For better or for worse, I was simply not moved by the holy sites in the Holy Land. And yet something happened that I will never forget.
This post gets a little personal, but it was a central part of my trip to Israel, so I am including it in my trip report. This blog deliberately does not generally veer into an overtly religious or political direction. Today is an exception.
My Christian faith is not of a charismatic or Pentecostal type. I’m not amused by modern-day signs and wonders; I’m skeptical of them. I question whether the revered and hallowed sites are the actual places, though I do believe in the historical events which underlie them.
Frankly, an empty tomb is an empty tomb. Did Jesus rise from the grave? That question doesn’t really depend upon whether the Church has preserved the place where it occurred or did not.
Any expectations of a religious moment of emotion or closeness to God were quickly dashed, by the immense crowds and circus-like atmosphere of so many of the holy sites, both in Jerusalem and the Galilee.
It’s hard to concentrate with pushing and shoving, people cutting in line, and flash photography.
You would think that standing on the Galilee beside where Jesus likely preached the Sermon on the Mount would be a moving experience. Perhaps it would have been in other circumstances. But instead there was a tour bus full of people with selfie-sticks who commoditized the whole experience.
But there was one moment that truly moved me, and it had nothing to do with the site itself. We happened to be in the Garden Tomb, a (wait for it…) garden tomb outside the old city walls of Jerusalem that many believe Jesus was buried in.
There, while we were waiting in line to enter the tomb, my son Augustine began to sing the 1865 hymn Jesus Paid It All.
You should have seen the surprised looks from everyone around us. Who was this three-year old belting out a hymn spontaneously at the top of his lungs?
And then something amazing happened. Others began to sing. More and more. From the voice of Augustine, a choir of voices, united by a common faith, sang in unison this well-known hymn.
The Church is not a building. It is not an empty tomb or a creed. It is people.
My experience was not magical. But it was profound. The sites did not move me, but the people did…including my own son.
Sadly, I did not capture this on video or I would have shared it here. Then again, then I would have been contributing to the problem. But it will forever linger in my heart.