July 6, 2008

Jerusalem 2

Last Sunday we stood on the Mount of Olives, looking over the Old City of Jerusalem. I pointed out the narrow road on the right side of the picture. Walk down the road—it's quite steep—and you come to the Garden of Gethsemane. It may not have looked much different in the time of Jesus. Olive groves can be pleasant places, and rather garden-like even without any improvements.

Path in the Garden of Gethsemane
It would be a good place to slip away to at night to pray, as Jesus did. To pray in his agony, knowing he would soon die a terrible death. And it was here he was arrested. The place which tradition says was the actual spot is now covered by a church, The Church Of All Nations, or Basilica of the Agony, about a hundred feet from here. (We are just north of the road, the basilica is on the other side.)

And here is our dear friend Father Francis Goode, about to celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass right in the garden. Let me tell you that was an amazing moment! We are there early, and all is quiet and peaceful.
Fr Francis, Mass, Garden of Gethsemane
Behind him you see one of the gates of Jerusalem, the Golden Gate. But observe, it is walled up. You can't go in! Legend says it will open only on the Judgement Day. Jesus and his followers might have stood at this very spot and seen the morning sun strike the golden ornaments of the Temple. Just a few days before his death Jesus did a shocking thing, turning over the tables of the moneychangers in the Temple. I follow N.T. Wright's explanation that this was a brief symbolic act such as Hebrew prophets were wont to do. But also a kingly act, because it was kings who built the Temples (this was the second Temple, and you could also call it the third since it had been greatly rebuilt and expanded by King Herod the Great) and kings who cleansed the Temple. It was an announcement, which he had avoided before, that he was the Messiah, the coming king who would restore all things, liberate the Children of Israel, and usher in the Kingdom of God. He would have been well aware that the powers would have to destroy him after that. And in submitting to death, he made the Perfect Sacrifice as our Great High Priest.

We believe that Christ has three aspects, Priest, Prophet and King. These are seen, among other ways, in the Mass, when our priest, acting in persona Christi, sits in a chair as King, stands in the pulpit as Prophet, and stands at the altar as Priest. Those whose minds are dimmed by Protestantism and Nominalism will no doubt refer to these as "figures of speech," or metaphors. No, sorry, they are real, as real this chair I'm sitting in. You can say they are metaphors that have come to life. They do that, wherever the Kingdom breaks in upon our world. And if you see it, if you are bowled over one day, as I was, to see metaphors become real things (sort of like waking up in a fairy tale and hearing trees and animals talk) well then you cease at that moment to be a Protestant....

If you are the rare sort who wants to understand these things by delving into history, I give my highest recommendation to N.T. Wright's three books that comprise his Christian Origins and the Question of God.


Posted by John Weidner at July 6, 2008 5:04 AM
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