Tuesday, January 27th was the day our pilgrimage tour group planned to enter Jerusalem via the Mount of Olives. From the top of the mount, we would walk down the Palm Sunday path to the ancient olive trees in the Garden of Gethsemane. We keenly anticipated the experience of being in a place of such profound spiritual significance to Jesus and his followers – to us!
That morning, after everyone had made their way on to the bus, I read from Matthew 26:36-46 (Jesus praying in Gethsemane). I asked people to dwell with Jesus’ instruction to Peter, James, and John: “watch (keep awake) with me” (v. 38). What would it mean for us on that day to watch, to keep awake with Jesus?
Having departed that morning from our hotel on the southern part of the Dead Sea, it was afternoon when we arrived in Jerusalem and began our ascent up the Mount of Olives. For many, including me, the thrill was palpable – our first time in Jerusalem! But within minutes there was a shocking turn of events. Our bus was inching through heavy traffic in the narrow streets of East Jerusalem, stuck between cars ahead of us and behind us. Suddenly a group of Palestinian boys, maybe about 11 or 12 years of age, materialized with rocks in their hands. They attacked us.
The rocks pounded on our bus, an unexpected and sickening sound. We were in the hands of our wonderful guide Allan, our brave driver Hezi – and our God. From the floor of the bus where people had sought cover, or from seats upon which people had crouched low, prayers rose up. As several windows shattered, there was no doubt: we were fully awake in Jesus. Fairly soon our bus emerged from the traffic and we parked blocks away in a safe place at the top of the Mount of Olives. No one was hurt. We got off the bus and though shaken, sang songs of praise and thanksgiving. Someone, living deeply out of the Jesus way, reminded us to pray for the boys who had attacked us.
We never made it to the Garden of Gethsemane, but a vital spiritual lesson was deeply impressed upon us. Faithful pilgrimage is living before God with heightened awareness.
The season of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, February 18th and concludes on Holy Saturday, April 4th. Traditionally, Lent is a time of penance, or of prayer. This year I invite you to experience Lent as pilgrimage, a 40 day journey of living before God with heightened awareness. Watch! Keep awake!
In myriad ways God is breaking into our lives, through situations, through people, through good times, through hard times – if only we have eyes to see and hearts ready to believe. Be attentive to nudges from the Holy Spirit prompting us to action in the circumstances of each day. God wants nothing more than for us to be fully engaged in the work of his kingdom. Living with heightened awareness, we understand that the seemingly chance encounter may be much more. God imbues every moment of every day with meaning and purpose.
Watch! Keep awake!
David Paul Lenz, Lead Pastor