The Saturday of Holy Week must have been heart wrenching for the disciples and family of Jesus. Their dreams of the Messiah were crushed with His death and they hid in fear or the same fate. Though He had told them of His resurrection, they didn't yet understand. The stone in front of His tomb sealed their fates....or so they thought.
One of the most profound moments on my trip to Israel was standing inside the pit where Jesus stood after arrested. These little details aren't in Scripture. You have to stand in the actual place to know that He would have been hauled underground in Caiphas' house and chained in a holding cell until ready to be questioned.
Then, because of the High Priest readying Himself to go to the temple, Caiaphas couldn't risk being around a murderer with blood on His hands. that would make Him unclean.
That is where the pit comes in. On the bottom floor, the prisoners were placed in a small room (about 20 of us fit in it at once). In the middle of the room is a tunnel that connects the bottom floor with the top floor (the middle floor with the holding cells is enclosed so they cannot hear what is being said). The priest would stand at the top and shout down, questioning the criminals.
So, there Jesus stood, in the cold dark room that had no light except from the small opening door floors up (in the picture you will see there are windows cut out. Those are new and didn't exist then). He had just been betrayed by one closest to Him and another was in the courtyard upstairs denying Him. he knew what lie ahead of Him and He was utterly alone, faced with the reality that soon His Father would, too, have to turn His face away as not to look upon the sin He would take upon Himself.
We focus so much on the cross on Friday and it was a brutal, inhumane was for anyone to die, especially the sinless Son of God. But standing there in that pit what struck me was how utterly abandoned Jesus must have felt and how we cannot even begin to comprehend what being separated from the Father on the cross meant to Him. He was completely one with the Father from the beginning of time in a way we cannot understand until eternity. And He knew that darkness was coming and separation. The striking thing is, because He was abandoned and separated from the Father, we never have to be....
After a day of rest, Thursday of Holy Week was a full, pivotal day in the life and death of Jesus. The Gospel of John summarizes the beginning of Holy Week in one chapter (John 12) but devotes five and a half chapters to Thursday. Jesus shared the Passover (the Last Supper) with His Disciples, taught a lesson on servanthood by washing their feet, predicted His betrayal and denial, and teaches on the way to the Father, the Holy Spirit, abiding, trials and perseverance. After teaching, He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, was betrayed and arrested, and was denied by Peter.
Today on the side of the Mount of Olives lies a church and a beautiful garden in the place where Jesus prayed right before His arrest. The word Gethsemane literally means "olive press" and was literally a place where the olives were harvested. The olives were pressed into oil by being crushed under the great weight of a stone press. It was in this place where the Lord was crushed under the weight of the sins of the world He would have to bear hours later.
Hours before this Jesus had told His disciples, "I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn over what is going to happen to me, but the world will rejoice. You will grieve, but your grief will suddenly turn to wonderful joy." (John 16:20, NLT) Though there was agony for Jesus that night and for the disciples in the coming days, grief would be turned to joy. And there may be crushing weight of our own Gethsemanes but we will, with the rest of the world, rejoice. It took the garden to get to the cross and it took the cross to give us the empty tomb....
After another packed day Tuesday in Jerusalem in which Jesus confronted religious leaders, taught about the End times , spoke of his death and His return at the second coming, we hear nothing from Scripture about Wednesday. We can only guess what Jesus and His disciples did that day. Did they prepare for the Passover? Did Jesus continue to teach? My thought is that after the exhaustion of the previous days and before the trying days ahead, they retreated to Bethany to rest. To pray. To spend time at the feet of the One who would soon wash their feet.
Today the temple where Jesus spent much of His last week no longer exists. Pieces of it remain and when you visit Jerusalem no matter the time of day or year, you will see Jews and Christians alike crowded around the wall that remains of the temple. Some are silent, some celebrating the coming of age of young men, some weeping and rocking back and forth in prayer. If you look closely in every crack of the stones and littered across the base of the wall, like the delicate wings of birds flapping in the wind, you will see thousands of pieces of paper. They are names and prayers, placed into the wall, in hopes that God will hear and answer. This wall is the closest the Jewish people of today can get to the Holy of Holies to pray as they are no longer allowed to pray on the temple mount where the Presence of God once resided. People from all over the world venture to this place to speak to God. Sometimes songs rise from the side of the Mount and sometimes the sound of actual cries to God can be heard. Though the temple does not remain, God is not silent. In His Word, in the heart of those who seek Him, He speaks...
On Monday, Jesus had cleared out the temple and the anger of the Jewish leaders of Jerusalem grew. Jesus enlisted so many emotions in people that week - adoration, awe, confusion, anger, fear. Tensions ran high and on Tuesday as Jesus continued to evade the traps of the authorities and look forward to the End in his teachings, one of His own began his descent into betrayal. Judas negotiated with the Sanhedrin to turn Jesus over for 30 pieces of silver and looked for the right time to make his move. In just a couple short days, more of His disciples would deny Him and flee.
I have to wonder what was going on in Judas' head and heart that week as he remained with Jesus but knew what he was planning to do. Was he already regretting his decision but unable to turn back? Was he full of pride and blinded to the truth? As one who knew the Lord and walked away in my past (thank God for His loving pursuit of us and endless forgiveness), I know that He was always with me. Even when I tried to run from Him, I couldn't. Any of us could be Judas or Peter, betraying, denying. I'm so thankful for a love that can overcome even the darkest of hearts. His love is relentless and will never let us go, will always be waiting for us...
I couldn't help but love Jerusalem when I visited it. Israel is so much smaller than you imagine when reading the Scriptures, most places an easy drive from another. But then you enter the Holy City and first glimpse it from the Mount of Olives. The city is sprawling with people in every corner and the giant Temple Mount dominating the skyline. The voices rise from her streets in several languages, mixing in a beautiful symphony, and the smells bombard your senses like sweet perfume. It is simply breathtaking.
On Monday of Jesus' last week on earth He looked over the city that God had chosen so many years before and He wept. In the city where God's Presence had rested, Kings had reigned and battles had been waged, the people were like a sheep without a shepherd. Their King stood before them and they missed Him. They would look Him right in the eye and spit upon Him. Jesus wept because He did not want one of His children to perish and it broke His heart that some would choose to deny Him, others betray Him and most miss Him altogether.
Remember this Holy Week how deep His love is for His children, like the shepherd for His flock that He lovingly tends each day...
With Spring comes an expectation, the promise of new life just around the corner. Flowers push through the ground that has been hard and cold. Birds stretch their wings, ready to fly again into the warm April air. I love the way the promise of new life each Spring echoes the season of expectation we feel every Lent, as we contemplate anew the coming of Christ, our King.
As the days have been marching on towards Holy Week, I have found myself thinking back to the moments I spent last Spring in the Holy Land, walking in the very places Jesus walked during the last week of His life. I haven't felt anything quite as powerful as standing on the Mount of Olives overlooking the city that God chose and loved so dearly.
This Holy Week, I wanted to share some of the images that have been rolling around in my mind and the words on my heart as we contemplate the journey Christ took towards the cross and ready our hearts to celebrate our resurrected King.
On Sunday Jesus entered Jerusalem, coming from the Mount of Olives into the Holy City. He entered to the praise of the people, celebrated as a coming King. In a few short days, very different cries would ring through the city, calling for his crucifixtion. Today the side of the mountain overlooking Jerusalem is covered with over 150,000 graves. Jews have been buried on the mountainside for over 3,000 years, believing that when the Messiah comes He will come from the Mount of Olives and the resurrection of the dead will begin there.
Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the coming King of Zion. He came humble and riding on a donkey. One week later, He would return....victorious over sin and death!
The daughters of Zion rejoice
at the sight of You, O King,
coming to us humble and low
within our very reach.
You aren’t like other rulers
who sit on thrones far removed.
You keep company with our children
and sit at our tables.
You speak peace to the nations
and you set the prisoners free.
The daughters of Jerusalem shout
at the sight of You, O King,
Coming to us high and lifted up,
appearing over us.
There are none like you
whose arrows go forth like lightning.
You sound the trumpet
and march forth into battle.
You speak salvation to the nations.
and you set Your people free.
My stomach has been a little topsy-turvy this week and I keep telling myself it is allergies from the Spring that is just starting to peek through the rare Georgia cold of the past few weeks. I know, deep down, that it is more than that. It is my old familiar anxiety trying to rear it's head as I sit up well past the time everyone else has gone to bed and go over my packing list. So, I open my journal and read what I wrote just yesterday morning when God spoke to me so clearly. "Save your best striving for seeking My Face." Sarah Young penned those words in Jesus Calling, words she felt God said to her. I felt God say them to me yesterday as well. Stop striving. Be still and know. Why is that always the hardest thing for me to do? Oh, I am so good at striving, working hard to make things happen. I don't want to do that this time. I want His will above all else.
I have celebrated God in the back of a truck, rushing past lush rice fields in Northern Thailand. I have worshiped to the drums of South Asian believers sitting cross-legged on the floor, dusty, colorful and full of life in one of the poorest slums on earth. I have praised Him as I watched the sun rise over the same mountain where He spoke to Moses face to face, huddled under blankets but feeling His warmth permeate my soul. I have marveled with thousands at His beauty in one of the largest Middle Eastern churches, hewn from the rock of a mountain that He is said to have literally moved to show His might. I have seen the lame get up and walk and the oppressed received freedom in His Presence. I have prayed from the very ground where some of the darkest evil of terrorism was born and threatens this world, but cannot overcome it. I have walked the very steps of my Lord, looked out over the valley of His childhood and looked out over the still waters on which He walked. I saw Him in the ancient rocks of the temple built to worship Him and have been amazed at His power as I dipped my feet into the very sea He parted.
Oh, that I could revel in Him that way this day as I look out over the same street I travel each day. I long to be as amazed with Him in the mundane tasks of my day as when I walked where He did. For He walks here in my life, in my going out and coming. He makes the sun rise over my home, just as He brings it up over the holiest of mountains. He frees my very heart from oppression and heals the sickness of my heart. He walks the same path I do, day in and day out. Evil will not overcome in my life because of Jesus' victory. My body now is His temple. He parts the sea for me to walk through on dry ground, right here, if I will just ask. If I will just open my eyes to see it, I will glimpse the extraordinary works of my Jesus. Every day in the ordinary life He calls me to lead, I can see the miraculous. I can see His face and revel in Him, if only I slow down long enough to see Him right where He has placed me.
I sat in the back of my sixth grade English class, not working on the assignment. I could half pay attention in school and still do well. No, my hand was flying across the pages of a green three-prong notebook that contained my first (and to this date, only) book. I don't remember the story, only that it was a love story called "Rush."
I just always had this need to write, either borne out of my love for the written word or maybe I was just born with it. All through high school poetry was my therapy. Never was teen angst more thoroughly, though definitely more adequately, expressed.
Simply, as a child I wrote for myself. I loved the way it transported me to another world and let me express things I would never have the courage to say out loud. If I had a hard thing to express to someone, they knew well that they would receive a hand-written note spelling it out, because I never could find the words in person.
Then, I grew up...and as happens with many artists, reality set in. I never followed my art as a career and I tried to keep writing, but it took a back burner to the things that seemed to matter. We had bills to pay and two real job that expected me to show up 50 hours a week. We had a baby on the way and I couldn't find the time to write. My talent sat on a shelf next to a book of poetry my husband compiled of the dozens I had written in my early years.