By Bonnie DeShong
I have always loved the Easter holidays. From saying my “Easter Piece” in Sunday school, to tearing into my Easter basket complete with colored hard boiled eggs and chocolate bunny rabbits.
A few years ago I was a part of a travel show called, The Traveling Eye. We took a trip to Israel and because of my experience there my feelings are a little stronger with more awareness and understanding of the spirit of Easter.
I would describe our trip to Israel in four movements: Past, Present, Cuisine and Culture, and Biblical.
Many tourists that travel to Israel are there on religious pilgrimages to visit the Holy Land. We were there to experience all aspects of the country but because of the Easter season, I couldn’t help but take time to remember my walking and visiting the paths that Jesus took.
We began at the beginning, the City of Nazareth. Mary and Joseph lived in Nazareth and this is the place we were taught the Angel visited the Virgin Mary and told her she was to have a child. The City of Nazareth today is quite large and busy but back in Mary’s time it was just a small village. In fact, the entire village was so small that today, the Basilica of the Annunciation Church sits on top of it. Underneath the church the home of Mary was found. It is preserved and serves as a place of worship. All I could think to say was, “Wow, it really is real.” I found myself saying that quite a bit along the way.
We then began following the path of Jesus. We went to the Jordan River where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist. Most church groups visit this site so that they too can be baptized here. However, if you are traveling without a minister on board, you will have to call ahead and reserve a time for a minister to perform the baptism. No one in our party was a minister so I kind of did my own thing by dipping my fingers in the water and placing it on my head. I must warn you, the Jordan is a river with fish, frogs and it is a little dirty.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” This is one of the Beatitudes from The Sermon on the Mount of Beatitudes. The Mount is a beautiful, peaceful place that overlooks the Sea of Galilee. There are benches there where you can sit, reflect, and perhaps find peace.
I never really thought of Jesus actually living and sleeping anywhere until we went to the ancient Jewish fishing village of Capernaum. Jesus lived there in the home of Simon Peter. The Village is right on the banks of the Sea of Galilee, which is really a small lake. When we were there you could see men fishing out on the water. The ruins of Simon Peter’s home with the room where Jesus slept are preserved. There is a church that is suspended, sort of floating over the room. In fact, every significant place on Jesus’ journey has a church built over the rock or space and serves as an altar. It is amazing to see how much time and care is taken to make sure these areas are safe and secure, yet open for people to worship.
Right down the road from Capernaum is Tabgha. You’ve all heard of the miracle of the 5 loaves of bread and 3 fish. It happened there in Tabgha. I think this was one of my favorite stops.
As we got closer and closer to the Old City of Jerusalem, my feelings became more intensified. Again, I could only say, “It is really real.”
From the top of the Mount of Olives you can see all of Jerusalem. The old city is where three monotheistic religions coexist; the City of David where you can actually walk through the 2000 year old drainage system; the remains of Herod’s castle; and the holiest place in the world, the site where the holy temple stood, it is now a Muslim Mosque. I stood and tried to imagine Jesus throwing the vendors out of the square surrounding the temple.
At the base of the mountain is the Garden of Gethsemane where the trees are over 2000 years old. They are short and curled but strong. If they could talk, can you imagine the stories they would tell? The sites where Jesus prayed in the garden and where he was betrayed are inside the Church of Gethsemane.
My spiritual teachings really came to light when we entered the gates of the Old City of Jerusalem and I realized this is what I really thought Israel would look and feel like. The streets are narrow and shops are everywhere with people hustling about. I truly had a different feeling there and it grew stronger with each step I took within the walls. We were about to follow the path of Jesus to his death and resurrection.
We began walking the stages of the cross along Via Dolorosa. You can tell each stage by a numbered medallion on the wall and a black half circle of bricks on the street.
Stage I – is the Antonia Fortress where Pilate condemns Jesus. It is now a school.
Stage II – is at Lithostrotos where Jesus receives the cross
Stage III – is the first time Jesus falls under the weight of the cross.
With each step we take along this path I am transformed back in time and I can feel the mood and emotions. I really can’t explain my feelings, but it was life changing.
Stage IV – Mary sees Jesus carrying the cross
Stage V – Simon of Cyrene is forced to carry the cross
It is around this area that we noticed a hand print on the wall. It is Jesus’ hand print when he slipped. I placed my hand in his hand…
Stage VI – Veronica wipes Jesus’ face
Stage VII – Jesus falls a second time
Stage VIII – Jesus speaks to the women of Jerusalem
Stage IX – Jesus falls a third time
A massive church, The Church of the Holy Sepulcher, has been built on top of Calvary. Within the church are the last four stages of the cross. Be prepared to be patient as the lines to touch, pray, and be in the presence of these sites may be long. It is truly worth the wait.
Stage X – Calvary – Jesus is stripped of his garments
Stage XI – Calvary – Jesus is nailed to the cross
Stage XII – Calvary – Jesus dies on the cross.
It is here that the rock that was at the foot of the cross lies. It is said that Jesus’ blood is still on the rock. An altar is placed there where one may spend a few moments in solitude.
Stage XIII – Calvary – Jesus’ body is taken from the cross
Stage XIV – Holy Sepulcher – Jesus’ body is laid in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea.
I want so badly to be able to convey the emotions I experienced during that walk through the streets, or when I was on my knees at the foot of the cross. I can’t put it in words. As I looked around at the people around me, words weren’t necessary. It was all in our faces.
I now know why people dream of visiting the Holy Land, it is an experience. It is not only a tourist attraction or something you can just breeze through. It is not just for the religious person or church groups. It is for everyone, no matter your beliefs or lack thereof.
Because of our trip to Israel, I not only know about, but I now fully understand and embrace the miracle of Easter.
Until next time keep you EYE to the sky!