Monday, June 19, 2017

The Via Dolorosa & The Holy Sepulchre

I had a very different kind of excitement about yesterday's pilgrimage. We all dressed in black to express our respect for the holiness of what we were about to experience. If we were representing the resurrection of our Lord, I'm sure we would have been in the brightest of colors. Think about how we dress up for Easter to declare and celebrate our risen Lord. But this day we were in solemnity as we walked where Jesus walked, carried His cross, where He fell from the weight of the cross and the weight of His pain after being scourged and flogged brutally. How could we be bouncy and flambuoyant when we remembered the price He paid for us -- the debt He didn't owe. Yes, we know we serve a risen Lord, but I sincerely often think we forget what He endured for our salvation. He didn't have to go this way. In Matthew 26:53, He said "Don't you think that I could call on my Father and He would send me more than twelve legions of angels now?" But, He didn't. He loved you and me too much to leave us without a Savior.

We began the walk Via Dolorosa Stations of the Cross. The Via Dolorosa, winds along narrow streets of Jerusalem's Old City and leads to the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre. This is the route Jesus followed bearing His cross from Pilate's Judgement Hall to Calvary Hill, the site of the crucifixion. Along this route are the Fourteen Stations of the Cross and each station marks an event of sacred memory.

Fr. Paul led us through each station with prayers and encouragement for our own daily walk with Christ. Through each station we commemorated our Lord's pathway to the cross. For example at Station 1: Jesus is condemned to death. We say with Fr Paul "We adore you, O Christ, for by your holy Cross you have redeemed the world." Then, a brief encouragement to take this station personally, for example: "Perhaps there are times when we, like Jesus, are condemned unjustly, Help me, O Lord, to be silent in the face of pain and suffering. Make me steadfast in my faith when I'm accused unjustly." Then we say "The Lord's Prayer". It is such a beautiful way of remembering.

For the last three stations, we climbed up many stairs onto the roof of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which is one of the holiest sites for Christians, because it represent Calvary. We looked up at the gold cross that is at the top of the dome of this beautiful holy place and thanked our Lord for saying "Nevertheless, not my will but Thine be done."

Then, we went up a steep staircase to the Altar of Calvary, which rises above the rock on which Jesus’ cross was raised. The rock is visible through glass plates on either side of the altar. I'll admit this was my greatest place of emotions. We were able to touch the rock through an opening in the silver disk beneath the altar, the point where the Cross stood, according to tradition. How could I not experience such gratitude for my Savior's love for me? It was so much to bear, and then I felt Fr Paul place his hand on my shoulder to comfort me. That hand represented my Savior's hand and oh the tenderness and love I sensed.

Outside that area is a slab of marble that people were kissing and then I realized that this is a replica of the slab that Jesus' body was laid on so that his body could be anointed before moving him to the tomb. I kissed it too. I didn't want to miss any opportunity of savoring every thing I could in honor of my Lord and Savior.

And, if it could get any better, then we descended down many stairs into the courtyard of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. The history of this building goes back hundreds and hundreds of years and even if you weren't a fully devoted follower of Christ, I think you would sense this is a place of deep spirituality because of the number of pilgrims here that are praying, kissing and embracing these holy places and objects. With the thousands and thousands of people that visit this site, our group was fortunate enough to experience our own private Mass and communion in the Holy Sepulcher which is a chapel called the Aedicule which contains the Holy Sepulchre itself. The Aedicule has two rooms, the first holding the Angel's Stone, which is believed to be a fragment of the large stone that sealed the tomb; the second is the tomb itself. We were each able to go in and touch the altar above the tomb. Fr Paul's message was beautiful. He said, "As we are in this holiest place on earth, He is risen. Our hopes and dreams are are all renewed in light of the resurrection. It is the Easter of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

After this heavenly time on earth we were taken to Notre Dame Pontifical Institute for a lovely reception.

Yesterday, we had to put the royal cart before our King and Savior died in our pilgrimage today, as the day before, we went to the Mount of Olives where He ascended into heaven after His resurrection. So the good, great and greatest news after a day of paying homage to our Lord......we know WITHOUT a DOUBT.....He LIVES. He LIVES. Christ Jesus lives today. He walks with me and talks with me along life's narrow way. He lives. He lives....salvation to impart. You ask me how I know He lives. He lives within my heart!

We were fortunate to attend a beautiful ceremony of several men and women from our pilgrimage who are Knights and Ladies of the Holy Sepluchre of Jerusalem and whose mission is to help to sustain and assist the religious, spiritual, charitable and social works of Christians in the Holy Land. They were addressed by the Latin Archbishop and given commemorated shell pins. So happy for Charles Michie and Sheila Michie for their work with the order.

Today is our last day here and we're heading to the wilderness of Bethany, Jericho, the Mount of Temptation and the Dead Sea. Headed home at midnight tonight! Talk about RED EYE!! What an amazing, never-to-be-forgotten, trip-of-a-lifetme, meeting precious brothers and sisters in the Lord who became family. Check out the sweet young man with me. That's Everett, and he'll soon be joining a monastery in Arkansas. What a blessing he has been to me -- being my escort and protector as we walked up so many stairs and rough roads. This faith journey pilgrimage is not for the faint-hearted. It's a work-out, but so worth it. Really.....I'll never read the Bible again without having so many beautiful images and memories of the Holy Lands.