After we left the Church of the Resurrection we enjoyed our last Middle-Eastern lunch – the classic combo of “falafel” and strong coffee. Then Rebekah and I continued all the way down the Via Dolorosa to “The Pool of Bethesda.” People from our church (First Presbyterian Church of Brandon) are going to laugh when I say this, but: “That’s Rebekah’s favorite Bible story.” (She has, at last count, around 25 scriptures in her “Top Five”)
The Pool of Bethesda is the place where Jesus challenged the paralyzed man regarding his willingness to live life in all of its fullness. Jesus asked a hard question; he knew the man needed to be healed, but only the man himself could make the determination to allow the miracle to take place.
Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals. Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesdaand which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?” “Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” – (John 5)
There’s a beautiful church at the location (they tend to build churches on top of everything here and – frankly – it gets a little tiresome when there are a thousand better ways – archeologically – to develop these places and respect the integrity of history at the same time). Fortunately this church was dedicated to the mother of the Virgin Mary and the structure leaves the pool complex well enough alone.
Ritual cleansing was part of the Jewish practice of worship. You didn’t just show up to worship God, there had to be deliberate preparation. It is an idea, frankly, that has merit. Jesus lived in a culture where God dwelled in “The Holy of Holies,” and God was not appraoched by anyone other than the High Priest, and he only went in once a year. Our guide told us that a rope would have been tied around the priest’s ankle, so that – if he was struck dead in the presence of The Almighty – he could be pulled out without anyone else placing themselves at risk.
And so, when Jesus asked the man if he wanted to be made well, and why he hadn’t made his way to the water in almost four decades, Jesus was also asking if the man wanted to be spiritually whole, and if he had any intention of living the kind of life-charged life God intends for his children.
TOMB: Then, having left Bethesda, we made our way to The Garden Tomb. The Garden Tomb makes no claims to be the exact location, but it is a legitimate ancient burial site, and offers a clear idea of what such a place – owned by someone like Joseph of Arimathea – would have looked like.
Consequently the place has presence, an intuitive sense of peace and focus, not only at the end of a long day, but at the conclusion of a trip that was wonderful even as it left us spent. I felt, quite literally, the rest of Jesus. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27)
BREAD and WINE: We made our way to a quiet area and shared a simple service of communion as a group. Across the garden, as we were taking the bread and the wine, we could hear an African tour singing with such passion and such belief.
We joined in, quietly, carrying the words like a corporate prayer that united us all, believers from every tribe and nation declaring Jesus in every tongue and with one voice, that God gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father... (Philippians 2)
It was our last stop on this life-chareged, life-challenging tour. We returned to the hotel, ate dinner, packed, and made our way to the airport at Tel Aviv where we boarded our Jumbo jet close to 1:00 in the morning…
But our hearts and minds were still at the tomb. An empty tomb, mind. And how do we know that? We know the tomb is empty because Jesus lives in us, here and now. Jesus lives through us. And we live because of Jesus. Not “live” as in breathing; but “live” as in life-charged.
It’s what I’m writing about; it’s the pulse of this blog; it’s the filter through which I pour all of my experience.
Tomorrow I’ll put the wraps on this Amazing Journey. But stay with me, please – because we’re only just beginning to tell the story – DEREK