Lent from another perspective is a pilgrimage, a journey towards celebrating the Easter mysteries, the sacraments we often celebrate in the context of Jesus’ journey to the cross and eventually to the tomb. On that first day of the week Mary discovers an empty tomb, the stone rolled away and the burial cloths neatly folded. There are so many possibilities to see these scenes in our imagination.
It is another to see Mount Zion, the site held sacred where in the cenacle where Jesus celebrated the Last Supper with his disciples, from there he went with them to the Garden in Gethsemane to pray through the hours of the night until his betrayer approached and then arrested, taken to Pilate’s palace, Herod’s court and eventually to Calvary or Golgotha for the crucifixion. Pilgrims today can enter Saint Stephen’s gate and follow the streets that lead to Calvary, though no one is certain of the exact route Jesus took over 2,000 years ago. Praying the way of the cross and stopping at points on public cobble stone streets in front of businesses is very different than our experience of praying the Way of the Cross in the quiet of our churches.
It is eye opening to see that Calvary and the tomb are practically next to each other, separated by maybe 50 yards, all under the same roof in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. We celebrated Mass at an altar adjacent to Calvary, standing, no chairs or places to sit down within the time allotted, a half an hour, in this very busy church and shrine.
There is so much to see in the old city of Jerusalem, a few days is never enough, but after visiting the Upper Room, Dormition Abbey, Bethsaida, the wailing wall, Bethany where Jesus raised Lazarus, the Dead Sea and Qumran we prepared to leave Jerusalem for the Galilee by way of Jericho and the Jordan river. On Sunday morning we bid Jerusalem farewell and descended to the Jordan valley, passing through Jericho to Bethany across the Jordan where tradition holds John baptized Jesus. Appropriately, we renewed our baptismal promises at the Jordan river (a muddy creek). Msgr. blessed us with water from the Jordan while we held lit candles. The government has built a stone plaza to permit pilgrims a clean dry place to have prayer and even the possibility of an outdoor Mass in shelters above the river banks.
From there we proceeded to an ancient Roman ruin and traveled through more farmland, orchards and banana plantations to the Galilee and our hotel on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, really a lake. Alice Soong and I greeted the sunrise each morning, quiet in reflective prayer, remembering this is where the disciples fished, Jesus preached, and he called some of the twelve apostles. So many of his sermons took place around the environs of the Sea, the Beatitudes, the parable of the farmer sowing seeds and more.
At each place, sacred site, we heard an appropriate passage from the Gospels, prayed Morning and Evening Prayer on the bus, listened and reflected on the land, and celebrated the Eucharist at some point in the day. As Peter denied Jesus three times in the courtyard before his death, here at the lakeside he responded to the Lord’s request to “feed my lambs, feed and tend my sheep.” Each year we make our pilgrimage through the stories of our faith always leading us to Easter, to our belief in the resurrection when we renew our baptismal promises and say “yes” to the Lord once more. Jesus asks us ‘feed my lambs, feed and tend my sheep’ meaning take care of one another, even the orphan, the widow and the stranger.
Blessings – Fr. Larry Hendel, Pastor