“When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple.” Mark 13:3
Do you have a special place? Somewhere you go for peace and quiet, somewhere you go to get away from annoying things, somewhere you go just because it is a good place to be?
In days as a curate, there were two spots I would go just to be there. One was an island in a lake, joined to land by a stone bridge. It had been the site of a monastery in ancient times and there was still a sense of holiness in the place, a sense that it was ‘other’ from the world around. The other place was on top of a hill that stood high above the town. It was a quiet spot with views for miles all around, but the best thing of all was the view of the town. From the hilltop, every street and estate could be seen; from the distance, they were all in miniature. Problems that seemed large when down among them seemed to take on a new perspective when seen from the top of the hill.
The Mount of Olives was a special place and it was a place for looking across the city of Jerusalem; a place for quietness, a place to see things as they were.
When King David was driven from Jerusalem, the Mount of Olives was a place that he went in penitence and sorrow. In the Second Book of Samuel Chapter 15 it says, “David continued up the Mount of Olives, weeping as he went; his head was covered and he was barefoot. All the people with him covered their heads too and were weeping as they went up.” From the hilltop, David could stand and look at the holy city.
In the prophet Ezekiel, the Mount of Olives is place where the presence of God stops, Ezekiel Chapter 11 Verse 23 says, “The glory of the Lord went up from within the city and stopped above the mountain east of it.”
In the prophet Zechariah, the day of the Lord, the day when God comes to Earth to protect his people and to establish his kingdom, will be centred on the Mount of Olives. Zechariah Chapter 14 Verses 3-4 says, “Then the Lord will go out and fight against those nations, as he fights on a day of battle. On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west, forming a great valley, with half of the mountain moving north and half moving south.”
In today’s Gospel reading, the story follows Jesus in Holy Week. It needs to be remembered what a special place the Mount of Olives was for Jesus and his people. This was no ordinary part of the landscape—it was a place where the mere mention of its name would have brought to the minds of Jewish people memories of their history in the days of King David and hopes of a new Kingdom when the Lord came to be with his people.
The prophecy of Ezekiel Chapter 11 speaks of the glory of God leaving Jerusalem and stopping at the mountain to the east of the city, but promises that the Lord will return.
As the Lord’s presence stopped at the Mount of Olives as he departed from the city, so the Lord’s presence, in his Son Jesus, stopped at the Mount of Olives as he returned to the city in Saint Mark Chapter 11 Verse 1. Those awaiting the coming of the Lord would surely have seen this moment as hugely significant.
Reading the story twenty centuries later, it is easy to overlook things, easy to fail tor recognize the importance of each detail and each moment. Reading the story, is there appreciation of what it means for God to come to be present with his people? Is there now a sense of that God in people’s lives?
The Mount of Olives was a place of holiness, a place of holiness far more significant than the old monastic site I used to visit, it was a place of God’s presence. The Mount of Olives was also to which to retreat from the city, a place where Jesus would go to find peace and quiet at the end of the day. Saint Mark Chapter 13 Verse 3 says, “when he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple.”
In Jesus’ place, most people would have been inclined to have stayed in the city, listened for every whisper, every rumour of what was going on, what was being plotted, who were the conspirators. Dealing with very serious matters, how much time would people find for thought and reflection and prayer? Yet, here is Jesus, at this most important of moments, and each evening he goes out to the hillside to sit in quietness.
The way Jesus approaches the coming crisis in his life is completely different from the way most people would approach a crisis. The usual response to problems tends to be even more busyness, even more activity, even more words. Jesus’ response to the crisis is stillness. How different might people be if they spent more time being still?
If mention of the Mount of Olives prompted people to ask of themselves just two questions, then they might become very different people.
Firstly, is there an awareness of God’s presence in daily life, is there a sense that God is there, wherever people may be, whatever they may be doing?
Secondly, if people are aware of God’s presence, then shouldn’t it change the way they think and the way that they live? If people seriously believe that God is with them at every moment, then shouldn’t they spend a lot more time talking to him?
To the people of Jesus’ time, the Mount of Olives was a special place because it was a place of God’s presence. The Christian faith is in a God who is with people in all places at all times, so every place should be special place, every moment a special time.