We’re almost at the end of our Israel trip, and it’s hard to believe. I am already having a hard time with the fact that most of our fellow travelers will be leaving tomorrow night.
Just wanted to update about today. We started this morning at the Church of St. Anne, at the pools of Bethesda- then it was off to carry our cross. Literally. Today we walked the Via Dolorosa- or the road that Christ walked on his way to the Crucifixion. There were several stops along the way, but that is an entry all in itself.
I want to touch on my highlights, but first- since I didn’t really get to comment on it yesterday… Can I tell you again how much fun it is to swim in the Dead Sea? I am still on cloud nine. I have never experienced anything like it. Like Michael said, at one point we all started to walk (which is hard to do because of the buoyancy) until our feet could touch no more…. and it was like walking on air. I immediately reverted to five years old in age, and ballet danced my way through the sea. It was just lovely.
Today, my highlight was the Church of St. Anne. It has the most wonderful acoustics I have ever heard- and compared only to those of Notre Dame in Paris. We stopped inside, and sang together as a group. I’ve never heard anything like it. It is estimated that the reverberation inside the chapel is 6 seconds. One by one, everyone left the church, and there I was- alone in the Church of St. Anne save one Catholic priest. At first hesitated, but I couldn’t resist. I broke out into what I call “my favorite song to sing to the Lord.”
I love you Lord, and I lift my voice
To worship you, Oh my soul rejoice
Take joy my King, in what you hear
May it be a sweet, sweet sound in your ear.
The priest, who had been preparing for Mass, stopped as I sang. When I finished, he reverently nodded his head, and smiled. It was a wonderful chance to offer my song to God, and I relished every moment of it.
Take joy, my King, in what you hear- may it be a sweet, sweet sound in your ear.
The obvious doubting Thomas in all of us will easily grumble, “The Via Dolorosa, oh what a man-made quiltwork of maybes.” I mean come on. The third place Jesus stumbled, so take a picture of the cobble stones? We actually backtracked at some point because some disrespectful Muslims actually built their homes blocking the route in the 2000 years that have transpired. Meaning we joked about Jesus carrying his cross back the way he came in some of the less reverant moments. “Excuse me, scuse me. Can’t get through. On my way to Golgotha, you know.”
Our guide, a wonderful Jew (oddly enough) named Hillel, really did save the day by beginning the route reading a poem. While I can’t quote it word-for-word the gist was, do not focus on the authenticity of the path, but rather the faith of those who created it, desiring to pick up their cross and follow in their Lord’s footsteps.
That I can get into.
The route obviously ends in Golgotha (Calvary) and the empty tomb. Tomorrow I will probably try and speak more about the historical authenticity of the spot we were standing on today, as we are visiting the alternate Golgotha and garden tomb. Again, focus on the moment, not on the rocks beneath our feet. I must say I didn’t expect to be moved with my superior historical arrogance, but moved I was. In a rather dingy church built over the rocky hill -visible through glass around the altar – there it hits you right in the heart. Jesus died for my sins in a horrible, painful way. Not that you didn’t know that before, but here you are standing at the foot of the cross. Church or no church. Accurate or not accurate, here you are standing at the foot of the cross.
We then moved to a different spot in the same church (The Church of the Holy Seplucher): The empty tomb of Jesus Christ. Not at all what I expected, in the middle of a huge, cathedral-sized rotunda stands a chapel I suppose you would call it. About the size of a two-story, one car garage. We stood outside and read the words you hear every Easter morning and again, it hits you. Thirty Easters I’ve lived through, and none as powerful as today. Inside the chapel is two chambers, and they only let four or five people in at a time, giving you all the time you need. Very intimate and moving. The first chamber has the only piece of rock left of the original tomb. A textbook sized piece of limestone (the Crusaders shipped most of it back to their various churches in Europe, what can you do?) The second inner chamber is a small, simple, empty marble bed lit by various prayer candles. Not like an altar. You file in beside it and have just enough room to stand and look at it. Like filing in a train car and looking at the bunk bed.
Absolutely, to-the-core moving beyond words. Here you are, staring at an empty slab. We touched it. We prayed. We remained silent the whole time.
Isn’t it amazing how absolutely nothing, an empty piece of marble, means absolutely everything?