I want to walk with Jesus. I would also love to walk where he walked; to breath in the air of the Gospels and step into the sand that once dusted the straps of our Savior’s sandals. In the Holy Land, the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. His presence is felt even today among the hills where shepherds still watch, and where the walled city of Jerusalem guards the relics of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection.
Often, during Advent and Lent, my preparation feels inadequate. Those are the times to intimately capture the spirit and reality of the moment in which the Son of God became flesh, was born of Mary, and suffered and died for our salvation.
During Advent this year, I had help through reading and meditating on the book, The Holy Land: An Armchair Pilgrimage by Fr. Mitch Pacwa. He has led fifty-eight pilgrimages to the Holy Land so he is an expert tour guide. His knowledge of Arabic, Greek, and history offer deep understanding of the places and customs to which he adds spiritual reflections and prayers.
This book helps me to visualize the first Christmas as well as other aspects of Christ’s life. Honestly, it is thrilling to see so many of the physical remains from Christ’s time in Israel.
As a Catholic, I’m a little embarrassed that I did now realize how much of it has been preserved. For instance, inside the Church of the Nativity, there is a marble and limestone entrance and stairs that lead to the cave where Jesus was born. In this cave is an altar built over a silver star embedded in the floor that marks the spot of Christ’s birth.
Pacwa explained that during the time of Christ, stone mangers were common. “Two stone mangers were found within this cave by St. Helena; one was taken to Rome and one remains,” he wrote. At Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem places an image of the Christ Child in this manger, where it remains until the Epiphany.
Also in this chapter are pieces of history and the Church of the Visitation. This was the time when Blessed Virgin Mary visited her cousin Elizabeth while both were pregnant; one with our Savior and the other with the herald of the Savior, John the Baptist. The church has the well, where by tradition, Mary met Elizabeth.
Right now, I am working my way through the chapter on Jerusalem. It contains information about Churches that are dedicated to the passion and death of Jesus, and places and objects preserved from this time. It is perfect for a Lenten meditation, but I am so enamored with the Holy Land that I find it of immense value at any time. For such a life Jesus was born in Bethlehem: to live among us, teach us, heal us, and save us.
“We enter the Holy Sepulcher Church across a courtyard and through a large door. Immediately upon entering, you’ll see a narrow, steep stairway which leads up to Calvary,” Pacwa wrote. “A floor is built upon pillars to facilitate a visit to the site of Jesus’s crucifixion,” He explained that there are three altars, and under one, pilgrims can kneels before a metal plate with a hole in it. “Through this hole you can touch the actual rock of Calvary.”
Also in the Holy Sepulcher Church are the remains of the burial tomb of Christ. “In the middle of the first room, known as the Chapel of the Angels, you’ll notice a pillar with a square stone on top. This is the last surviving fragment of the rolling stone that had been placed before the original tomb.” Can you imagine? If you have visited the Holy Land before or read about it, you may not be as surprised as I am by all that is there, but I know that any Christian would be moved by such a closeness to the life of Christ.
The Holy Land includes many of the places that marked the Gospel events in the life of Christ. I’m enjoying visiting them from the comfort of home. For now, it is actually my preference. My life does not lend itself to globe trotting at this time.
I am blessed to be so close to Jesus as to receive him in Holy Communion, but seeing where he walked as both God and man helps me feel closer to his life on earth. And since that is where I live right now, it is a powerful reflection of how close Jesus chose to be with us.
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Copyright 2014, Patti Maguire Armstrong