The following of the fourteen stations in Jerusalem culminates in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built over the site of Calvary and the Lord's tomb.There we joined with that church's community of Franciscan friars to celebrate high mass. The setting is unique. Within the Lord's tomb itself a simple altar is set up above the place where his body was laid to rest. It is there that the consecration takes place, thus rendering present in sacrament the true body and blood of the Lord where his earthly body once rested.
This experience of celebrating the mass of the Lord's resurrection at the very place where it occurred takes the breath away. I think many of the pilgrims were pinching themselves: "Am I really here?" Well, yes, we were indeed there, and rejoiced that the earthly body of Jesus wasn't. Alleluia! We venerate the tomb of Jesus precisely because it is empty. From the beginning, Christians have accepted the empty tomb as the sign of the resurrection. That very emptiness engenders hope because it announces that Jesus is risen, alive and with us now.
We had entered the church at an hour of darkness. As we emerged from it following mass, we stepped into bright sunshine. Darkness giving way to light. That's what the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead means for the world.
The announcement of that message was first entrusted by Jesus to his apostles, among them St. Andrew, whose feast the Church celebrates today. The first encounter between Jesus and Andrew (cf. John 1: 35-42) teaches that the proclamation of Easter joy should assume the form of invitation. Andrew and some others had asked Jesus where he lived, to which the Lord replied, "Come and see," an invitation to a communion of life and love. The current reality of the Middle East, as elsewhere throughout the world, clearly demonstrates that many have yet to hear and accept that invitation. Our experience at the Holy Sepulchre this morning reminds us of our own call to accept anew that same invitation to communion with the Risen Lord and to propose it joyfully to others.
After breakfast, we visited the ancient pool of Beth-zatha, where Jesus healed a man who had been crippled for thirty-eight years (cf. John 5: 1-14). That encounter has always fascinated me. Jesus told him to take up his mat and walk. I wonder what must have been going through the mind of that man as he heard those words. He hadn't met Jesus before that moment, and now hears him command that he do the impossible - walk! Yet somehow he trusted that Jesus could make possible the impossible. He obeyed, and he walked! That's a good descriptor for faith: trust, obey, and allow the Lord to enable us to do the impossible.
Following a quick visit to the church of St. Anne next to the Beth-zatha pool site, we went to the Temple Mount to see the most holy place in Judaism: the Western Wall.
As we witnessed the beautiful sight of many Jews gathered for prayer and celebrating joyfully a number of Bar Mitzvahs, we offered our own prayers for them, their nation, and, indeed, for this region.
The free afternoon and evening were most welcome. Off to Jordan tomorrow.
One of our pilgrims has kindly offered to make audio recordings of my homilies during the pilgrimage. I invite you to listen to these recordings as a way of journeying with us.