Good Friday is the reason we’ve been coming to Jerusalem for over 35 years. For the reenactment of the Carrying of the Cross, we all know our parts, with the exception of Danny, the newest team member. My part for the last ten years is to play our Blessed Mother Mary. On the third station, Jesus falls the first time, just a few steps away is where Jesus meets His Mother. My role, is to speak to her Son in great agony. Everything on the Via Dolorosa is to bring the attention to Jesus. Even though the Blessed Mother Mary is a part in the carrying of the Cross, the sole intention is for people to see what our Lord went through on the dreadful day. Jim has been playing the part of Jesus for several years. I am amazed at his transformation, and how Jim takes on the look and personifies our Lord with such grace.
The suitcase with our sound system was never recovered from the airline, so that meant that Pat and Linda had to sing a cappella. We all noticed one thing about carrrying the Cross this year. The pilgrims were cold in spirit and did not really react to what they witnessed. The Arabs are always indifferent to what we do, and they always react, some in disbelief, others in mocking us. It was unusual to experience the blank looks, with soulless eyes staring back at us. It was like the state the world is in today, cold and unyielding. Even the young man that we pulled from the crowd to play Simon of Cyrene could not stop taking selfies of himself while carrying the Cross; that was almost comical.
Perhaps, time will tell the difference we made in persons’ lives. You can never get the image of Jesus out of your mind as He was beaten and made to carry His Cross. We all need to remember what He went through for us. We know that God blessed our effort, and if even a handful of people were touched, we accomplished our task. We plant the seed, and God does the watering. In the eyes of the Lord it only takes one person to be touched to make a difference. That person could be the next Billy Graham, or a holy priest.
After the pageant, as much as I wanted to go visit other holy sites, my body said no. All the sleepless hours took a toll on my being, and so much virtue put forth that it depleted my energy. For the first time I was able to get rest.
I have not mentioned Joanne, the spiritual leader of our group, because she had not been able to participate due to suffering from Meniere’s disease. She had to stay in bed for a large part of the trip. She always serves her purpose in interceding on our behalf and we could feel her prayers.
We always make time in our schedule to visit the birthplace of Jesus. Bethlehem is almost all Muslim, and very few Christian’s remain in this town.
If you are purchasing any olive wood statues or anything made of olive wood, the best prices are in Bethlehem, and the merchants barter. Rarely can you walk away from the great deals, because they follow you until you cave in.
The Church of the Nativity was jam-packed with pilgrims from all over the world. We waited over an hour to pray and touch the place where Jesus was born, for just a few seconds, I placed all your prayer requests there. Though we were rushed, I secured my spot on the only bench near the holy spot and continued with my petitions.
Bethany, the town without pity, or a police force. It had been almost 6 years since we last visited Bethany. I had no phone to take any pictures, so what I took in with my eyes was an incredible decline in a society in anarchy. At the shops the cars are parked four deep, some parallel, some sideways, some back in, some left in the middle of the street. Cars are driven on both sides of the road. Cars are abandoned on the side of the road, and trash is also piled on the side of the road. The chaos is everywhere you look. Near the meat market were two tied up sheep, either for sale or for slaughter. Caged chickens were everywhere you turned. What broke my heart were the stray cats, as they were completely neglected, and pretty much all ravenous. I threw a piece of hard bread to one cat and it devoured it like it was delicious cat food.
Our only intention in Bethany is to visit the Church of St. Lazarus and his tomb. This church is stuck in the middle of this dysfunctional city and is the only saving grace of this community. The priest is African and when I spoke to him, he was forlorn. As the church was preparing for Easter Sunday service, I asked the priest how many parishioners he had. He answered, “Sadly, tomorrow maybe 15 to 20 people will be attending the service.” This was a great paradox; being assigned a church in the Holy Land with very few parishioners.
After praying in the beautiful church we headed to Lazarus’s Tomb. I’d forgotten how cumbersome and steep the steps that you have to climb down to to get to the tomb were. At the bottom of the steps is a rather small opening to go into the actual tomb. For some strange reason it felt smaller than the last time I was there. It was a little like a Winnie-the-Pooh moment, making my way the bottom. We had the tomb all to ourselves, and we bombarded heaven with prayers for those in bondage; it was powerful!
By the time we got back it was dinner time, and we still needed to pack the medicine for the poor. With the aid of angels we mustered enough strength to complete the task of making 25 bags for the poor.
When we checked the weather we knew we were in for some rain. Part of my sole purpose in life was to attend an Easter service at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Not one person could give us a schedule; even the Internet could not really pinpoint a time for the services. It seemed that the main service was a midnight Mass, which I was not interested in attending.
When we arrived in the courtyard of the church it was packed. What seemed to be a line was more of a serpentine formation leading in many directions. We made our way and waited, and waited for the doors to open. The sky poured out some light rain, and then some hail. It was cold enough to wear gloves and scarves. Most of us were equipped with unbrellas, but mine kept hitting people, and as many times as I apologized, it would happen again. Finally I handed the umbrella to a tall stranger, and the problem was solved.
After 2 hours the doors opened. I was smack in the middle of a herd of wild buffalo moving in slow motion to get to the door. So many people pushing and shoving their way in. All I could recall was that I remembered there was a step at the entrance of the door, and I wanted to be sure that I did not miss it, or for sure I was going to be trampled. The crowd was so thick that I could not see my feet. I’m happy to report that we all made into the church. We walked in only to discover more crowds and more lines. We prayed at the Stone of Unction (where Jesus’s body was placed after the Crucifixion) and I left the remainder of the prayer requests. I was gateful for the experience of celebrating Easter in the Holy Land, and especially at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.