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Mar24ThuHoly Land pilgrims rejoice in Christ's victory. March 24, 2016
Last fall, a group of Salvation Army officers from the Canada and Bermuda Territory travelled to the Holy Land, becoming pilgrims as they entered the story of Jesus' life, death and Resurrection. Here are their reflections on his journey to the cross.
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Betrayed: The Garden of Gethsemane
by Major Isobel Wagner
A grove of olive trees greeted us as we entered a private garden near the traditional site of Gethsemane. Our guide told us that Gethsemane means oil press. She explained that when pressure is applied to olives, they release their oil, which, in turn, produces light. I found this simple explanation profoundly moving as I reflected on Jesus' last visit to the garden where he often prayed with his disciples (see Luke 22:39-40).
Jesus was under immense pressure on the night of his betrayal. He knew his hour of suffering had come (see Mark 14:41). He spent his last moments of freedom in fervent prayer: “Being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground” (Luke 22:44). Three times he prayed that, if it were possible, God would remove “this cup” from him. However, above all, he prayed that God's will would be accomplished (see Matthew 26:39, 42, 44). Jesus knew that he had to drink from the cup of God's wrath to pay the penalty for our sin. Jesus, who had lived his life in unbroken, intimate fellowship with his Father, was to be cut off from God's presence and to bear the full force of his anger. This was a horrendous prospect. Jesus knew he needed divine strength to sustain him in all that lay ahead.
The pressure exerted on Jesus culminated in his blood being poured out for us on the cross. Like olives pressed for oil, his blood brings light to all who place their faith in him. Paul writes, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins” (Ephesians 1:7). And so, “God … made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God's glory displayed in the face of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6).
When we feel the pressure of life weighing heavily upon us, and we are tempted to give up, we can look to Jesus' example of prayer and know with certainty that “our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Corinthians 4:17).
Condemned: The Prison of Christ
by Major Dave Grice
On the day we walked the Via Dolorosa, we stopped at a location believed to be where Jesus was held prisoner before Pilate sentenced him to crucifixion. As a young Christian, I struggled with the injustice of the story. Jesus had not done anything wrong, yet was accused. Pilate had an opportunity to stand up for Jesus, but chose instead to absolve himself of any responsibility, saying, “I am innocent of this man's blood” (Matthew 27:24).
Jesus could have challenged the charges he faced, yet remained silent. “He was oppressed and afflicted … he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth” (Isaiah 53:7).
Only later in life did I come to understand why Jesus relinquished his power and authority: “Though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant … he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-8 ESV).
Jesus faced his accusers with humility so that I could receive forgiveness for my sins. In the darkness of that prison, where grooves in the rock held the chains that bound his hands and feet, my frustration and anger at injustice was replaced by thankfulness for what Jesus did for me.
Scourged: Via Dolorosa
by Major Glenda Davis
It was an unforgettable experience to be where Jesus ministered on earth, to walk where he walked. For me, the most sacred and solemn of all the sites we visited was the Via Dolorosa, which means the way of suffering. Everything else pointed to this moment. Whether or not it was the actual road that Jesus took from Pilate's judgment hall through Jerusalem to Calvary, it became a spiritual journey that led me to the cross.
At the beginning of our pilgrimage, our tour guide urged us to use all of our senses to make the most of our experience in the Holy Land. I found myself doing exactly that as we walked along the Via Dolorosa. I felt the heat of the day and the deepening of my breath as we ascended the narrow, winding road in Old Jerusalem. I carried a knapsack and had to tread carefully on the uneven paved stones. I thought about Jesus, walking uphill, carrying the agonizing load of a heavy wooden cross on his wounded body, and wondered what it was like for him.
We shared the crowded street with vendors and other pilgrims. The people we encountered were pleasant, other than an occasional aggressive shopkeeper trying to earn a living. Soldiers with machine guns patrolled the route. By this time, we were used to their presence and they posed no threat to us. In contrast, I thought of the hostile crowd that Jesus would have faced and the oppressive Roman soldiers who led him to his death.
Along the way, we stopped in churches and other locations that marked significant moments in Jesus' final hours: his condemnation, the crown of thorns, Simon of Cyrene taking the cross. Each place was a reminder of his great sacrifice. In a dark dungeon, a place representing his imprisonment, we sang, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” Afterward, there were tears and silence. I found myself taking ownership for his Crucifixion and the part my sin played in all of it. A deep sadness came over me; my heart was grieved. At the same time, I experienced his love in a new and powerful way as I reflected on the words of a song by Sandi Patty: “He chose to walk that road out of his love for you and me; down the Via Dolorosa, all the way to Calvary.”
by Major Denise Walker
In Jerusalem, two places are considered possible locations of Golgotha, where Jesus was crucified. My experience at each was like night and day.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built on the rock of Golgotha, was our last stop as we walked the Via Dolorosa. The journey had been an emotional one for me; I was overwhelmed by the presence of God at several stations.
This station was different. There is a feeling that can't be explained when you suddenly find yourself in the valley of the shadow of death. As we climbed the stairs to the place where the cross was erected and where Jesus died—it hit me. The room was hot, dark and crowded; the air was thick with smoky incense. It was disorienting and unsettling. This was indeed a place of death.
It was easy to hear the words of Jesus: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” I felt like one of the women watching helplessly from the sidelines, in anguish but, at the same time, numb. It was difficult to be there, to patiently make my way through the final stations, but it was an important part of the journey.
The other location was part of the Garden Tomb, just past the Damascus Gate. We visited late in the day and the garden was beautiful and peaceful, a quiet sanctuary nestled in the midst of a bustling city. We were taken to the edge of the garden and from there we could see a rocky cliff, that, when viewed from just the right angle, and with just the right amount of imagination, looked like a skull.
Maybe it was the wire fence, or the stone wall at the top of the hill, or the row of minibuses in the parking lot below, but I couldn't see it. I couldn't place the horrific events of Jesus' death there. But it was still a special stop, a place of quiet reflection as I remembered the sacrifice Jesus made to give me new life and new hope.
Risen: The Garden Tomb
by Major Marlene George
In most cases, you wouldn't be excited to enter a special place or open a special gift and discover it empty. But at the Garden Tomb, although the garden itself was beautiful and full of life, the real gift was to enter the tomb and rejoice in its emptiness—a vivid reminder of Jesus' victory over death and our redemption through his atoning work.
When I entered the tomb, designed to replicate the borrowed tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, I was thankful it wasn't dark and dismal. Instead, there was natural light shining through an opening. To me, this represented something of the brightness the women saw when the angel greeted them on that first Easter morning, so many centuries before. It was easy to imagine the angel declaring, “He is not here; he has risen, just as he said” (Matthew 28:6).
The tomb was no longer a dark and dismal place of death; it had been transformed into a place of life by the resurrected body of Christ. As I stood there, I gave thanks to God for this gift of life and the power of the Resurrection. Leaving the empty tomb, I could not help but rejoice, raising my voice and pointing heavenward to victoriously declare, “He is risen indeed!”