My memories from the Holy Land are still fresh. Sort of like flowers still giving off their fragrance. I can still spend time lingering in the scent, breathing in deeply, savoring the moment.
As we celebrated the day that Jesus defeated death yesterday, those memories called me into a deeper place of reverence and gratitude.
We all have to confront the reality or possibility of death at some point in our lives. Personally, not just generally. Maybe when you are young. Maybe when you are old. But no one can bubble wrap themselves away from the aching effects of death. It finds a way to seep in and remind us that its still there.
On August 13, Mulch and I were going to leave Jerusalem for Tel Aviv. From there, we’d be traveling another month through Europe.
The day was just beginning to wake up from its slumber. We were on the bottom floor of the hostel, mostly below ground, but there was a tiny window near my bed. Sleepy sun rays peaked across my face as if to say hello. It was stuffy. Sleeping with six other people in a pseudo bunker wasn’t refreshing.
I think the unfamiliarity of my surroundings nudged me awake, like an annoying friend. I laid there for a while in the black. Then I checked my phone. I had a text message from my sister back home.
She said she needed to talk. Something had happened. Call her.
So up I went, as quickly as I could. Each step on the stairs reinforced the nauseating feeling in my gut.
I never really knew what it was like to feel like the room was spinning until that moment. My mom was very sick. She was in the hospital. The condition she had could have taken her immediately, but she miraculously showed symptoms before that could happen and was taken to a hospital where she could be given life-saving treatment.
I love my mom. The thought of her so far away, so sick, without being able to see her and tell her I loved her in person was mind numbing.
I hung up the phone and sat, very still. Warm tears dripped onto my knees. All I could think about was how Jesus wept when he saw the grief of Mary and Martha towards the loss of their brother. How he wept and comforted them, telling them “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in Me, though he may die, lives. Do you believe this?”
Do you believe me, Bethany?
And in the deepest part of my heart, I did. No matter how much it hurt.
All we could do now was wait and pray. She had to be monitored throughout the night there in CA, which was our daytime in Jerusalem. My sister promised to send updates. By this time it was still morning for us, but inching towards noon.
We were leaving for Tel Aviv at three, and had planned to see the Garden Tomb beforehand. By this point, we were cutting it close to their closure. I had already tried to see it two times in my time there, both times arriving when they were closed. After a traumatic morning, we decided it would be good to get outside. We should at least try.
Our train was delayed on the way from the hostel. We jumped off near the Damascus Gate and began weaving our way through the crowd to get to the tomb. It’s just outside the Old City’s walls. It was so hot, and I could feel the outline of my backpack in sweat on my back. Breathless, we stumbled up to the door and knocked.
This time someone answered, but only to tell us it was closed for lunch.
I was sad. Still in shock from the devastation of the morning and now disappointed that despite our efforts we didn’t make it in time.
I muttered something about trying to come three times and each time not getting in. He heard me, opened the door to look at us two sweaty Americans, one who had a face swollen from crying, and had a glimmer of compassion in his eyes.
We were ushered in and our guide quietly tried to get us past the entrance without drawing attention. First, the history of the location was shared. We walked and paused. He gave us a moment to stand and look at the hill they believe may be Golgotha.
We continued walking and were led to the tomb. Our guide continued to share the history of the site. And then he said something that breathed life into my weary spirit.
“But thankfully we do not worship stone or a building or an empty tomb; we worship a risen Savior.”
He invited us to go have a look inside the tomb. On the door was written, “He is not here, for he has risen!”
And that’s the power. That’s the point. A risen Savior. The one who said He is the resurrection and the life. And because of the events that transpired two thousand years ago on a chilling, Jerusalem night, followed by a glorious morning three days later, death doesn’t have the final say. Sickness doesn’t have the final say. For my scared, aching heart, this truth was far richer and more meaningful than ever before.
And so, this Easter I reveled in the hope that I have because of Jesus in a new way. I am thankful my mom was here to celebrate it with me. Still, my heart aches deeply for those who do not have their loved ones this year. For those suffering from the raging, merciless events playing out all over the world.
Death may still exert its ugly power on earth. But the death and resurrection of Jesus means death will one day be done away with. One day there will be no more crying and no more tears; no more dying and no more fear. Because, He has risen.
“Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”