Sleeping at the base of a tree


Randy Riley - Contributing columnist



Over the past month, I have written several times about the Russian war of aggression in Ukraine. Their situation is not getting any better. In fact, it appears to be getting worse.

With Holy Week being upon us and having observed Palm Sunday a few days ago, that war seems even more vile and wicked. As our minister talked about the events that led up to the trial and crucifixion of Christ, I couldn’t help but remember my visit to the Mount of Olives in 2001.

The old garden path led into a small grove of ancient trees. The tree trunks and branches of each tree were thick and incredibly gnarled.

They didn’t look like they could have been living trees except for the small green leaves that were growing from the tip of each branch. Each leaf was small and narrow, a healthy green color.

In a few places along the path, I could reach out and touch a branch. I was in awe that I was touching a living organism that was over 2,000 years old.

As we marveled at the age of the olive trees, our guide explained that it was under these very trees that a few of the disciples fell asleep as Jesus prayed just a short distance away. We are told in the Gospel of Mark that Jesus told his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.”

We probably all know the feeling. We are so tired; we just cannot keep our eyes open. It is at those times of exhaustion that we might find ourselves taking those really long blinks. We shut our eyes as we blink and several seconds later, we realize that we haven’t reopened them.

That is just one short step away from sleeping. I can imagine the disciples curled up under one of those old olive trees, using a root for a pillow. As they rested, their eyes got heavier. Then, while taking a long blink, they lapsed into full-blown sleep. They didn’t want to fall asleep, but they just couldn’t stop themselves.

Jesus didn’t walk far. There was a large stone only about 100 feet away. He knelt at the stone and prayed.

He knew what was in store for him. He knew what crucifixion involved. He knew his death was coming.

He wept as he prayed, saying, “Father, everything is possible for you. Take this from me. Yet, not what I want, but what you will.”

After his prayers, he returned to the olive grove and there he found his disciples … sound asleep. He was disappointed. Aggravated, he asked Peter, “Are you asleep? Couldn’t you keep watch for one hour? Now, watch and pray, so that you will not give into the temptation of sleep.”

He said, “I know the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” After scolding his followers, he returned to the stone where he continued to kneel and pray.

It happened again and again. Three times his disciples fell asleep and disappointed him. After the third time, Judas could be heard coming into the olive grove with soldiers to arrest Jesus.

After a short fight between a disciple and a soldier, Jesus was led away to be presented to the chief priest. That led to his trial and eventually his death on the cross.

I am not going to write about the trials of Jesus, the torture, beatings, and the crucifixion that Jesus endured. It was bloody and brutal beyond description.

The most important thing about those three days, those days that occurred over two-thousand years ago, is the miracle of Sunday.

That is when it was discovered that his tomb was empty. That is when the world came to know about the miracle of His resurrection. Thus began Christianity.

Through the scriptures and the teachings of his disciples, we have been taught a new way to treat one another. We have been taught a new way to love. He taught his disciples, “Love one another. Even as I have loved you, so must you love one another. People will know you are my disciples if you do this. If you love one another.”

Therein lies the miracle of His life and of his death. It is His message about the miracle of His love.

This coming week and this coming Easter Sunday, I will pray that His message of love spreads throughout our lives.

It would be a miracle, but I pray that His message of love is felt by both Russians and Ukrainians.

I pray that the war will quickly come to an end and that His love and peace will prevail.

Have a peaceful Easter.

Randy Riley is a former Mayor of Wilmington and former Clinton County Commissioner.

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Randy Riley

Contributing columnist