Several times in life, I have found myself in Jerusalem. The place is transcendent, every square inch historic, solemn to the point of involuntary prayerfulness, transporting a soul back in time until the feeling overwhelms you, the coming to grips with where you are, right where Christ was. In these choppy times, as humanity fractures, recalling Jerusalem’s reality is a balm for weary hearts.
Climbing the Mount of Olives, one is gradually, then completely, overtaken by the enormity of where one is. Here, around you, are chapels and churches, graves and reminders of how real the Bible is, how real Christ was when he walked and taught in this exact place, teaching again as you soak up the place.
Adding realness to what feels surreal, stories from the Bible are corroborated by the very terrain, geography, lay of the land, everything right where it should be, no break in the 2000-year chain of custody.
If you can believe it, even the ancient olive trees, and quiet Garden of Gethsemane where Christ prayed before his crucifixion and ascension, seem preserved, largely untouched by time. Here Christ shut his eyes and found peace.
Wrote Luke, Christ taught in Jerusalem by day, and “at night, he went out and lodged on the mount called Olivet,” that is, Mount of Olives. On the far side lies the grave of Lazarus, where Christ raised him on what we celebrate as Lazarus Saturday. Wrote John, here “Jesus wept” for Lazarus, then raised him.
Here, too, as if the place itself calls forth tears, Christ would weep again. He would weep first for Jerusalem, and later, toward the end of his time on earth, in prayer to his Father. As Luke recorded, he “went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him.”
“And when he came to the place, he said to them, ‘Pray that you may not enter into temptation,’ and he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying ‘Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will be done, but yours, be done.’”
The realness of it is almost overwhelming. A stone’s throw we know. Stones are everywhere there. Kneeling, we know. We kneel as he kneeled. The fear of mortality we know, yet too the rightness of a prayer that, in humility asks, “Not my will be done, but yours, be done.” We knew these things, too.
Then, as one stands in that place, the otherworldly nature of what transpired and lives on, grabs you. Luke’s next line, “And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in agony, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” Here, in this place, on this ground, under this sun, with this around him, Christ did that.
With turmoil enveloping Jerusalem, Israel, and wider Holy Land, the places Christ walked – and before him the Jewish nation, after him those of Muslim faith, these images surge back. They are arresting.
I recall standing high up and looking down. Around the Mount of Olives lay Old Jerusalem, sacred places in all three religions. For me, here was living corroboration of the New Testament. I recall thinking that Christ looked over the Dead Sea from here, across the West Bank, right where I stood. It sent shivers.
So what comes of remembering this? What comes of knowing, in the season of light, as Christmas approaches, the reality of that place? As the modern world frays, and devolves to terror and war, what good is there in knowing that the words of the Bible can be walked still, are as real as real gets?
Hope is the answer. Hope exists – bright and clear – in this very time, in this very life, and in what lies beyond, despite our recurring inanity, frequent insanity, and the repeated stumbling of humanity.
If we can only stop long enough – whatever our faith, depth, and natural doubts; whatever our stress, deprivation, waves of sadness, worry about Mankind’s madness – to remember the realness of it all, and the peace that resides in doggedly believing in and pursuing peace, there is hope.
Bottom line, beyond conveying hope by recalling how real it was to stand there, bathed in Old Jerusalem, hot sun on my face, light breeze in my hair, ancient olive trees everywhere, is this: Before giving in, trust what you know, what you have believed from the start. Jerusalem’s reality is the balm for the heart.
Robert Charles is a former Assistant Secretary of State under Colin Powell, former Reagan and Bush 41 White House staffer, attorney, and naval intelligence officer (USNR). He wrote “Narcotics and Terrorism” (2003), “Eagles and Evergreens” (2018), and is National Spokesman for AMAC.