THE TOMB WAS NOT EMPTY!…but more on that in a moment. It was a cold and fridged day in Jerusalem. No matter how many layers I had on, nothing blocked the power of the cold wind that was blowing. We began our day by going to the worst possible place for the cold wind. The Temple Mount sits on top of Jerusalem with no walls around to impede the wind from hitting us. I had many mixed feelings about being on top of the Temple Mount. First, the Temple Mount is controlled by the Islamic regime. The Temple Mount area is not a place that is friendly to non-Muslims. There is absolutely no other religious symbols, literature, or acts of worship allowed on the Temple Mount. We saw one man who had kneeled down be harassed by guards for being in a Christian posture of prayer. The Rabbi we were with was told to take off his kippah or else he would need to be escorted by armed guards for his protection. Even upon the Temple Mount, we weren’t allowed to call it as such but rather “the Noble Sanctuary.” It’s bad enough that the Israelis have lost their most sacred place, but the Muslims deny that there was ever a Temple that stood there. It was hard for me to enjoy being in this sacred place. While it was cool to walk in this most sacred place, it was hard to enjoy a place that has taken away all the rights of the Jews to their most sacred place.
We exited the Temple Mount and made our way to the Church of Saint Anne’s. St. Anne’s is a Romanesque Church built in 1138 by the crusaders. The Church was built like a fortress and had thick stone walls with very little decor. I thought the Church had a very simplistic beautiful look to it. The best part of the thick stone walls was the acoustics it created. So as a group we sat and sang numerous songs. The reverberation from the walls would last as long as 8 seconds, and it sounded incredible. The Church is also positioned catty-cornered to the Pools of Bethesda.
In John 5, Jesus comes to a public pool where people go to be healed. “Bethesda” means “house of mercy,” a fitting term given the desperate state of the people lying there in hope of a miracle cure. There remains strong reason to identify this pool with a single large two-pool complex near the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem and adjacent to the modern Church of St. Anne. The two pools are separated from each other by a partition. The remains of columns found around this site help confirm that the partition between the pools, along with each of the four sides surrounding the pool complex, likely contained the five roofed colonnades (i.e., five stoas, which are covered walkways; a “colonnade” is a row of columns). A fifth-century Byzantine basilica was built over this site. While overlooking this site, I couldn’t help but think of the healing that Jesus had performed here. There was this man laying there for 38 years along with numerous other people waiting to be healed, and here comes Jesus and he heals this one man. We must look at it from two perspectives. First, all those who are laying beside the pool hoping for healing. Here comes Jesus and he heals this one man. You have to be thinking to yourself what about me? And secondly, this man who was special enough to Jesus that Jesus would heal him on the Sabbath and no one else. There are so many things about this story that are miraculous and mysterious.
After leaving the Pools of Bethesda, we traveled to the Via Dolorosa, or “the way of suffering.” The Via Dolorosa is the traditional fourteen stations of the cross ending at the Holy Church of the Sepulchre. Millions of pilgrims over the last two thousand years have walked the path that we did. So it was a privilege and honor to walk in the footsteps of so many saints that came before us.
As stated before, the Via Dolorosa ends at the Holy Church of the Sepulchre, which is a massive basilica that is now only one-third of its original size. I must say that I have been to the Vatican, and it pales in comparison to the Holy Church of the Sepulchre. I really wish time travel was a possibility to see this church in its prime. The Sepulchre contains the last 4-5 stations of the cross depending on how you count them.
We first visited Golgotha or the place of the skull. This is the place where Jesus was stripped naked and then hung on a cross to die. I stood in line to see the stone on which the cross was placed into. I got the chance to kneel before the place where Jesus died, place my hand on the rock, and pray to Jesus and thank him for his love, sacrifice, and grace poured out in this place.
We next headed down to the place where Jesus was prepared for his burial. At this place was a beautiful mosaic that depicted what happened in this place. Below the mosaic was a beautiful red stone slab that is thought to be the place that Joseph and Nicodemus prepared the body of Jesus for burial.
Next, we made our way to the tomb of Jesus, which was far from empty. We waited in line for almost an hour to see the small room in which the body of Jesus once laid but is no longer occupied by his body. Instead, the tomb is occupied by pilgrims of faith who have traveled all across the globe to see the place where Jesus rose from. This small dark room where Jesus once laid was now a room of hope and light for all those who believe.
The interesting thing about the Holy Church of the Sepulchre is that the more research you do, the more probable it is that this was the sight of Christ crucifixion, tomb, and resurrection. However, we traveled to another place that also “claims” to be the place of the skull and where Jesus was buried, known as the Garden Tomb. The Garden Tomb allows for people to experience what the setting might have been like at the time of Jesus, but it is highly improbable that this was the crucifixion and burial site of Jesus. The tomb dates to the 8th-9th century b.c. and thus would contradict the testament of the Gospels of being a new tomb.
This day was a very impactful day for me. It was in these places that the revolution for humanity began through the death of Jesus on the Cross. In these hollow places where so many have traveled, I too was now a pilgrim to these sacred places. One of the most beautiful things were these cross carved into the side of the wall by thousands of pilgrims from hundreds of years ago. While I did not carve a cross into the wall, I became a part of the group of pilgrims who did.
May the Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you!