It’s been a while since I have braved these pages. Upon returning from Israel, I jumped right back into jobs and seminary and to-dos, and time has raced past without me realizing that it has been far too long since the last post! I am finishing processing the trip on these pages, but this particular day has sent deep ripples in my life over the past month and has been sitting in my Draft box for weeks just needing a few final touches – it was by far the day which held the most profound impact for me, and I hope you are willing to continue journeying with me…
January 6, 2012 – Mount of Olives, Gethsemane, Holocaust Museum, Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Wailing Wall (Shabbat Party)
Finally in Jerusalem – it feels as if we have arrived, more than just physically.
This day brought with it the most personal impact of the trip, but I must admit that I was a bit unprepared for what it would hold – although that may have been a necessary thing for me, as I was then unable to control the emotions that followed. Honestly, up until today I had sensed myself experiencing this place with my mind predominately more than my heart and spirit. Soaking up the knowledge of these places is important; however, there was a piece missing that could not be explained (and yes I am aware that the Helen Keller quote I shared a few posts ago fits this notion perfectly – ha – perhaps the thoughts held in that blog helped prepare me for today).
After taking in the breathtaking view of the city (shown above), we found our way to a little Byzantine church on the Mount of Olives.
While inside the church, we sang the Doxology, and you could almost feel the holiness of the place enlarge as the sacred words and melody filled this ancient space and continued the worship that has been held within its walls for centuries. The unique and equally moving part about this church is that it was built with the direction of worship towards Jerusalem, which was quite uncommon during the time of its construction – and if you stand in the center of the church looking out of the window, the cross is placed directly over the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which is now believed to be the place of the crucifixion and burial of Jesus – you could feel the Spirit in this place as your heart swelled looking through that window.
With the view of Jerusalem in our sights, our guide read Luke 19:41-44 in which Jesus wept over Jerusalem saying,
Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes…because you did not know the time of your visitation.
Those words cut like a knife and again caused my heart to swell as I felt the passion in that cry and experienced the humanity of Christ as he wept over the very city my eyes beheld at that moment. And I couldn’t help but ponder what things are currently hidden from my own eyes because I am not divinely aware.
Gethsemane was our next destination which held olive trees that were alive at the time of Christ, and we viewed first-hand the analogy of new shoots being grafted into an old olive tree (Romans 11).
The Church at Gethsemane itself was truly stunning. Although it was difficult to picture this place as it would have been when Christ was there on the night before his crucifixion – the sun shining joyfully didn’t seem to fit the sobering events that found their setting here.
But the most overwhelming location of the church was the open ancient rock to which worshippers gathered as Christ’s prayers of anguish to ‘take this cup’ were fresh in our minds – again the humanity of Christ – yet He ultimately declared ‘not mine, but Your will be done.’ The moments leading up to the trial and crucifixion played themselves in my mind – yet in a sobering silence.
Then it finally happened – the moment when the reality that I was walking through and touching and seeing the very places I have read all my life overwhelmed me to the core. And it is fitting that I would finally begin to unclench the tight fist I often hold on my emotions on the day we experience the places marking the humanity of Christ. No words could mark these experiences – no souvenier or photo or explanation from our guide (or anyone) could capture it – and I remained almost breathless as tears streamed down my cheeks – even songs were silent in my mind for the first time since our journey began.
Yet a thought struck me – it’s not just about the stones or the sites themselves – if it is (and often I have allowed myself to let it be so), it becomes an idol. C.S. Lewis phrases the idea eloquently in the Weight of Glory…
The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only come through them, and what came through them was longing. These things – the beauty, the memory of our own past – are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited. (Lewis)
More than tuning into the stories of these stones, which I hope I do not miss, I began to feel the call for my soul to sink deeper into the soil of memory’s echo found in these places – because through these sites, a tune of Heaven is carried – a tune of the cloud of witnesses urging us to keep pressing on – a tune of redemption in its fullest form – a tune of hope – a tune of trust in the midst of unimaginable struggle – a tune of peace – a tune of Emmanuel, God With Us, who continues to meet us where we are whether at a sacred site in Israel or at home in Nashville, TN – a tune that reminds us…
For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. (1 Corinthians 13:12)
I sensed a piece of me beginning to fear the closing days of our trip – almost as if I would have nothing else to look forward to after this pilgrimage of sorts was over – but I was forgetting that God was coming through these sacred sites but was not solely contained in them – there is something beautiful and necessary and worshipful about about the holy reverence of this land – but He still meets each of us wherever we are, Holy Land or not – and I ached to live marked by these experiences as well as that Truth. (Many more posts will probably be birthed out of certain revelations this day.)
The emotions continued as our next destination was the Holocaust Museum – yet again, nothing could have prepared me for this. One of the incredible women of our group was the daughter of a survivor of the Holocaust – she bravely shared some of her mother’s stories with us, and the reality of this atrocity pierced our hearts deeply – you could keenly feel the ebb and flow of grief through her – and it was an honor to walk through this incredible Memorial with her – for her to allow us to enter in with her and remember that every one of the survivors and the 6 million murdered have individual stories just like us. Words cannot encompass that experience. The final room we entered was a beautiful place of hope and remembrance – it was a dark room filled with mirrors with five lights that were reflected thousands of times through the mirrors – the names of the children who were murdered were read one by one continually – and our guide told us that the five lights represented Hope and the 5 books of the Torah – powerful!
Finally, we made our way to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre; however, it was extremely crowded and honestly, difficult for me to enter as a worshipper. But we were planning to return a couple days later, so we took in as much as we could during this brief visit.
Our last stop was the Wailing Wall as dusk was enveloping the city, marking the beginning of the Sabbath.
I am not sure exactly what I expected for the Sabbath in Jerusalem, but I was not expecting a party in the streets from the young people! It was fascinating to see them gather in courtyards and even the Wailing Wall itself and sing and dance with such excitement – Kimberly kept wanting to join the Shabbat party (and I secretly did too!). Such life filled the streets. We had the opportunity to go down to the actual Western Wall and pray – and the juxtaposition of the emotions directly at the wall and a few feet back where the party began was almost jarring and yet beautiful – deep prayers were being offered in almost a hush close to the wall while what seemed akin to our loud and joyful songs of praise were filling the air with life – it was perhaps one of the most unique experiences of the trip!