This morning we had another amazing experience in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. We celebrated Mass on Mt. Calvary at the Latin altar marking the place where Jesus was nailed to the cross. We know that at every Mas the death of Jesus is made present and the sacrifice of Calvary is renewed. To experience the Mass on Calvary is in a sense to experience it in a way even more real than in the upper room. This is my body given for you. This is my blood poured out for you. It all happened one Friday on this spot 2000 years ago.
One of the many places in the Holy Sepulcher that I find some powerful prayer is at the spot marking the place where our Blessed Mother stood watching Jesus on Calvary. It is slightly below the top of the hill and looking directly up to the cross. Mary could see Jesus clearly and he could see her. This was perhaps the one comfort he had on the cross, looking down and knowing his mother was there and then lovingly entrusting her to John. Through John, Jesus has entrusted the Church to Mary and she to us. Mother of Sorrows, pray for us.
While the mount of Calvary focuses us on the cross and the pain and suffering of sin, one cannot help but notice how close the tomb is to Calvary and analogously how close Easter is to Good Friday. Coming down from Calvary I went to pray at the tomb and God gave me a big reminder of what John wrote in his Gospel. “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” As I went to pray at the tomb I beheld a heavenly ray of light pouring down right onto the entrance of the empty tomb. The tomb is empty; the light shines into the darkness; Jesus has been raised. The entire mystery of our faith is all present right here in this church and received today in the Eucharist. This happens at every Mass! May we never underestimate the many graces available to us each day if we ask.
After an early lunch came the moment to say goodbye to Jerusalem and start to head “down” and toward home. Before heading for Tel Aviv we were treated to two more important sites. First, we went up the Mount of Olives to the town of Bethany. This is the famous home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, and the traditional beginning of the annual Palm Sunday procession. One of the sad things about Bethany is that when the Israelis built their separation wall, they literally cut Bethany right in half, including cutting some people’s homes in half. Bethany used to be part of Jerusalem, but now it is cut off and is basically a dump and the procession no longer exists. The one beautiful spot is the church which the Franciscans maintain.
It was wonderful to have some time for prayer here in this place where Our Lord cautioned Martha about “the one thing necessary” and the need to sit and listen to Jesus. This church is also a witness to the greatest miracle of Jesus, the raising of Lazarus from the dead. There has been a church on this spot since the 4th century and you can still see the remains of the original church. I prayed especially for the victory of life over death. I always have to laugh at the scripture that says that, after Lazarus was raised from the dead, so many people were converting that the Jewish leaders thought about killing Lazarus. Umm…been there done that. See what power there is in the resurrection? When Jesus is Lord even of death, then what have we to be afraid of?
Our final stop was at a town today known as Abu Ghosh. Mike kept it secret what this town was all about until we got there. It turns out that this is firstly the famous Old Testament town of Kiryat Ye’arim where the Ark of the Covenant stayed before there was a temple in Jerusalem. We saw it from the hill in Ein Karen on our first day, so we kind of ended where we started. However, the second famous name for this town in the New Testament is Emmaus. It was here that the disciples were journeying after the resurrection and Jesus was made known to them in the breaking of bread. We got to spend an hour here in prayer in one of the most beautiful churches we’ve seen. It was built by the Crusaders in the 12th century and has survived without renovation since. The acoustics were amazing and I enjoyed singing a hymn to Our Lady, the new Ark of the Covenant. It’s amazing to see how nicely things turn out when you build a church out of stone in a traditional manner. I wonder how many of our churches today will be around in 1000 years? The Crusaders really did some amazing things to restore the sacred sites in the Holy Land which were destroyed by the Muslims. May we have the same love in building up the Church and our churches the way they did.
We finished our day with a special farewell dinner for our group. It’s amazing to see how a group of strangers can become family in just 12 days. Sometimes a pilgrimage helps us to realize what was true all along, that we are all brothers and sisters in Christ. We found these relationships important not just in our group but with our tour guides, bus drivers, and everyone we met. While it’s sad to see all the division in the Holy Land, I think our pilgrimage shows that we’re really not that far apart from anyone. Some day we will all sit down to dinner as family. Insha’Allah, may it be soon.