When people asked me how they could pray for me around my trip to Israel, I told them I wanted this to be a holy pilgrimage where I encounter God in a powerful way, and not merely an academic head trip. Some heavy life circumstances leading up to the trip would ensure that this trip was more than academic.
My cousin’s life was cut short at age 41 just before the trip and I was mourning with family at his funeral the week I was packing my bags. I asked my aunt if there was anything I could bring back from the Holy Land for her as a token of comfort and hope. Her eyes got big and she said, “Yes! Anything, honey. Bring me back some dirt where my savior walked.”
Another young man’s life hung in the balance as I boarded the plane. His mother—a member of our church—asked me to pray for him at the Wailing Wall. He passed away at age 47 only a couple days into my trip. And so I was consciously carrying the tears of two grieving mothers around with me to each holy site we visited.
This had the effect of hallowing the trip for me, and I felt honored to carrying their burdens to the Church of the Nativity where God entered into our human pain and suffering, to the Wailing Wall to place the memory of these sons into the cracks in the 2,000 year old wall, to the Garden Gethsemane where Jesus sweat drops of blood in his final hours, and to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher where he died and overcame the grave so we can now grieve with hope. I brought prayers with me to these places, and picked up some souvenirs to bring home that I hope will bring some comfort to these mothers.
One thing that a pilgrimage does is it reminds us that we are part of the great Communion of the Saints that we speak of in the Apostles Creed each Sunday. When you stand in the same exact place and pray the same kinds of human prayers that other Christian pilgrims were praying 200 years ago, or 1,200 years ago, or 1,900 years ago, you realize you are part of the same human Story and part of the same Christian family. Our human blood, sweat and tears today bring us into solidarity with the blood, sweat and tears of all who have set out for the holy land in search of holy encounters with the God of all comfort.
A highlight of the trip will forever be approaching that sacred Western Wall of the temple mount for the first time, and bringing written prayers with me to push in the highest crack this nordic man could reach. If you stare long enough at all the paper-prayers smooshed into the cracks of that enormous wall, one wonders if the cracks grow wider each day in proportion to the cumulative suffering and loss experienced among our human race as the LORD tarries in His return to usher in the New Day when “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Rev. 21:4). The tears of a million mothers must have run through those dry cracks by now after 2,000 years in the blistering sun.
The most precious truth about the Christian faith, however, and the really good news for “all who are weary and carrying heavy loads,” as Jesus put it, is that “God doesn’t dwell in temples made by human hands” (Acts 7:48). One doesn’t have to board a plane and go to the Wailing Wall to mingle tears with “the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort” (2 Cor. 1:3). Because God became Man in Jesus Christ, and did not leave us as orphans when he returned to the Father but sent us His Spirit, we can worship God on any mountain “in spirit and in truth” (John 4). We can find Him today waiting for us in “the secret place” whether it be a hospital room, our bedroom, the corporate boardroom, or the front seat tabernacle of our car on a lunch break. The Gospel will always include the mind-boggling and pilgrimage-spoiling fact that we go searching for God only to discover He has come searching for us.
So, beloved, be found by Him today—whether you find yourself by the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem or a picket fence in the suburbs. “Cast all your cares upon the Lord, for He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).