Photo: The Passion of the Christ; producer, Mel Gibson
by Lynne Neiers
Last night I was reminded of the pilgrimage I took a few years ago to the Holy Land. Fr. David and another priest, our spiritual guides, had arranged for us to have a Holy Hour at the Church of The Agony. It was a beautiful Friday night, blue skies shown through the full moon and many stars. They had secured the last possible time in the Church before it closed for our group to spend time in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament on the altar above the rock that tradition held was at the spot Jesus prayed the night before his passion.
Father led us in a meditation, asking us to place ourselves in the scene with Jesus. Which apostle are you?
I was distracted, unable to focus. I thought about the events of the day. Earlier in the day we had gone to the Church erected at the site where Peter denied Christ. I remember walking into the Church and being struck with the thought of how many times I had denied the true presence of Christ on that trip. How I had ignored Him in the tabernacle.
At the end of the Holy Hour, Father had arranged for us to be able to have a Eucharistic procession around the gated Garden of Gethsemane. He had asked the old Franciscan friar if we could process in the Garden but the older priest stated that they did not allow it. As we processed from the church, the old friar gave each of us a candle to light as we entered the night air. To our surprise and delight he slowly opened the gate to the Garden of Gethsemane. We all were overtaken with such strong emotion. We are here! We are with Jesus in the Garden. Old olive trees doted the hillside. The stars brightly lit the holy space. Father led us in the Lenten song, “Were You There,” and it struck me. I am there! I am HERE with Our Lord! He is ALIVE! He is ALIVE!
Images of the many Eucharistic Processions that I had participated with the high school youth at Destination Jesus came flooding to me. I carried these youth with me during this pilgrimage, praying for their intentions.
A verse of the song “Into Marvelous Light” came singing through my heart:
“Sin has lost it’s power,
death has lost it’s sting.
From the grave you’ve risen,
Holy Thursday could never be the same. Good Friday would never be the same.
The next day we walked the Via Dolorosa, ‘the Way of Grief” or “the Way of Suffering,” a street within the Old City of Jerusalem, held to be the path that Jesus walked to his crucifixion on Mt. Calvary. Each of us on the pilgrimage took a turn carrying the cross on the streets in Old City Jerusalem. I was struck with how loud the city was and how no one paid much attention to the cross and the group following it. How similar it was in Jesus’ time? Did people just go on with their daily duties? Were they annoyed with how this group following the cross interfered with their business? Was He just another man being crucified? Didn’t they know He was the Christ? Would I know He was the Christ? Did I know He is the Christ?
As we finally got to our destination, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre erected over Mt Calvary, I was hot, thirsty and tired. I had long finished drinking all my water in my water bottle. It wasn’t a long distance but the streets were narrow, crowded, and hot. As we entered the Church and headed up narrow, crowded stairs the air became very still and hot. There was a small window that offered fresh air and relief from feeling closed in by the throngs of people heading up to the site of the crucifixion. I paused at that site, appreciating the relief from the heat and said out loud, to no one in particular, “I’m thirsty.” One of the men in our group immediately handed me the last bit of water in his water bottle. I was overcome with emotion, again. For two reasons: I was humbled by his generosity. He was being Christ to me, quenching my thirst. Secondly, because I knew the reality of where we were, before the cross. Jesus said from the cross “I thirst.” He thirsts for you. He thirsts for me. Have I given Him my heart? Have you given Him your heart?
It will never be the same.
Have a Blessed Easter.