Today we started out with time in the private Garden at Gethsemane, visited the Church of All Nations, made our way to the pools at Bethesda and sang in the beautiful Church of St. Ann, walked the Via Dolorosa, explored the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and we travelled to Bethlehem to the Church of the Nativity.
Another amazing day. I always touched by the grotto of the manger in the Church of the Nativity. In our Christmas cards in North America, we imagine a wooden stable. But Israel is a land of stone. And it only makes sense that the manger would be a grotto – a small cave.
To be there again, to sing Christmas carols right inside the grotto, to share prayer beside the manger with the pilgrims who have made this journey, is such a beautiful thing.
My favourite part of the Christmas story is this line found in the Gospel According to Luke:
“But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.”
Luke 2:19 NIV
I have this image of Mary making dinner or hanging out the wash and finding herself reliving the night that her first son was born, and wondering at it all, all over again.
I find I do that with my memories of Israel. I’ll be preparing a Bible Stidy or choosing a hymn or writing a sermon and I’ll trip over something that brings me right back to this place, and I’ll feel the wonder of it.
We’ll sing a carol at Christmas and I’ll have images of the very place the lyrics are describing, because I have been there. And it’s no longer something I have to try to imagine or something I’ve simply decided to put my trust in. I know what the stone grotto looks like, I’ve laid my hand on the bedrock there.
I wish I could bring everyone who believes in Jesus to this place. I urge you – if you get the chance to come on a pilgrimage to the Hoy Land, do it. It will be the best thing you could ever do for your faith.
This Lent, may you have experiences that strengthen your faith. May you treasure up all these things and ponder them in your heart. And may you know it’s not just a story. It all happened. For real. Right here.
(PS The only bad part of today was that my Dad was not feeling well and needed to return to the hotel for rest for most of the day. I’m sure he’ll be fine, but prayers are always appreciated!)
Above: Station 8; Sign pointing the way to the Holy Sepulcher; pilgrims walking up to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher (grey dome with the cross on top); our pilgrims on the steps outside the Holy Sepulcher.