Posted by: Anna | November 10, 2010

Worshipping in the Holy Land

One of the things I really wanted to do while we were in Israel was go to church. We have been to formal worship services twice in Jerusalem, and both were something to remember in their own way.

On Sunday, we went to the English language service at Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, which is the only Protestant church within the Old City. The congregation is actually Arabic-speaking, but in a small chapel they have English services each week. I looked it up online and found out services were at 10. We got up early, went to the Temple Mount, got a pastry for breakfast, and were leisurely making our way to the church so we would have plenty of time. We arrived around 9:20, only to find out that services actually started at 9. We decided to go in anyway…at King of Glory, that’s about the time we usually arrive (20 minutes late), so we just chalked it up to tradition.

A small group filled the chapel, all or mostly American, and mostly from Minnesota. It was All Saints Sunday, so different people shared stories of loved ones who passed this year. One included this poem in talking about her beloved mother-in-law, and it was memorable to me.


On Children

by Kahlil Gibran

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.


The hymns were all from the hymnal, but ones we don’t sing (at least not that I could remember). They were chosen from origins all over the world – Japan, South Africa, Botswana, and the Caribbean. A piano and violin accompanied the hymns elegantly. When it was time to “share the peace”, it was like a small dinner party, with everyone talking to everyone, moving all around the room. At the end of the service, the pastor asked all the visitors to introduce themselves. The first stood up, and introduced his group of fifteen pilgrims from Minnesota; I later found out he was their pastor leading the regular church trip to Israel – cool! Others were visiting from other parts of the US (and more specifically Minnesota – you know those Lutherans…). A few were youth volunteers in Israel, and other Lutheran officials, such as the head of Lutheran schools in the Holy Land.

After the service concluded, everyone was invited to stay for fellowship, tea, coffee, and chocolate chip cookies. We chatted with the Minnesota group and took a picture with the pastor. We left refreshed and renewed, and blessed for the familiar liturgy and environment.

Our second worship experience happened by accident, as some of the best things often do. We had heard that the Church of the Sepulchre is so incredibly packed during the day with tour groups that it is best to go early in the morning, when it opens at 5 AM. That seemed ridiculous to us, so we aimed for 6 AM. Surely that would be early enough, we thought. We dragged ourselves out of bed, walked through the quiet hostel of sleeping backpackers, and set out. We found our way easily through the deserted streets of shut-up souvenir shops in a rare peaceful moment, only to arrive to see a giant tour group leaving the Church of the Sepulchre, giving us a moment of pause…should we have tried to get up at 5?

Walking inside the church, we looked around, searching for the best place to start since it is made up of many chapels connected in a haphazard manner. We wandered through the church a little and heard singing voices in Latin. We followed the sound to the holiest place in the church complex – the Sepulchre, or tomb where Jesus was laid to rest after the Crucifixion. In front of the tomb, lit by burning oil lamps, were several wooden benches, Franciscan monks, and Catholic priests in white and red vestments conducting a mass. In English. Without speaking, we both knew we were staying; I cannot think of a more appropriate or poignant experience than attending worship in front of Jesus’ empty tomb. Although I do not know the Latin songs, or all the right responses to a Catholic mass, I felt blessed to have this special connection with God. As we stayed for the mass, the group grew from about 20 to about 40 people, made up mainly of Catholic pilgrims who did the only thing I can think of that would be a more perfect spiritual experience in Jerusalem. This group must have started around 4 or 5 AM, and set out walking with a priest (he sounded American, but I don’t know if it was a priest from a church at home, or if they were all even from one church at all), and the priest led them through the path that Jesus walked to reflect on his suffering at each step. It is so monumental to me that my mind has a hard time understanding. Their walk culminated with visiting the tomb, and then mass in front of the tomb, celebrating that it was empty. I have no idea how to become a part of a group like that, or if you even could (I think only the Catholics can hold a service in that spot), but at any rate, I would like to come back for that experience.

After the mass, we were able to visit the tomb as well to kneel and say a prayer. Only five enter at a time, and our group was one pilgrim, a priest, a nun, Tommy, and me. We finished our worshipping morning by reversing course and walking the Via Dolorosa, or Stations of the Cross, ourselves, reading the relevant Bible verses as we went. That was the moment that I think overwhelmed Tommy – to think that the bits of the Passion of Christ that you have talked about your entire life at church actually happened in that spot, or at least nearby. It’s so real. It’s only about a 10 minute walk if you are walking at a reasonable rate; we talked about how in our minds the monumental nature of the event made the walk with the cross a monumentally long walk in our minds.

At that point, we felt Jerusalem could not offer us anything that would ever top that, and we wanted to take that morning as our final memory of the city. We packed our bags and headed off to our next adventure.

For more pictures of the Stations of the Cross or Jerusalem itself, click pictures of Israel here.

Technorati Tags: , , , ,



  1. Anna & Tommy,

    I am a friend of your Aunt Cindy actually we work together and we sit by each other and we talk about your blog everyday you post something new for us to read. I just wanted to let you both know that I envy you both for doing what you are doing. Its one in a life time experience and to do it together makes it that much special. I have been very touched by your blogs and hope to one day visit the place our Father once walked. Tommy your blog yesterday made me weep as you helped the criple man down the stairs for him to touch the star where our savior was born. Jerusalem so far is my favorite and I’m sure it will change once ya get to your next location.

    Oh and the bike ride you guys took was to funny.

    thanks for your blogs, you guys do so well remembering what to write

  2. What a wonderful worship experience. Thanks so much for sharing what sounds like a very personal time.

  3. Wonderful post!

  4. To attend and experience a Catholic mass on such a holy place — priceless! When Tommy was younger, he was an alter boy and when we attended the Stations of the Cross he held the Cross for the priest as we as a congregation “walked” and prayed the 12 stations (we attended mass every Friday during Lent). I know he has a better understanding and “feel” for the sufferings of Christ during this holy time. I am so blessed to “walk” with you two — thanks (again) for sharing.

  5. Every Christmas and every Easter for the rest of your lives you will have this to inspire you and to truly picture Christ’s birth, life, death and resurrection. And now thanks to you I have a bit of that as well. Keep your faith close in your travels.

  6. […] 5 Experiences: Accidentally walking into a sunrise mass at Jesus’s tomb. Being surrounded by lions at Kruger National Park. Diving the Islands in Dahab – they still […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: