Friday, March 27, 2015
Easter Garden, Jerusalem, Israel
Via Dolorosa Station IX, Jerusalem, Israel
I’ve always been a bit of a visual learner, so it was a challenge for me to associate with some of the sacred places in the Holy Land which humans had basically covered with well-intentioned reverence. Ironically, two such places included the site of Jesus’s birth in the Church of the Nativity and the site of his death at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Both locations included exceptionally ornate surroundings of a literal hole in the marble flooring. You could stand in line to insert your hand into the hole to touch the rock below--or you could simply meditate on the event that occured in close proximity.
We walked the narrow crowded streets of Old Jerusalem amid the variety of small shops selling brightly colored scarves, pottery, olive wood carvings, and fresh foods. Along the “way of sorrow” (Via Dolorosa) we stopped and remembered the events at the Stations of the Cross regarding Jesus’ agonizing walk to his crucifixion at Golgotha. The walk was made more meaningful by an intermittent rain that accompanied us along the way. Our walk ended at Station IX which recognizes the third time Jesus stumbled on his path to destiny. This station is located next to the entrance of a monastery and the subterranean Chapel of Saint Helena in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. We then queued up inside the church to go inside a Greek Orthodox Church that had been constructed around a cave tomb where tradition says the body of Jesus was laid to rest and was resurrected. Christians consider this the holiest place on earth. The interior was fully decorated with brass and glass.
As we neared the end of our Holy Land journey, “the arena of God’s revelation of himself to humankind”, our last stop in Jerusalem became one of the most meaningful. We traveled to the Garden Tomb where many Christians go to celebrate the resurrection. These tombs carved out of the ubiquitous rock outcroppings indigenous to the area had been discovered at a later date. There is no absolute certainty of where Jesus’ resurrection actually occurred. But this setting has been developed to visually pull even the most casual pilgrim into the experience of the resurrection. Jesus told one of the two men crucified on either side of him that he would be with him in paradise. Paradise is a Persian word for “walled garden”. When a Persian king chose to honor one of his subjects, he invited him to walk with him in the palace garden.
We gathered in a small shelter on the site and celebrated a short communion service with small olive wood cups of wine and flat bread. The experience was a great remembrance of Christ’s passion, presence, grace and love for His creation. It also became a reflective last meal for a group of disciples that had been drawn together by a common bond, in the spirit and land of the Last Supper that Jesus celebrated with his twelve disciples. The light rain subsided as we left the shelter and entered one of the garden tombs in silence. When I turned to exit the stone tomb I noticed a wooden sign over the opening that proclaimed, “He is not here—for He is risen!” And as we departed the garden grounds to begin a rather arduous trip back home, we passed by branches of fresh cherry tree blossoms framing the empty tomb—a very natural and visual sign of the Easter promise for new life and hope in a beautiful forever garden!