boys sit next to him in the coming kingdom. Neither she nor any of the disciples comprehended the kingdom Jesus was bringing, but it still lead to hard feelings.

Jesus surprised them all by washing their feet.

Once they were focused, he told them all sorts of unsettling things. This was his last meal, he told them. The bread and the wine, he said, represented his death. Worst of all, he told of a betrayer in their midst.

Eventually, all but Judas followed him to Gethsemane. The disciples slept, Jesus prayed, and Judas kept his end of a bloody bargain.

Before the soldiers arrived to arrest him, Jesus prayed. He begged the Father for another way. He asked that “the cup” not be his to drink … and yet at the same time, agreed to do the Father’s will.

He prayed in such anguish, Luke tells us drops of bloody sweat appeared on his forehead.

“And being in agony,” Luke writes, “He was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground. (Luke 22:44, NASB)

Doctors tell us that it is, indeed, possible for this to happen. A person under tremendous stress might rupture the small blood vessels in his or her forehead. If that person is also sweating, the blood and sweat will mix together, creating the medical condition called hematidrosis.

This is what happened to Jesus, on the brink of his arrest. This is how stressed he was, knowing he would be on a cross by morning. The enormous task weighed down on him like nothing he’d ever known.

And it all happened in the shadow of the oil press.

In the same place where every last drop was squeezed out of the olives, the decision to accept his fate squeezed the life out of Jesus.

Amazingly, Jesus submitted to the Father’s will.

He did so because he loved his disciples. He did so because he loved his enemies, even the ones coming toward the garden at that very moment. He did so because without the sacrifice of innocent blood, all of us who are guilty wouldn’t have a chance.

Jesus did this … because he loved you.

Previously: Ten things every Christian should know about Passover.