We cannot be a more privileged congregation in having the beautiful ancient church of St Lawrence in which to recreate the Garden of Gethsemane. Each year, as we begin to gather the foliage and blossom, the flowers and the branches, I wonder just how many of the parishioners may have, down the centuries, decorated the church similarly for this particular part of the Easter story. Maybe the tradition to do so is not as old as I may like to think.
As the garden evolves the spiritual atmosphere grows and deepens. In the candlelight, this becomes truly awesome. The St. Mary's friends who help, bring to the garden what is dear to them in the way of a memory of a loved one, memory of a homeland or the need to make the activity an essential part of their Easter preparations.
It is a joy to create such a tranquil setting which can be shared by us all as we come to focus on Jesus' anguish and sacrifice. Yet I cannot help wondering what the Garden of Gethsemane might have been like in Jesus' time. Gethsemane means "olive press" and possibly the garden was actually an olive grove. Maybe the area has changed little since that time but what plants were there then?
The peace and silence during our Night Vigil is broken only by the occasional sound of a car or an ambulance on a mission of mercy. Did Jesus experience any noise from the daily life around Him? Did the snoring disciples disturb Him or could He hear the happy sounds of the nearby city, adding to the pathos of His desperate situation? Probably so.
It's hard to imagine Easter without this ritual, but our Garden of Repose really helps me to feel closer to Jesus, the Man, and His suffering and for this I am truly thankful.
Is the whole experience God inspired?
Yes - I think it must be.
These hidden treasures are woven into God's greenery - willow catkins, a special flower, a sprig of rosemary, cherry and magnolia blossom and when available an olive branch, bearing small but perfectly formed fruits.