Israel Study Tour with Cornerstone University

Jan 3-13, 2016

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He is not here! He is risen!

Scott E. Watson writes:

Gethsemane and the Church of All Nations

I walked onto the Turkish Airlines plane at O’Hare full of expectations. Like many Jews and Christians, I had dreamed about the Land since I was a child, thinking it to be this magical place where heaven and earth meet in a unique way. I had expectations of certain places; places I had read about, watched documentaries about, and spoken to people about for years. The Temple Mount, the Western Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre; these were some of the places that I had been expecting to have dramatic experiences at. But one of the places we visited today, the last of our journey together, had not even been on my list – Gethsemane and the Church of All Nations that resides there.

In the Gospels, we read that Jesus agonized in Gethsemane over the ordeal that was ahead of him (Matt 26:36-46), which is why the church there is also called the Basilica of the Agony. Jesus’ agonizing, even to the point of death, is his vocational struggle. Our Master struggles with his calling to be a very different kind of messiah, a very different kind of king; the kind of king that the world will crucify. And to stand in the place where that agony happened, and to touch the rock that has been traditionally associated with his agony, was a very powerful experience. Kneeling down and touching that rock, making a physical connection to that place, caused me consider our own vocational struggles in light of Jesus’. What is my own unique vocation as a follower of Christ? What is the vocation of Christ’s Church as a whole?

Throughout my seminary journey, I have been struggling with how God has called me to serve his Church. Far too often I have gotten caught up in the particulars. And I think this is true for our churches oftentimes as well. The question that we should truly consider is whether or not we are embodying Jesus’ faithfulness in our vocations. Do we struggle, agonize, suffer, even to the point of death, in our efforts to be faithful? Does the Church? This is a fundamental question that we must constantly ask ourselves in our communities, because we do not inhabit neutral ground.

The theme of this trip has been competing kingdoms. The Hasmoneans, the Romans, Herod and his successors, they’re all trying to build everlasting kingdoms through perverse ways. And as Jesus’ struggle in Gethsemane shows us, along with his struggle with Satan (Matt 4:1-11), we are always being pulled into one kingdom or another. We are either being pulled into the kingdom of this world, which genius allures us with promises that do not demand we take up our crosses, or we are being pulled into the Kingdom of God, where the Spirit of Jesus draws us into his own cruciform faithfulness.

Will we endure our Gethsemane? We will come out on the other side of our agony to live lives of cruciform discipleship? Or will powers of this world succeed in luring us into comfort and security, fleeting though they may be? For myself, I don’t know the answer yet. But my hope is, and my prayer kneeling before the rock of Christ’s agony, is that when the time comes, and it will come repeatedly, that I will remain faithful to the Crucified One. It is only through Gethsemane that we get to Calvary, and it is only through Calvary that we are able to come out of the tomb, raised into the glorious life of the resurrection.

Joel Lawrence writes:

Greetings from Israel! Today was our last day in Israel and I am confident that I am not alone when I say this past week has truly been a transformative week. One of our last stops in Israel was at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher – the traditional site of Jesus’ crucifixion, burial, and resurrection. It was only fitting that we ended our trip at this church since the death and resurrection of Christ is at the heart of the Christian faith. Every year on Easter, Christians across the globe gather together to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. This one day of the year is so important in the life of the believer that we gather each week on Sunday because it was on this day that our Savior rose from the dead, conquering the last enemy of humanity. Several years ago, I had the privilege of studying in Jerusalem not that far from Church of the Holy Sepulcher, where I visited frequently. It soon became one of my favorite places to visit while I was in Jerusalem.

The Holy Sepulcher marks the historic location of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus – with a church present there for nearly 1,700 years. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher was first built by Constantine in 335 AD. And even before the first church was built there, Christians venerated the site as the location remained in the conscious of the local population. The Holy Sepulcher has had a long history of fires, earthquakes, and wars throughout the years and it was completely destroyed in 1009 AD. Without going into too much detail, there are numerous reasons why we can say with humble assurance that this is the correct location for the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus (as opposed to the Garden Tomb located near Damascus Gate). The Garden Tomb is a popular location for many Evangelical and Protestant groups as it is a very peaceful location to contemplate Christ’s death and resurrection. There is a well preserved tomb at the Garden Tomb location – even though it is already 500 years old by the time of Jesus – hardly a “newly hewn tomb” (Matt. 26:60). It is no surprise that the Garden Tomb attracts Protestant Christians – as it fits the worship paradigm of many Evangelical churches. For those that have been to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher it admittedly can overwhelm the senses. Because of the church’s long history, there are six ancient Christian traditions that control various parts of the church: Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Arminian, Coptic, Syrian Orthodox, and Ethiopian. These traditions worship wholeheartedly with the senses (taste, touch, smell, and visual worship) and include a lot of what we would call “smells and bells.” So it is understandable when Protestants walk into the Holy Sepulcher and wonder if strange place could really be the location of our Lord’s crucifixion, burial, and resurrection. They may wonder what has happened to such a sacred place. And I completely understand that sentiment. However, one thing that the Church of the Holy Sepulcher has taught me is the long and wide breadth of Christian traditions that have existed through the centuries. The Christians who worship day in and day out at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher certainly worship in a very different way than we do as American Protestant Evangelicals – but that is ok. While my tradition differs in many ways from those at the Holy Sepulcher, we all come as believers to the Holy Sepulcher because we all believe in the empty tomb. The Holy Sepulcher stands as a reminder to us that God invaded his creation willingly. The creator died for the created. But he did not stay in the tomb. He has conquered death and our faith rests assuredly on that belief. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher stands as a testimony to the fact that the tomb is empty.

He is not here! He is risen!

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