A Picture Speaks a Thousand Words!
In January, 2016, my husband and I were called by BYU's President Kevin J. Worthem to serve as the Music Host Couple at BYU's Jerusalem Center. For the next 19 months, I was the resident organist and conductor of the student choir. Together we hosted weekly concerts from world-famous musicians who came to perform on the reknown Jerusalem Center stage with the amazing backdrop of Jerusalem. To say the least, it was truly a once-in-a liftetime experience!
Having just celebrated Easter, my thoughts turned back to some of the events in Israel that changed our lives forever. Never again will we have the opportunity to live in the Holy Land and experience first-hand the celebration of Palm Sunday, Holy Week and Easter where thousands of pilgrims from all over the world had come to visit Jerusalem to walk in the footsteps of Jesus before His last moments. Today I am hoping as I share photos from Israel that they might enhance your appreciation of Easter because a picture speaks a thousand words!
Parlm Sunday started with procession lead by the Greek Catholic Priest beginning from the Franciscan church, Bethpage, on the Mount of Olives and proceeded to St. Anne's Church on the Via Dolorosa.
Outside the walls of Bethpage Church
The New Testament mentions Bethpage as the place where Jesus sent his discliples to find a donkey which He would ride into Jerusalem.
In ancient times, palm branches symbolized goodness, well-being and victory. The people laid the branches across the path of Jesus and waved them in the air while shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” At that time, people thought of Jesus as a potential leader who would overthrow the Romans but not as the Messiah. However, this is where the the tradition started.
The Bethpage Church also ontains a stone traditionally identified as the one which Jesus used to mount the donkey at the start of His procession into Jerusalem.
The "mounting stone" is surrounded by an iron fence in the chapel of Bethpage Church.
Zechariah, the prophet, foretold of the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. During the entire week, Christians followed processions with a leader who carried a large, wooden cross to a church where they could attend mass.
The Greek Catholic Priest lead the procession.
Visitors came from all over the world to participate in Palm Sunday.
Garth and Kathleen Holyoak
Bus loads of tourists came to participate in this special event which consisted mainly of Christians of many denominations but especially Catholic and Orthodox.
The Via Dolorsa was the route Jesus took between His condemnation by Pontius Pilot and His crucifixion and buriel.
Non-Christians watched from balconies or rooftops.
St. Anne's Church, Jerusalem, where the Palm Sunday procession concluded.
"Holy Thursday" was the night Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane.
"Holy Thursday" followed "Palm Sunday" and was held at the Church of All Nations, also known as the Basilica of Agony, because it is built over the rock where Jesus is believed to have prayed in agony the night before His crucifixion.
The adjacent Garden of Gethsemane was a place where Jesus met often with his apostles. Currently, it has eight ancient olive trees and an area with benches where people can sit and contemplate the Atonement.
Garden of Gethsemane and the Church of All Nations in background
The gnarled and twisted olive trees in this garden are estimated to be about 1,600 to1,800 years old. In 70 AD, the Romans stripped the hill for timber when they camped here. Nevertheless, the Garden of Gethsemane is a peaceful place to visit and the trees that now stand are a reminder of a place where Jesus often met with his apostles. My husband and I visited the Holy Land in 1971 and that experience still serves as a great source of inspiration for the Easter and Christmas music I write.
We arrived two hours before the mass began and within minutes there was standing room only and no more were allowed into the church. It was estimated that 3,000 people from 29 countries were in attendance for the mass. Afterwards, we took the path that Jesus would have walked to St. Peter in Gallicantu where He was tried.
The Church of All Nations was built over the Rock of the Atonement
From the program:
Together with the Mother Church of Jerusalem we have come together at Gethsemane to commemorate the salvisic events that took place in this Holy Place on the evening of our Lord's passion. Recalling the three principal moments as narrated by the Gospels,we will be reflecting upon Christ's prediction of Peter's denial and the subsequent fleeing of His disciples, Christ's agony in the Garden, and finally His arrest. A universal prayer, "Our Father," will conclude our celebration.
At the conclusion of the mass, red rose petals were spread over the rock to symbolize the blood of Jesus when he agonozied in the Garden of Gethsemane. Due to the size of the crowd, two large screens were set up so everyone could see the ceremony at the Atonement rock.
The Church of All Nations
After the mass, we took the path that Jesus would have walked to St. Peter in Gallicantu where He was tried and then lowered through a hole into a stone prison.
People carried torches and candles as they walked to St. Peter in Gallicantu. The path leading from the Church of All Nations to St.Peter in Gallicantu is about one mile.
The church pictured below is built on a hillside and stands on the Eastern Slope of Mount Zion. On its roof rises a golden rooster atop a black cross, recalling Christ's prophecy that Peter would deny him three times.
Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu - note the golden rooster atop the black cross
The Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu is a Roman Catholic church on four levels: the upper church, the middle church, the guard room and the dungeon or prisoner's cell. The only access to the prison or dungeon was through a shaft from above where Jesus and prisoner's would be lowered down by means of a rope harness.
Shaft where prisoners were lowered into dungeon.
In the dungeon were holes in the stone to fasten a prisoner's hands so he could be flogged. Bowls carved in the floor held salt and vinegar to further aggrivate the pain or to disinefect the wounds.
A visit to this place certainly offered a sobering insight into the place where Jesus spent His last night before He was crucified and a place I never knew existed. As we went inside this cold and unlit dungeon, my heart grieved knowing I was standing in proximity to where Jesus had been tethered by chains in such an unforgiving space.
Jesus with harness
Prior to Holy Week, we visited a museum that had a display and a replica of the shroud fabric Jesus was wrapped in, the nails and whips and crown of thorns used to cause pain and suffering prior to His crucifixion. Visiting this exhibit gave me great pause and seeing this first-hand made it even more real. Photos talk and for that reason I am sharing more details of the suffering of Jesus.
Only The Lowest Members Of Society Were Crucified
A Roman citizen was never crucified. Rather, they were put to death by the quick method of beheading. Only slaves, political rebels, and the lowest criminals were put to death by crucifixion. The cross was a symbol of shame for the Romans.
After Jesus was imprisoned, he suffered scourging before His crucifixion. This was the standard practice under Roman law. The scourge was a short whip made of two or three leather thongs or ropes connected to a number of pieces of metal (zinc or iron) which would quickly remove the skin.
Jesus was whipped, stripped of His clothing, tied to a post or pillar and beaten until His flesh hung in shreds. Jesus was probably scourged 39 times. In 2 Corinthians, Paul speaks of receiving "forty lashes less one."
Replicas of nails used to nail prisoners to a cross
The nails on display were about 6" in length and the same type used to nail Jesus and thers to the cross who were crucified. I
shuddered to see these in real life.
In the days of the Romans, a crown was made in the shape of a helmet and not like the type of crown I had envisioned. There-fore, the sufffering was even greater as the crown was pressed firmly upon His head.
Then Jesus was dressed in a purple robe.
Jesus' captors wanted to cause Him pain and to mock his claim of authority. In Matthew we read: "And when they had plaited a crown of thorns, they put it upon his head, and a reed in his right hand: and they bowed the knee and mocked him, saying Hail, King of the Jews!"
Beside the church of St. Peter in Gallicantu, escavations found a stepped street which in ancient times would have descended from Mount Zion to the Kidron Valley. These steps were certainly in use at the time of Christ and coins found along these steps verified the time period so we know it was a common walkway.
On the evening of His arrest, Christ probably walked down these steps with his disciples on their way from the Last Supper to the Garden of Gethsemane. Each year on "Holy Thursday", visitors are allowed to walk these steps but with the coronavirus this year all of Jerusalem is currently shut down.
In fact, citizens are allowed to only step no more than 100 yards from their homes or stand the chance of a $900 fine!
Candles were placed to light the way and Christians sat contemplating that this was one of the places where Jesus could have walked. This place felt special and as we walked down these steps, my husband and I felt so grateful to be there.
At the bottom of the steps was a small plateua with benches where we sat and sang the hymn, "I Stand All Amazed" and pondered the significance of Christ's life and His atonement. It was an especially beautiful evening and was one of the most memorable places we visited while living in the Holy Land.
Some years ago, my lyricist, Lawrence Lee, wrote lyrics for a song which we wrote for Easter entitled, "That Night in Gethsemane." Larry said that he was thinking about the number of times we we choose to drink our own bitter cup without exercising faith that Jesus has already taken this cup for us. All He asks is that we recognize his act in the Garden and on Calvary and to "Come Unto Him." Click the picture to listen: "That Night in Gethsemane" (This will open a page at HolySheetMusic. Then click the tab to listen to the recording from my "Angels on Tiptoes album.)
In conclusion, "The Atonement was the sacrifice of Jesus Christ made to help us overcome sin, adversity and death. His sacrifice took place in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross at Calvary. He paid the price for our sins, took upon Himself death, and was then resurrected. The Atonement was the supreme expression of love of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. He loved everyone including the sinners and those who sinned against Him. He loved his Father in Heaven and wasn't bitter after shedding His own blood. He paid the price for each of us through His Atonement." LDS.org
Some Inspiring Quotes
"Easter and Passover is a time that we give thanks for our blessings . . . among them freedom,
peace, and the promise of Eternal Life." Ronald Reagan
"I believe in Christ like I believe in the sun . . . not because I can see it but by it I can see everything else." C. W. Lewis
"Our Lord has written the promise of resurrection, not in books alone but in every leaf of springtime."
"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life."
May the days that follow be those of hope and in the words of Christopher Reeve, "Once you choose hope, anything is possible."