Holy Land: the end and the beginning

Text up now, pictures as soon as I can!

6:57 am – Israel Time – 3/29/2015

I woke up this morning before breakfast to try to cover even a slight bit of the wonder that was yesterday. I am sitting in the lobby of the hotel. Various sisters and priests and one cardinal have come through the lobby. The only English I have heard is a fellow early rising pilgrim who said hi as he walked past with his coffee.
We woke before dawn yesterday to walk through the old city in the dark. One of the gates is across the street and one block down from our hotel. We walked for about ten minutes through dark narrow streets:

Our destination was the church of the Holy Sepulcher. This church contains the site where Jesus died, where he laid in his mother’s arms after he was taken down, and his tomb. All three places are so close that they all fit in the same church. We arrived just as light was hinting in the sky:

The facade of the church that you see here was built around 1099 by the Cursaders:

We were going to the church so early because our fantastic tour guide was able to schedule a Mass for us at the tomb, no not AT the tomb, IN the tomb! And that Mass was so early because we are Catholics. There are squabbles between the Christian denominations, like everything else…Because of this, for years and years now, a Muslim family has controlled the keys to the door of the church. It opens, for Catholics to have Mass at 4 am and closes (for Catholic Masses) at 8 am.
There are no words for what it was like to be inside that space, praying the sacrifice of the Mass, knowing that the tomb was empty, not just because of faith, but because I could see it! I was in there! The tomb is empty! He is Risen! It felt like Easter had come a week and a day early. I sincerely can’t put words around it. So here are some pictures.
The entrance to the outer chamber of the tomb:P1070382
Stephanie looking at a stone that is a portion of the stone that had blocked Jesus’ body in the tomb:

My foot about to enter the inner chamber where Jesus’ body lay:

Father celebrating Mass with Jeff and Tim in front of him praying with the stone where He lay:

The emotion on Dean’s face after he had left the inner chamber:
We only had 25 minutes scheduled in the tiny space. So there was rushing and squishing and crying and praying and Our Lord, and His empty tomb.
When we left that space, we headed directly over up stairs to the rock of Golgatha. The place of the skull. The place where all the crucifixions would take place in the time of Jesus. And there were a lot.
Here is the place where Jesus died for our sins. You can see beyond the candles, a person bent down under an altar. Under that altar is a hole with a stone underneath it. You reach in and touch the spot where Christ’s cross was erected. This is the spot where He saved my soul (yours too) from Hell:

After he was taken down from the cross, his lifeless body was cradled in his mothers arms. Have you heard of a sculpture called the Pieta? This is where the real thing happened:
Tabitha, a mother on the pilgrimage, wiping her shawl on the place where his body laid:

There is a tradition that says that the body of Adam (yes the First one) is buried below Golgatha and that, when Jesus was dying, his blood ran down through this crack in the stone of Golgatha and healed his sins:


We saw a section of the church with cross after cross carved into the walls. George, our guide, told us that, after they found the True Cross, pilgrims divided it among themselves. Each one carved a cross into the wall to mark what they had done:P1070434
Wooden spots in the floor pepper the whole church complex. Under each is buried a Crusader:P1070428
Next we visited the chapel of Mary Magdalene. In here sits this whipping post to which Christ was chained and flayed with whips by the Roman guards:P1070442
Our final spot in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher was a spot where you can see burial caves like what they would have looked like in Jesus’ time. Jesus’ grave would have looked like this: P1070451

As we left the church, sunlight was streaming down through the ceiling and towards the smaller chamber of His tomb. I imagined that bright morning light just like this hit Him on that very fine morning when He rose from the dead. Here:P1070445
After a rest and breakfast at the hotel, we visited the ruins of the Pools of Bethesda and the church of St. Anne where one tradition tells us Mary was born.
The ruins of the Pools of Bethesda, where Jesus healed the crippled man who had been waiting 38 years for help:P1070512
In the door to the Church of St. Anne, you can see Arabic writing from when Muslim invaders took over the church:P1070513
Here is a painting in the space where one tradition holds that Mary was born:P1070521
After the church, we walked staight on down the Via Dolorosa. Or the Way of the Roses. That’s the name for the satay ones of the cross in real life, the path that Jeuss took she it really happened. The whole experience was a blur of prayers and singing. I couldn’t tell you what most of the stations were. But the experience of it brought me right into the moment with our Lord. The path he walked from condemnation until the site of crucifixion was not a wide rural trail. It was int he heart of a bustling city. We walked singing “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” and “Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom” but we weren’t singing in a vacuum or a chapel or even a quiet street. Markets surrounded us. The street was barely wide enough for a car. When Jesus walked here, many people were probably annoyed with Him for blocking their path. Have you ever been annoyed with someone for getting in your way when you were in a hurry? That person could have been Jesus. I need to try to see Jesus more in the people that I get impatient with.
Here are some pictures of the stations:P1070533 This is original stone from the time of Jesus. The carvings next to my feet are the board for a game like chess that the Roman soldiers would play:P1070543 Here is a particularly wide portion of street with all of us moving from one station to the next:P1070547 Inside a chapel at the third station, where Jesus falls for the first time:P1070551 Outside the third station. Each one had one of those dark metal circular plaques with the station number in Roman numerals:P1070553 As a mother herself Tabitha was heartbreaking and beautiful when she read the fourth station, where Jesus meets his mother:P1070556 Father walking and singing into the mic so we can hear him in our headphones as we walk through the markets:P1070562 This man walked by us during the stations:P1070569 Some stations were just stops on a wall in a corridor: P1070570Little shops were everywhere:P1070572 Everyone wanted to sell us something. We wanted to pray:P1070576I don’t have a picture of it, but I read the reflection at the 6th station, where Veronica wiped the face of Jesus. I made it through every word without completely breaking down. Still, every word was spoke full of pain for Him.
P1070578 At this station, you can see a poster behind Brett and Fr. Dave remembering the Coptic Christian men who were martyred earlier this year:P1070580 This is Stephanie reading a station. She was my honorary pilgrimage mom and she read beautifully:P1070581 We ended the stations at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, where we had been earlier in the morning. This is where he died:P1070603
After the emotional roller coaster that was our morning, we were able to have a perfectly relaxing afternoon, floating on the Dead Sea! And you really do float! I was not expecting much because I have been in the Salt Lake and that one is not so nice, but the Dead Sea was great! I even tried to sink, to push myself under and I physically couldn’t!
Most everyone in the center of this picture is in our group:P1070650In this picture, from left to right, me, Meghann, Lino, Mountain, Fr. Dave, and Brett:P1070659
I love being alone in nature so I went out as far as I could. I am the furthest spec out there in the water:P1070662
Here is me and George (our guide and general treasure trove of knowledge bombs) overlooking the Dead Sea. I can’t say enough good things about George, he is an epic epic man:P1070627
Last for the day was a stop to see the caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. Remember that man in the store next to a jar from a few days ago? That jar was found in caves that up here:P1070675
We are getting very near to the end of this trip. And each day I feel the end looming and I dread it. But I also remember what the Holy Spirit told me at Mt. Tabor, the site of Jesus’ transfiguration. Everyone has to come down from the mountain and get back to work. The mountain is not where we belong. We go to the mountain to draw closer to the Lord and we go back down from the mountain to bring Him back with us to the rest of the world.

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