“Now in the place where He was crucified, there was a garden…” John 19:41
As I sat with The Lord at this scripture, my heart was jarred with the sense that, really, all ‘nature’ bares witness! I hope that doesn’t sound strange, as I am not expressing it correctly, but surely NOTHING is done that is not seen…no words uttered that are not heard…and indeed we read that the stones cry out and Abel’s blood still speaks. Although we understand this, it suddenly became a profound truth to my heart and reminded me that when He brought us here He made plain to me that He wanted me to be a ‘faithful witness’ to the body of what I see and hear here. How odd to think of the extreme ‘drama’ of the cruel crucifixion of The Lord juxtaposed upon a ‘garden’! A garden speaks to me of peace, quiet, healing and life…so silent and so restful…and it was a garden – not a desert place or a wilderness place that witnessed this moment that changed both my life and yours, and all of history.
A faithful witness; His choosing, His timing…each of us really are called to be faithful witnesses to Him, to the yet-unsaved, to our families, to one another.
The first letter that I wrote from Jerusalem was 18 years ago today and I could not but bare witness to the sights and sounds that surrounded me, and now, even though I have sent too many things to your inboxes this week, I feel pressed to describe to you again, the sights and sounds of Jerusalem on the day of Atonement, and remembering some of things leading up to the day.
I mentioned last month that already people were preparing their hearts for this day, a day taken very seriously by even the minimally ‘religious’ and literally despised and distained by (whom I call) the ‘religiously secular’. (meaning those who practice their secularism as if it were a religion!) There was a solemnity on the public transportation as people read portions of scripture or rabbinical teachings. A harsh word was often met with ‘Brother…it is nearly Yom Kippur. We must think.’ or something to that effect. Every morning the synagogues have been full, and there is a ‘tradition’ that takes place here in Jerusalem; from all over the country large groups of people, young people, even children, gather and go to synagogues through a sleepless night of study and observation. I find them crowding the shuk at 6am getting some pita or sweet rolls (rugelach or borekes) and coffee and discussing the experience that was impacting them from their night. Repentance and soul searching goes on for the month preceding Yom Kippur, but it is only after Rosh h’shana that the ‘offering stands’ and ‘shuk h’kaporah’ are set up. As I described the ‘offering stands’ where people give an offering for their soul last week, I won’t elaborate again, but there have been changes to the shuk h’kaporah; it has been hidden more deeply in ‘Mea Shaarim’ (very religious neighborhood bordering on the shuk) and screened from view. You might recall that the shuk h’kaporah is the place that people come to in order to sacrifice a chicken, which is then (some do it first before the sacrifice) swung over their heads while prayers are recited. The ceremony is described with pictures on this (and other) web site if you are interested: http://www.chabad.org/holidays/JewishNewYear/template_cdo/aid/989585/jewish/Kaparot.htm or http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kapparot or others. Although the place for the ceremony had been just behind the shuk since I arrived, it was moved this year because of animal activists disrupting the activities for the past several years. For a number of years I would stand outside and pray for the people partaking, so desperate for the ‘way to God’, knowing that the blood sacrifice demanded by the law could no longer be offered…but NOT knowing about The Blood of The Lamb shed for their sins! How to tell them…! Last year I stood there praying and found that I was being identified as an animal rights activist! Times and seasons change! I wonder if the opportunity that I had to share with the collector of money this past week was part of a result of those prayers.
The shuk has also been the scene of much shopping as Rosh h’shana runs into Yom Kippur (and how we are afraid that we might starve to death from a 25 hour fast! Yes…an extra hour ‘just to be sure’) and the break-fast meal must be prepared…abundantly! AND OF COURSE…Sukkot begins this coming Sunday at sundown and that includes MUCH sharing of food.
Yet, set in the middle of the feasting and thanksgiving is THIS DAY.
Outside of my window it is now perfectly silent.
Yesterday at noon, the airspace over Israel was closed and all flights ceased, as did all rail travel. At two, all buses stopped running and stores closed. By then radio and television (including cable) was also shutting down. A last dinner was prepared to be finished by 4:30 as sundown was set at 4:56 for Jerusalem and kitchens must be closed and cleaned. (Our clocks were set to ‘winter time’ this past Sunday) By then there were no more cars at all. (Only ambulances can run on Yom Kippur) It always amazes me how much noise traffic makes. You don’t realize it until it stops. Doors opened and people dressed in white mainly began streaming outside and into the synagogues. Simultaneously, a tradition that I personally dislike, began. Children (and secular) took to the streets on bicycles and anything with non motorized wheels until way into the night. The silence was stolen away by yelling and laughing. Call me a ‘Scrooge’, but I was raised in a ‘traditional’ Jewish home, meaning that we were not very religious, but we did keep shabat and the holidays. From my earliest memories (and mine begin as a tiny child) I fasted and could only play very quietly on the floor during Yom Kippur. I was taught that this was a solemn day. It saddens me to see children being taught that this is a ‘play day’ and I wonder how they come to a ‘fear of The Lord…the beginning of wisdom’… but… please forgive me for being critical about this. I am a ‘witness…a ‘stone’. It is difficult to fall asleep with all of the street noise from the children and then teenagers, but so very special to wake up early to such profound and deep silence! It is a day to read and pray…to lift The Word before The Lord and remind Him of His promises for this people, this land, and inquire of Him for deeper understanding of His Word and deeper searching of my own heart. The children are quieter today.
Some people stay in the synagogues all day, others come home to rest mid day and re-gather toward evening. I am well aware that our Prime Minister is seeking God in a synagogue this day as I remember with awe the day our older daughter and I went to sit there and pray…and found out that BB Netanyahu was there. In that synagogue the men and women were separated and the ‘women’s gallery’ was on the second floor above the men. My daughter and I were seated directly above our Prime Minister and were able to pray for him fervently. We both noted that he was obviously seeking God with deep cries of purpose and need. We were awe struck when, right after the fast, he opened the (now famous) Western Wall Tunnel in the Old City (a number of you receiving this have toured these). These excavations revealed the huge stones of Solomon’s Temple, and he knew that opening it up would cause Arab riots. He was right…but…our daughter and I were there to WITNESS the fact that he had SOUGHT THE LORD! This is my prayer for him today as well…that he will do NOTHING without seeking The Lord diligently, and that The Lord would show favor and lead him. We have many examples in Scripture of The Lord judging Israel by leading them move presumptuously. May God have mercy upon us!
We have…hum…NOT QUITE A ‘GARDEN’ but more of an ‘alley way in which we have planted flowers and see many trees. We sit under our clothes line and make believe it is a lovely garden, and that is where I have spent much of this day today, so it was a vivid picture to me when I read, “Now in the place where He was crucified, there was a garden…” Crucified…our kaporah…our perfect sacrifice…the pure Blood that covers our sins…spit upon, mocked, torn and nailed to the cross…here in Jerusalem…“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which kills the prophets, and stones them that are sent unto you; how often would I have gathered your children together, as a hen does gather her brood under her wings, and you would not!” Luke 13:34…for THIS people “As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it” Luke 19:41…yes for us, stiff-necked, rebellious, seeking our own righteousness and denying His, blinded by God…UNTIL!!! I CAN ONLY CLOSE WITH THIS: (highlights are mine) GOD BLESS YOU! Your sis, a stone in Jerusalem
New King James Version (NKJV)
11 I say then, has God cast away His people? Certainly not!
For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. 2 God has not cast away His people whom He foreknew.
Or do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel, saying, 3
“Lord, they have killed Your prophets and torn down Your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life”?[a] 4 But what does the divine response say to him?
“I have reserved for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.”[b] 5 Even so then, at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace. 6 And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace.[c] But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work.
7 What then? Israel has not obtained what it seeks; but the elect have obtained it, and the rest were blinded. 8 Just as it is written:
“God has given them a spirit of stupor,
Eyes that they should not see
And ears that they should not hear,
To this very day.”[d]
9 And David says:
“Let their table become a snare and a trap,
A stumbling block and a recompense to them.
Let their eyes be darkened, so that they do not see,
And bow down their back always.”[e]
Israel’s Rejection Not Final
11 I say then, have they stumbled that they should fall? Certainly not! But through their fall, to provoke them to jealousy, salvation has come to the Gentiles. 12 Now if their fall is riches for the world, and their failure riches for the Gentiles, how much more their fullness!
13 For I speak to you Gentiles; inasmuch as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, 14 if by any means I may provoke to jealousy those who are my flesh and save some of them. 15 For if their being cast away is the reconciling of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?
16 For if the first fruit is holy, the lump is also holy; and if the root is holy, so are the branches. 17 And if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them became a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree, 18 do not boast against the branches. But if you do boast, remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you.
You will say then, “Branches were broken off that I might be grafted in.” 20 Well said. Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. Do not be haughty, but fear. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either. 22 Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness,[f] if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off. 23 And they also, if they do not continue in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. 24 For if you were cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, who are natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree?
25 For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. 26 And so all Israel will be saved,[g] as it is written:
“The Deliverer will come out of Zion,
And He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob;
27 For this is My covenant with them,
When I take away their sins.”[h]
28 Concerning the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but concerning the election they are beloved for the sake of the fathers. 29 For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. 30 For as you were once disobedient to God, yet have now obtained mercy through their disobedience, 31 even so these also have now been disobedient, that through the mercy shown you they also may obtain mercy. 32 For God has committed them all to disobedience, that He might have mercy on all.
33 Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!
34 “For who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has become His counselor?”[i]
35 “Or who has first given to Him
And it shall be repaid to him?”[j]
36 For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen.