Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Psalm 37, 4.
One of my strongest desires was to visit Israel, and in November 2016, God granted me that wish. This was not a trip I saved for and planned carefully, nor one for which I chose the date, but a trip that came as an invitation to travel with a group to the Holy Land. Unexpected, as most of God’s gifts arrive.
The day we visited the Holy Sepulchre (grave), Church was a busy day in old Jerusalem. It was not the busiest time of year, but tourists still crowded the narrow streets of the Christian Quarter, where the church is found at the final stop of Via Dolorosa.
As you walk into the church, there is a narrow stairway on the right side that leads up to the place where Jesus died on the cross. There is a chapel, silver, and gold icons, and a small, framed opening below the altar where the faithful reach their hand to touch the Rock of Calvary.
Ahead of us on the stairs was a large group holding selfie sticks, professional cameras, video cameras, and phones, talking excitedly in high-pitched tones. There was no magic. No spiritual peace was present, so I closed my eyes and said to Jesus; I’m not feeling you here, dear Lord. This is chaotic. Forgive me for feeling this way.
In the background, Franciscan friars chanted their prayers. They hurried us to kneel and touch the calvary rock as fast as we could so they could begin their services. Nervous and a bit anxious, not to mention frustrated, I kneeled and touched the calvary rock. Even during this chaos, I thought about the blood of Christ. It is likely that the warm drops of our suffering Christ’s blood landed at the foot of the cross on this rock. The thought sent chills I could not dwell on, for it was time to get out of the way.
Between the chatty group, the chants, and shutter sounds, the friars began a beautiful service I’d never experienced before. Because of this, the stairs that led down to Jesus’ grave were blocked. My husband and I and another couple were the only ones in our group stuck up there, but this allowed us time to pause, light some candles and meditate on the holy prayers and take in the scent of purifying incense.
When the service ended, we headed down to meet our guide, who was not happy we were delaying the group. There were other stops on the itinerary, and we had to go. There was no time for us to visit the grave where Jesus was laid to rest. I was devastated and again directed my thoughts to God. My Lord, why is this happening at the place I wanted to see the most? It’s terrible to come all the way here and not have enough time. Forgive me, Lord, I don’t complain, but I’m beyond disappointed.
Although tempted, I would not stay behind and worry the tour organizers, so we followed the guide out of the church to continue the tour.
In the evening, after a long day of sightseeing, the bus dropped us off at our hotel. As we lined up in front of the elevator, the guide approached us, asking if we would be interested in waking up early in the morning to revisit the Holy Sepulchre Church. Without hesitation, the four of us said yes!
We met our guide at 5:30 a.m. and followed him to the church. It was almost empty. He asked if we wanted to attend mass services in Italian. We all said yes. Italian is not that difficult to understand if you speak Spanish. We followed him to a small chapel a few feet from the gravesite. For centuries, Catholicism has been represented here by Franciscan friars. They are the guardians of the Holy Grave.
It was like a dream, like being in heaven. When the time came for communion, it hit me; I was about to partake in the body of Christ, a body that at one time lay a few feet from where I was standing! From then on, my eyes overflowed with tears of joy, sadness, and healing that only comes from the holy spirit. I had come spiritually wounded and was set free.
I wept on my way to communion and, after mass, to the inside of the grave. We had the place to ourselves. I stood alone inside my Lord’s grave. I get goosebumps just remembering that day.
The greatest thing was the peace and quiet. I could feel my soul, mind, and body recoiling to grasp the significance of the moment.
I wept my way to the entrance of the church and kneeled in front of the Stone of Anointing, where Jesus’ body was laid before the burial. Slowly my crying ceased, and the peace I sought wriggled discreetly into my being. I placed the rosaries I’d bought in Bethlehem over the stone and prayed as hard as I ever remember. Dear Christ, bless us and protect us always. Thank you for your immense sacrifice.
I thought of his mother’s, our Blessed Virgin Mary, unimaginable suffering and of the way she strengthens my faith and walks alongside me in good and bad times.
Finally, it came time to leave. Funny how time can feel like an eternity and a wink at the same time. I got up and headed out the door. It was then that I heard a voice deep inside me ask;
Is it better now?
Yes, Jesus, it is.
I replied with a broad smile.
Many times such as this one, God granted the wishes of my heart not because I asked him for a trip but because every day, my goal is to strengthen my relationship with Him. The trip to Israel was inside me with a spark of hope of maybe someday.
Before the trip, I’d experienced grievous challenges that would continue for the next two and a half years. God knew what was coming, and he prepared me with this gift. It was an extraordinary experience, especially because this was not a religious tour but a cultural one. Our guide was a young Jewish man who went out of his way to make this visit to the Holy Sepulchre Church a memorable one. He did not have to do that, but he did because God can move heaven and earth to grant us the wishes of our hearts.
Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act. Psalm 37, Verse 5