The reason I made it until nearly midnight yesterday (besides two cups of coffee, weak American coffee, and lots and lots of tea), is that my American brothers and sisters and I met to continue our study of Acts and how to be doers of the word. Leaving Israel was pretty heartbreaking. I can't explain how God puts an instant deep love in your heart, but it happened. Plus, I was afraid that I would come home and return to the disgusting stagnancy I had been living in before the trip. I was missing all my new brothers and sisters I met in Israel, and from our team, but God gently reminded me that he gave me brothers and sisters here in Birmingham, too. I'm using the phrase "brothers and sisters" for a couple of reasons. One, it's Biblical. Two, there is no more accurate way I know to describe them. I don't call my sister Eileen "the girl who has my parents, too." God reminded me last night that my faith family is far and wide, and just because I'm no longer in Israel doesn't mean he's going to stop working in my life and pushing me to greater faith in him (what a RIDICULOUS idea. I am so idiotic sometimes. Praise Jesus that his grace covers stupidity, too).
Day 2: Super whirlwind tour
I've had the lucky privilege of traveling a lot. About a year and a half ago, my sister Eileen and I saw Berlin, Rome, Geneva, and Zurich in about 10 days. In retrospect, I would have liked to spend more time in each city. BUT, even then, our tour was not nearly as speedy as the tour of Jerusalem on the second day in Israel. At the end of the day, I could barely even make a list of what we saw (and I'm sure I've left something out):
The Dome of the Rock
The Golden Gate
The Pools of Bethesda
St. Anne's Church
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre
The Via Dolorosa
The Mount of Olives
The Garden of Gethsemane
The Church of All Nations
The Mount of Olives
The Garden Tomb
In some cases, I was overawed by the honor of standing where Christ would have stood. My savior was here...wait, what? Many of the sites were sad, though. For one thing, most of them are not confirmed locations, merely guesses confirmed by tradition. Also, for almost every site there is a gaudy church. The most depressing was the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the most commonly believed site of Jesus' tomb. Six different denominations of Christianity FIGHT over this church. They've divided it into six sections, but still the fight is so bitter that Muslims have to lock the church at night and unlock it in the morning. How bitter? Priests have been known to get into fistfights over things like extension cords crossing over somebody else's "territory." The picture here is of where you can go down to see Christ's supposed tomb. We didn't have time to wait in line, and I was pretty happy about that. It was such a dark place.
Here's the thing: I'm a history major, and I love getting to see where history happened. But even though we saw all these cool places, they are still just dead stones. If (I mean WHEN) I go back to Israel, I'm not going to go see them again. Jesus isn't there. Far more beautiful than any of these sites were the faces of the people I met and saw Jesus in, and the faces of the people that Jesus desires to bring to himself.
The British tour guide at the Garden Tomb (another possible site of Jesus' death and resurrection, and archaeologically more likely) put it this way:
Whether or not this is the site of Jesus' crucifixion and his burial, there are two things that we can be certain of: One, that Jesus Christ was crucified on the cross and bore all our sins. Two, that he rose from the dead three days later, defeating death and bringing eternal life to those who believe in him.
"But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. And as they were frightened, and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, "Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise."