Day Twelve: Wednesday, June 8, 2011
Theme: Resurrection and New Life
What a great theme for the day! I can’t imagine a better way to describe these last stops that are planned for us. In fact, once we get back home tomorrow and get over the jet lag, that will probably be a good way to describe this whole 13-day experience: “Resurrection and New Life!”
So far, we have traced the life of Jesus from his ancient heritage, to his birth at Bethlehem, to his death upon the cross. Today we focus on the result.
First stop: The Garden Tomb. This beautifully quiet garden, just outside the wall to the Old City, is believed by some to be the location of the tomb owned by Joseph of Arimathea. From its outer edge, we could see the side of a hill, possibly the one referred to as the Place of the Skull—Golgotha. Today at the foot of the hill is a busy intersection and a bus station. Even back in Jesus’ day, it would have been a major crossroads to Damascus and elsewhere—a likely spot for a very public crucifixion.
The garden itself is on top of an excavated cistern, so large (about ½ the size of an Olympic-size swimming pool) that its owner must have been a very wealthy man to have owned so much water. Our British guide took us to the location of a first century tomb within the garden. Whether or not it was the actual tomb in which Christ was laid doesn’t really matter because He has very definitely risen!
His Holy Spirit was clearly with us as Dr. Oliver Clark led us through a very moving early morning communion service in a shaded garden chapel. Symbolic of the foot washing, we took turns gently washing each other’s hands and singing familiar hymns. It’s safe to say there was not a dry eye in the house as we quietly left for our next visit.
Next Stop: The Upper Room. Just outside the Old City walls is the chapel known as the Upper Room. As we waited to go inside, Brian reminded us that we were actually on the third Mount Zion. The original one had been the City of David; the second was the Temple Mount; and where we were standing has been referred to as Mountain Zion ever since the second temple was destroyed in 70 AD. Brian also mentioned that in relation to Pentecost and the Upper room that there was a very Jewish theme that when we are all together in worship, it is like a magnet that draws God to us; and that Pentecost and Shavuot are celebrations of the Giving and the Law and the Renewing of the Law.
The Upper Room chapel itself is an interesting combination of Crusader and Muslim architecture with a Jewish holy site below it in remembrance of King David. The Upper Room today was a pretty noisy place filled with many nationalities, faiths and tongues.
Third Stop: The Road to Emmaus. We left the Old City walls for a short bus ride and hike to a location about five miles west of Jerusalem. We were on the original road to Emmaus. Brian showed us the Roman stones originally laid for the 2,000 year-old road. We stopped and broke bread in remembrance of the walk recorded in Luke 24: “He took the bread and blessed (God for) it.” As Brian read the scripture, he also pointed out what he considered to be evidence of the greatest sermon ever preached (Luke 24:27): “Then Jesus quoted passages from the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining what all the Scriptures said about himself.”
After our Emmaus Road lunch stop, the bus took us back to Yad Hashmona, the Messianic Jewish community of believers where we had worked on Monday to help set up for today’s Pentecost Festival, the largest annual gathering of Messianic Jews in Israel. We arrived at 2 PM, just one hour before the end of the one-day holiday festival. Beneath the tent that we had helped to set up, and sitting on the ground that we had helped clear of stones, more than 1,500 people of all ages had gathered. Children danced in front of the bandstand; teens played volleyball nearby; parents and grandparents talked; vendors vended; the music played; and just about everyone smiles. It was a very beautiful day!
As the festival started to wind down, we took about an hour break from Yad Hashmona. We traveled by bus to the nearby Home for Bible Translators where we were greeted by one of its directors, Mirja Ronning. This special program for Bible translators was started by Hebrew University in 1995. It offers a home and study for 8 to 10 people per year in its 5 ½ month program that allows them to learn more about the Bible’s original Hebrew text. The Hebrew source language that they learn along with exposure to the historical, geographical, and cultural settings of the Bible, enable students to more successfully translate from the original Hebrew and to train others in their native countries to do the same. Since 1995, more than 90 students from 35 countries have benefitted from the program.
The closing dinner/Passover meal/Awards ceremony that we enjoyed tonight goes far beyond words. It was held at the Yad Hashmona under a star-lit sky and a Bedouin goat-hair tent. (By the way, goat-hair tents are pretty amazing! When it rains, the goat hair fibers expand and close up as protection from the rain; and when it’s dry, the fibers contract and loosen up and allow for air flow during the hot, dry weather.) In attendance tonight were some of the kindest, most compatible people that I have ever had the honor to be with. And of course, Brian made each step of the traditional Seder meal especially meaningful and interesting.
He encouraged us all to read the Exodus story (especially chapters 12-16) to our children and our grandchildren: and to remember that if it had not happened, Christ would not have happened, and the world as we know it would not have happened. Lester and Jane again bless us with their songs for the Seder in Hebrew. Candles were lit. “Bless Be the Tie that Binds” was sung. And blessings to God were shared.
But the hands-down hit of the night has to go to the six 20-something young adults from the group that had taken the time to come up with and print out very special awards to all the rest of us. As funny as each of the awards was, I’m afraid that all I can say is “you just had to be there” to appreciate how funny they were. And I guess that’s where I need to stop—wishing everyone from Canterbury could have been there to experience it. We’re all on the plane now—heading home. We will all be talking about this trip for many years to come. We all wish you could have been there with us. And we all know, without any doubt, that God has been wish us every minute. He always has been. And He always will be.
Thanks be to God! Amen.