Now that we our pilgrimage has come to an end, rather than giving a day-by-day account, I’ll recall the sites of Jerusalem according to our Lord’s final entrance into Jerusalem and his Passion. (Our group arrived home shortly after noon today. The pilgrimage far exceeded our expectations!)
The Upper Room:
Obviously, the structure that exists today is of Crusader architecture, and would not have been the actual room where Jesus gathered with his disciples. But, in visiting the Holy Land, it is quite instructive to understand the lay of the land. There is the temple mount, not far from where Jesus celebrated the Last Supper. The actual stones of a road from Jesus’ time are more the likely where his feet passed in walking from the Last Supper to the Mount of Olives, Gethsemani.
Visiting during the Easter season also gave our pilgrims a clear picture of the ‘time’ Jesus experienced as he freely laid down his life for our salvation. The olive trees are in full bloom, the flowers are of varied and beautiful color. The moon is full and the atmosphere is still battling from the transition of seasons. The night before we visited Gethsemani, there was an incredible thunderstorm and a torrential downpour. There was lightning and even an earthquake as Jesus died on the cross, and the rock of Calvary was split and the veil of the temple torn in two.
The Upper Room as we know, was not only the place where Jesus gives the Church the two gifts of Priesthood and Eucharist, but it is also the site of resurrection appearances. The Lord revealed himself in his risen glory to the apostles in order to strengthen their belief in all he taught and promised them. He is truly risen! Death has no power over him. And, finally, this is the privileged place of Pentecost, where the Lord bestowed upon his mother Mary and the apostles the promised gift of the Holy Spirit.
One of the many blessings of this pilgrimage is to not only see and experience this land made holy by our Lord, but in these places to experience as the disciples on the road to Emmaus a lived experience of the Risen Lord’s presence. In these days and places, in prayer, it is possible to express a desire for a greater docility to the Holy Spirit and a greater clarity of God’s providence and will. As the Apostles knew the presence of Mary with them, pilgrims also come to know of her abiding presence and motherly care.
Even though we did not walk down into the Kidron Valley, it is a rather deep valley that lies to the east of the temple mount, between the temple and the Mount of Olives. Jesus would have walked through this in his numerous visits from Galilee to Jerusalem, and certainly on Holy Thursday night.
Near the foot of the Mt. of Olives is the Basilica of Agony, and Gethsemani . The church is built over a large rock formation, where it is believed Jesus came to pray with his disciples before he was handed over. Scriptures indicate that this was a favorite place of Christ to stay when he was in Jerusalem and well as to gather with people and teach them. There are still a few olive trees today which date back to the time of Jesus, even one that would have been a thousand years old at the time of Jesus.
These olive trees are significant, let alone beautiful. Gethsemani literally means, Olive Press. As you may know, the olives when harvested, are pressed several times. The first press provides what is known as virgin olive oil. The other pressings provide different qualities of oil used for a variety of products. However, the significance of this meaning becomes important on the night Jesus is betrayed. Here in this olive grove, Jesus is being ‘crushed’ by the weight of his pending passion. As Jesus now takes on the sins of the world for our redemption, the ‘pressure’ causes him to sweat and weep blood. This is the blood that when freely and lovingly poured out becomes the font of our salvation.
From this mount, once betrayed, Jesus is led for the final time back across the Kidron Valley to a place not far from where he celebrated the Last Supper, to the house of the high priest, Caiphas. This is where Jesus under goes the first trial and his disciples begin to disperse in fear. Another beautiful church has been built over this site recalling St. Peter’s denial of Christ. Another vivid sound I experienced while in Galilee was a crowing rooster for three different mornings. Of course, all I could think of was St. Peter. Thus, the name of this church is St. Peter in Gallicantu (meaning, cock crow.)
During this night at the beginning of Jesus passion, he was lowered into a well which had been carved out of stone. It would have been damp and cold and dark. We were able to enter this well during our visit, and pray the psalm that would have clearly been in Jesus’ own prayer that night. Psalm 88. It is the only psalm that does not end with some note of hope. Jesus death draws near.
In the morning, Jesus was led from this location, now weary from a night with no sleep, his body beginning to be drained of energy from the cold and damp conditions. He is led before Pontius Pilate where he will be condemned to death. A convent and pilgrimage center now inhabit this location. A stunning chapel is over the actual location where Jesus would have stood while being questioned by Pilot and presented to the people. As someone pointed out, on this location where the savior of the world is condemned and rejected, the Risen Lord is now perpetually present in the Blessed Sacrament.
When we visited to excavation site where Jesus stood, several of the pilgrims took off their shoes to stand and pray here. This location is known as Lithostrotos , or pavement. Here Pilate proclaimed: “Ecce homo,” or “behold the man.” This was a powerful place to pray with that phrase, to behold Jesus, the Son of God, in the hour of his condemnation. How great is the love and mercy of our God! Here is the ‘grain of wheat’ that fell to the earth to die and bear much fruit; the bread from heaven who is to become the Bread of Life.
It is during this time that Jesus was scourged. Perhaps Pilate thought that blood would suffice to appease this angry mob. But as we know, blood alone would not quench their thirst for the death of Jesus. The chant rises up: “Crucify him! Crucify him!” And Jesus’ via crucis continues towards Calvary.
The part of Mount Calvary where Jesus was nailed to the cross and crucified are now within the walls of the present day church of the Holy Sepulcher. We spent a very moving morning here in prayer, and of course, another powerful morning celebrating Mass inside the empty tomb.
To kneel on the very spot where Jesus laid down his life is another experience that is beyond words. Here, Jesus freely offered himself as the sacrificial lamb. Here he entrusted his Mother, Mary to John, and thus to the whole Church; to us. Once he breathed his last, his side was pierced, and from his Sacred Heart poured forth blood and water, the font of eternal salvation for all who believe. One can only come in silent adoration to such a sacred place and give thanks and pray for even deeper understanding and greater gratitude for such a priceless gift.
At the base of Calvary, they laid the lifeless body Jesus to prepare it for burial. A stone slab now rests here, where pilgrims come to touch and pray. Many pour out similar oils that would have been used to anoint the body of Jesus, and then absorb these oils with their cloths to take home. Once again, imagination carries the prayerful pilgrim to that moment when Jesus was placed in the arms of his agonizing and sorrowful Mother, Mary. No wonder she knows how to comfort us in all our trials. Here is just one more reason why we need our Mother, Mary, she who can and desires to teach us how to apply our faith in Jesus to every experience and moment of this life, in order to remain with him until he brings us into the life that is eternal in the fullness of God’s Kingdom.
From here, the body of Jesus was carried the short distance to the new tomb for burial. How heavy the hearts of Jesus’ disciples during the time he laid in the tomb? How disappointed and afraid they must have been? Then comes the incredible news that his body was gone, and then the message and appearance from the Risen Lord himself! In Jesus we have the Font of new and eternal Life!
The invisible God became visible. The Word became flesh. God in the person of Jesus spoke in human language, walked with the afflicted, gave hope to those who despair, healed the sick, fed the hungry, brought those in darkness into his marvelous light, led those deceived by falsehood with his guiding light of truth, forgave sins, and in every human encounter gave meaning and purpose through relationship with him.
He who freely laid down his life now freely has taken it up again, and in him humanity knows redemption and salvation.
My friends, may you come to experience the abiding and indwelling presence of Jesus in your life. May you experience him walking with you through life, just as he walked this land he made holy by his presence. May each of us learn the meaning of true discipleship, by giving our all to the One who gave his all for us. This is true life; to lay down our life in service to God and one another.
As the apostles were soon dispersed throughout the world after Pentecost, so now our pilgrimage ends, and we are sent out into the world, renewed, and refreshed in the task of being witnesses to the Risen Lord in our day-to-day life.
Thank you for joining our pilgrimage through this blog. May God bless, refresh and renew you in the faith! I’ll close with a prayer from Elizabeth Kindelmann:
May our feet journey together
May our hands gather in unity,
May our hearts beat to the same rhythm,
May our souls be in harmony,
May our thoughts be in unison,
May our ears listen to the silence together,
May our glances melt in one another,
And may our lips beg our heavenly Father,
Together, to obtain Mercy.