Today our pilgrimage took us to Holy Ground. I have to admit, this is all quite overwhelming. Not only trying to keep up with our amazing guide, George, and take in all of the information that he imparts, but also being in the moment at the places where our Lord lived and died. I suspect it is going to take a long time for me to even begin to process all this…a lifetime, I’m guessing.
We started early this morning making our way to the Holy Sepulcher. Sepulcher means “tomb.” This is the place where Jesus hung on the cross, was buried and rose from the dead. Imagine! Here is the entrance to the Holy Sepulcher. From the outside you really wouldn’t know that anything so earth shattering is inside.
The first thing you see when you walk in is the Washing Stone. This is the stone that was used to lay the body of Jesus after He was taken down from the cross so that the body could be washed and prepared for burial.
As you can see, the stone is pink. It is very smooth, and very aromatic. It has a beautiful, sweet smell. Pilgrims will come to the stone and either touch it or kiss it. Another tradition is for women to take their scarves and rub them on the Washing Stone. This leaves the sweet fragrance on their scarves. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I would ever wash that scarf again, so that I could keep the aroma around forever!
With this being our first trip here, I’m not sure if there is any particular order of things that people see when they visit the Holy Sepulcher. If you want to see things chronologically, then you would visit Golgotha, the Washing Stone and then the tomb. We did things a bit differently. After the Washing Stone, we went directly to the Holy Sepulcher, or tomb of Christ. With such a small group, our guide was able to get us to the front of the line and go see the tomb of Christ immediately. As we sort of rushed to the front of the line, I really wasn’t sure what was happening, and wasn’t really prepared, whatever that may mean, to go in. Here is the entrance to the Holy Sepulcher.
When I entered the Holy Sepulcher, I was completely overcome with emotion. This is the place where the body of Jesus lay, and where He was resurrected. Imagine it! The tomb is actually very small – only three or four people can fit in at one time. I knelt down and put my hand on the tomb and began to cry, saying, “Thank you, Jesus!” While wanting to be in the moment, there is also a tension that exists because you know that so many others are waiting just outside to experience this as well. So we said a quick prayer, snapped a couple of pictures and left the tomb – hopefully changed forever!
Upon leaving the Sepulcher, our guide took us to a small chapel off to the side where there are other tombs. These are the type of tombs dating from the first century. Bodies would be placed in these tombs and left for a year. After they decomposed, the bones would be removed and put into an ossuary, a small box for bones, and placed in a cemetery.
From the tomb it is a short walk up some stairs to go to Golgotha.
The word means “Skull Place.” This is the place where they put the cross on which hung Jesus. Many people think that they dug a hole in the dirt to put the cross. Not so. It is a big rock formation. It is all now encased. The first photo is just to the right of where the cross of Christ was.
Just to the left of the glass encased stone is the place where the Cross of Christ was put. Each pilgrim can bend down, put their arm into a hole and touch the place where hung the Cross. The blood of Jesus would have dripped into this indentation in the rock. The magnitude of the moment is overwhelming. As I placed my hand in and touched, I was literally breathless. It was difficult to even take a breath. I just kept repeating, “Thank you, Jesus!” A moment I will never forget.
To give you a bit of perspective, here is a photo of the room of Golgotha. As you can see, it is not very large. Pilgrims line up, and each one is given a moment to touch the stone formation. So powerful!
Upon leaving the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, we walked the Via Dolorosa – backwards. The Via Dolorosa is the Way of the Cross, where Christ walked to his death. Since we started at the tomb, it made sense for us to walk Via Dolorosa from finish to start.
We wound our way through the Old City, with narrow streets and now many shops. At certain places along the way, you’ll see markers for each station of the Cross. At some of the stations are chapels and churches. We peeked inside many of them, but to keep on schedule, we couldn’t spend much time in any one place. Perhaps when I come back, I’ll be able to share more from these wonderful sights.
Our next stop was the Mount of Olives. This is where Jesus would often come with His disciples. The first place we visited was Pater Noster. This is Latin for Our Father. It is here that Jesus taught His disciples the Lord’s Prayer. As we’ve seen throughout our pilgrimage, the folks of that time hung out in caves quite a bit. Here is the cave on the Mount of Olives where Jesus may have taught the Our Father.
Of course, the Our Father has probably been translated into nearly every language known to man. Here there are 100 huge plaques with a translation of the Our Father. This really gives one a sense of the universality of the Christian faith!
From here we made our way to the top of Mount of Olives. The view from here is spectacular! You can look out and see all of Jerusalem and the surrounding areas. Of course, it looks very modern now. But in the time of Christ, it would have been much less dense with buildings and no paved roads (at least not like we have them today), etc. This is place where Jesus wept over Jerusalem as He looked out over the city. Today the view is simply breathtaking.
One of the most interesting things we found at the Mount of Olives was the plant that was used to fashion the crown of thorns worn by Jesus during His passion and death. It comes from a tree/bush called Ziziphus Christi. At Easter time its branches are long and malleable, which would make it possible to make it into a crown. Just looking at the thorns gives you a better understanding of what it must have felt like for Jesus to have these on His head.
Our next stop was Caiphas’ House. This is where Jesus, after being arrested, was put on trial and held overnight until He was taken to Pontius Pilate. On this site sits the Church of St. Peter Gallicantu. Gallicantu is French for “The Rooster Sang.” This is where Peter denied Jesus three times. It is also the place of the dungeon where Jesus stayed awaiting his transport to see Pontius Pilate.
When you enter the Church, there is hole you can look down into and see the dungeon where Jesus stayed. The prisoner would have been lowered through this hole by a rope that wrapped under his armpits.
The dungeon is a very small room. It would have something of a holding cell. Only a handful of people can fit in. As you’ll see, there is a small lectern in the room. Here is where people can read from the Scriptures or lead songs or prayers.
I have had many moving experiences and highlights during this pilgrimage. This is the place where one of those highlights took place. If you know me at all, you know that I love to read from the Scriptures. I do it every day on my show, in my personal life and even on some Sundays at Mass. Our guide asked if I would read Psalm 88 while in this dungeon. My friend, when my life is over, this is going to be included in the highlight reel of my life. What a privilege to read aloud from the Scriptures in a place where Jesus was! If you’re not familiar with Psalm 88, read it and you’ll see why they leave it in the dungeon.
We’re going to take a “rest day” next to get ready for the final push of our pilgrimage, the visit of Pope Francis. Know that I am keeping you in prayer in this holy place. Shalom!