What is our first thought as we approach Easter, this most holy day of holidays?
As I contemplate this special time of year, I praise the Lord for my increased knowledge, through study and prayer, which He has given me for the building up of my testimony, and love, for the Savior of the World. Because the Atonement is a concept difficult for our minds to grasp, there is a necessity to uncover the intricate details and deep symbolism in the scriptures, as well as gain an understanding of the culture of the Jewish people.
It wasn’t an accident that Jesus chose to pay for our sins in the Garden of Gethsemane. The garden was really an Olive Tree orchard; a small portion of the Mount of Olives. The trees in that garden were probably ancient when Jesus knelt there. The name—Gethsemane—means “Get” (press), “Shahmenah” (oil)—Oil Press. This was a place where the olives were harvested and pressed for their oil.
When olives are pressed for their oil, they are set in bags stacked over a buried urn. Stones are placed on top and pressed. The first press releases the Extra Virgin Olive Oil. As the olives are pressed under increasing amounts of pressure, the oil becomes thicker and darker, and more bitter. This oil is used in various ways, from healing salves to perfumes, to lamp oil. In all parts of the world, more so than in America, olive oil is mixed with almost everything imaginable to serve the inner body, as well as the outer body. The olives are pressed until they are without any fluid, and the pulp is used in solvents. All that is left is the seed, which can be replanted.
Olive trees are gnarly but resilient. They take from ten to twenty years to bear fruit. They can grow anywhere, but must be pruned, digged, nourished, and dunged about in order to produce. (Jacob 5)They have been likened to the House of Israel, who needed much tending. This tree has also been likened to The Tree of Life, which was a representation of the Son of God, and His atoning sacrifice. (1 Ne 8 ) As well, the olive is a very bitter fruit and must be leached and neutralized in a brine for months before becoming edible. But this fruit has also been likened to the white fruit that is most sweet and desirable.
There are two major components of this great sacrifice: Blood and Oil.
Blood. On the Day of Atonement, which was held once a year, a high priest was able to go into the temple to partake of the Sacrament for the people. He would slaughter animals and sprinkle the blood over the crowd to cleanse them of their sin according to the sacrifice of the animals made in their behalf. “Blood is a sacred and beautiful, delicate, miraculous substance, designed as a reminder, a typifying of glorious things.” However, Satan has counterfeited this fluid into horrific imagery. “Cleansing, quickening, empowering, energizing, refreshing, building, healing, filling with the radiant flush of healthy complexion, an anointing power shed forth from Christ, made available to those who are truly washed and anointed.” We have our lifeblood, but Christ’s blood is precious eternal, for it is innocent and consecrated. His blood means everything to us. (Brickey)
Oil. The name Messiah, or Christ, means “the anointed one”, or “the one anointed”. Olive oil, all over the world, is the source of light, warmth, nutrition, healing, comfort, and a vehicle for sacred ordinances. (Brickey)
Because of Jesus Christ’s great sacrifice, we can take our own Sacrament, weekly. The bread and water are taken to cleanse us from sin, through His blood that was spilt. He was the anointed one, the only one who could offer this to us. We recognize His gift to us through the Spirit, which is often represented by consecrated oil.
Using Elder McConkie’s words, I now say, “In speaking of these wondrous things, I shall use my own words, though you may think they are the words of scripture, words spoken by other apostles and prophets. True it is they were first proclaimed by others, but they are now mine.”
“In that hour of anguish Christ met and overcame all the horrors that Satan, “the prince of this world” could inflict.” (James Talmage)
“His clearly defined footprints are…pressed distinctly and deeply into the soil of the second estate, deeply and distinctly because of the enormous weight which pressed down upon Him, including the awful burden of all of our individual sins. Only He could have carried it all. I thank the Savior personally for bearing all which I added to His hemorrhaging at every pore for all of humanity in Gethsemane.” (Neal A. Maxwell)
“For what he has done, we should never fail Him.” (Joseph Fielding Smith)
“Reverently and meekly now, let thy head most humbly bow. Think of me, thou ransomed one; think what I for thee have done. With my blood that dripped like rain, sweat in agony of pain, with my body on the tree, I have ransomed even thee…At the throne I intercede; for thee ever do I plead. I have loved thee as thy friend, with a love that cannot end. Be obedient, I implore, prayerful, watchful, evermore, and be constant unto me, that thy Savior I may be.” (Hymns, #185, vs. 1,4)
“I pray that hereafter, when you speak or hear the words, “I anoint you with this consecrated oil,” you will remember what the consecration cost. I pray that, as you sit (but in our spirits as we kneel) at the sacrament table, and you are asked to remember his body and blood, you will recall that he is the veritable tree and olive beaten for the light, and that there flows from him unto this whole earth, and beyond, the redemptive power of healing and soothing and ministering to the needy. I pray that in hours of gladness, should your cup run o’er, you will remember that, to make that possible, a cup, the bitterest of cups, was drunk.” (Truman Madsen, “The Olive Press”, BYU Speeches, 1982)
Russell M. Nelson explains how a great loss of blood causes great thirst. “While the Master suffered with his tongue cleaving to his jaws and with his lips dried and cracked, he was offered vinegar, an acid, which further burned his open wounds. (“The Atonement”, Ensigns, Nov 1996) Neal A Maxwell notes the irony, “Jesus gave mankind living water so that we shall never thirst again. In return, on the cross He was given vinegar.” (Meek and Lowly, Deseret Book, 1987)
“I am one of His witnesses, and in a coming day I shall feel the nail marks in His hands and in His feet and shall wet His feet with my tears. But I shall not know any better then than I know now that He is God’s Almighty Son, that He is our Savior and Redeemer, and that salvation comes in and through His atoning blood and in no other way.” (Bruce R. McConkie, “The Purifying Power of Gethsemane”, CR, Apr 6, 1985)
Much of this information came from Wayne Brickey, “Gethsemane—The Olive Press”.