by Georgeta Boanca | Wheaton College
I found myself in the counselor’s office on a cold January day after three attempts of even trying to enter the building. It was in this office with my warm, caring counselor that the floodgates of my tears came open. For an hour twice a month for several months, I just mourned the brokenness and depravity of this world we call home. I had just returned for my final semester of my undergraduate degree after having lived abroad in a developing country for six months. In those six months, I saw the gaping wounds of minors exploited, sold and abused for the pleasure of others. I heard and saw the worst of humanity, yet I also saw the power of a Savior who understood our deepest pains and greatest fears. My time abroad helped me understand the grieving Jesus, but I was soon blinded to this truth under the burden of the stories and faces I carried with me. After my sessions were over and I graduated, I buried my pain as deep as possible because it hurt too much to remember. It wasn’t until I walked the streets of Israel that I was once again moved by the humanity of my Savior in which he felt our deepest sin strike against him, only to conquer it with love. It was mourning in the Garden of Gethsemane at the sin of the world (including my own), as well as rejoicing in my Savior’s sacrifice by taking communion at the Garden Tomb, that impacted my faith the most.
Entering the garden, I had no idea what I would be confronted with. I thought I was just going to see another historically beautiful and tragic tourist destination, but I was quickly jolted from my passivity. After going through the gate, we were seated under a covered area for protection from the sun. Our tour guide began by explaining what Gethsemane means – an oil press. He then went to explain that the refinement of olive oil is a meticulous process in which olives are crushed through the rolling of a large stone pulled by a donkey. I was struck with the thought that out of anywhere in Jerusalem, my Savior came to an olive press to pray and mourn. How very fitting that Jesus would come to a place that symbolized his pain. After the brief explanation by our tour guide, our college chaplain read Mark 24:33-36, and it says:
“And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. And he said to them, ‘My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch.’ And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed, if were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, ‘Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.’” (ESV)
After the reading, I could barely hold in the tears. We were soon given permission to wander and find a spot to meditate. I hardly found a spot, sharing the shade of an olive tree with another human being, before I burst into sobs. The more I tried to contain my tears, the larger the sobs erupted. In no time, I was covered it salty tears and snot that I ended up wiping on my elephant pants. I was crying because I was finally struck by the understanding that my Savior felt every sin of this world, and he knew what was coming. God incarnate was “sorrowful, even to death.” He felt the deepest pain in the depravity of a murderer taking the life of an innocent, the shame of a prostitute selling herself, to the hate of a rape victim, but he also felt my sin of pride and disbelief. My own Savior mourned and was sorrowful. In that moment, I knew that I didn’t need to carry the burden of the stories and faces that haunted me because my Savior carried that burden. He not only carried it, but he conquered it.
On the same day, at the Garden of Gethsemane, we visited another garden with an equally heavy history, the Garden Tomb. I didn’t care about the legitimacy of whether this was the exact burial of my Savior, but rather the symbolism it held. Our group took communion in the garden, and once again I could not contain by tears. This time, my tears weren’t of mourning, but rather they were tears of gratitude. I was in complete and utter thankfulness that my Savior saw the depth of my depravity, and he forgave me. My Jesus forgave me just as he forgave the trafficker, abuser, and exploiter. In his eyes, we are all wiped clean if we but come to him. We can drink of his blood and eat of his body because he was crushed for our transgressions. God incarnate humbled himself and became human. He understands every aspect of humanity because he felt all of it, even to the point of death. Taking communion at the Garden Tomb jolted me to the reality of the power of his resurrection.
While I still carry the stories and memories of the victims and perpetrators I saw abroad, I don’t carry the burden. My burden is light because my Savior’s was heavy. Being in the Garden of Gethsemane reminded me of the importance of mourning. My own Savior mourned for this world, and we honor God when we, as believers, mourn for a world that rejects truth and embraces evil. While mourning is a necessary component of our faith, we cannot stop there. Taking communion at the Garden Tomb reminded me that we have joy and hope because of the death and resurrection of our Savior. We cannot stop at the olive press because we will never discover the healing ointment of olive oil. As a result of my time abroad in the developing country and in Israel, I still cannot take communion at church without shedding some tears before breaking out into joyous praise, and it’s been months since I was there.