Sometimes it causes me to tremble

Winter Trip concluded.  Exceptional time with a group mixed of Iowans and New Yorkers, with some good folks from the Philippines and the big sky of Montana sprinkled in.  I love to watch groups become “a group.”  It happened so easily and naturally this time, as everyone took a active interest in one another.  The people of the Bible called that mishpat, “society,” but that’s a theme for another blog.
I mixed in too.  Along on this trip were my brother and his son.  People who know me from way back get a real “read” on me, and I on them.  And while diversity is appealing for a start, a shared experience is ultimately what makes us a people, rather than merely members of the human race.  The sites we visit on our trips have a unique way of providing this shared experience, one of of following Christ together.  To the peoples of the east, this was essential to salvation, a shared experience of following Christ.  My nephew, Luke, has given me permission to edit a day’s entry in his blog from his trip to the Holy Land.  What surfaces here are some rather deep feelings, personal feelings, born out of one day together in the land.  Feelings like these are meant to be shared…

There’s going to be no way to describe today accurately. I can’t do it.  Not now, not ever.  The words you’re reading merely represent a standing stone to how I experienced God here.  Today was a tour through passion week, beginning on the Mount of Olives. Ascending the hill, to our right was Jerusalem with the desert at our left.  On the way, we talked about how easy it would’ve been for Jesus to flee into the desert.  Bryan told a story of the only time my grandfather had come to Israel.  At Gethsemane, in the Basilica of the Agony, Bryan found him face down, prostrate before the Lord.  A pastor for decades, it was here that he fully grasped the humanity of Jesus.  And it was here that Jesus waited, crying out to His Father, ultimately accepting that he had to “drink the cup” placed before him.  With every opportunity to give into the impulse of personal desire, he chose to die for us.  As we entered the basilica, I sat and listened to the mass and meditated on the image of Jesus before His Father.  And my grandfather before his.  That was a powerful moment in my life and my grandfather’s.

Later that day we came to the Church of St. Peter In Gallicantu, the church of the “rooster crowing.”  This church was built on the site of where Peter denied Christ, the courtyard of the house of Caiaphas, where Jesus was imprisoned for 24 hours.  From the church floor built over the courtyard, we were able to look down into a hole where prisoners charged with capital crimes were held.  I could see Jesus there, lowered down into that hole, spit on and abused, hung by shackles on his hands, face against the rock we touched.  Down in the hole together, we read Psalm 88, the only psalm not ending in praise to God.  We pondered how difficult it must have been for Jesus to find a way to praise God in this dark, lonely place. In that dungeon we sang hymns of thankfulness for the cross.  And hymns of disbelief.  Why would he do this for us?  There I experienced the small, echoed chamber that held our Savior reverberate with the low-note of “tremble” in response to the question, “Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?”  I can tell you about it, I can’t describe it, neither that moment in history nor our moment in that hole.

Then we walked the path Christ would have taken to the cross, where He was hung on an olive tree and nailed to a beam.  We talked about how His death according to Paul ushered in the end of the old code.  The apostle wrestled with the oxymoronic nature of how the “favored of God” could be crucified, a cursed individual rejected by God.  Yet Jesus is raised from the dead, and now sitting at the right hand of God.  It is a beautiful picture of our reality through Christ:  There is nobody so far from God that He cannot reach you.

Finally, in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, we went to the basement, to an unfinished section of the church where the chiseled rock of the Golgotha quarry is exposed.  This was the rock  that shook when Christ was raised from the dead.  We laid hands on it as a group and sang a glorious song of victory: “Christ The Lord Has Risen Today.”  Most of the detail in the site is gone.  Destroyed.  Built over.  Buried by the earth.  The mighty palaces have fallen.  What’s left?  The Living God and the rock face that bore witness.  The world that doesn’t know Christ will only see Him through His witnesses.  I don’t know how else to summarize this trip.  I can tell you what happened here, but I can’t explain it.  Everyone in the group went to the same places; none of us had the same experience.  But each of us…no, all of us together walked in the footsteps of Jesus.

That’s it, Luke.  We did it together.  And those events of history and faith became with power a common experience for us uniting us in Christ.  Changed we are when we stand in these places.  Every time.  And, we pray…for all time.

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