Reflections on a Trip to the Holy Land
As I write this, we’re just two weeks away from Palm Sunday and I’m reminded of a very particular verse associated with that day. Hearing the shouts of praise rising from the crowds, “some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to [Jesus], ‘Teacher, order your disciples to stop.’ He answered, ‘I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.’” Now the idea of stones shouting about Jesus may be hard to imagine, unless you’re talking to one of the twenty members of St. Andrew’s who accompanied me to Israel last month. If you were to ask them, they’d tell you all about the stones that “shout” about the presence of Jesus Christ.
There are the stones of Capernaum, where the remains of a later synagogue stand upon the spot where Jesus preached so many times (Mark 1:21; John 6:59). Just visible below the white limestone of the later building is the back basalt foundation of the original. Just down what’s left of the street, there are more stones – a series of octagonal walls from an ancient church, enclosing the stones of a much smaller structure, a house that stood there in the days of Christ. That house gives the appearance of having undergone a transformation from private residence to a place for public gatherings. That transformation seems to have taken place in the second half of the first century AD, just after the Resurrection. Prayers scratched in the plaster include the name of Jesus! The gospels put the house of Peter in the immediate proximity of the synagogue (Mark 1:29). The stones of this transformed house shout out “Jesus was here!”
There is also the stone of Tabgha, over which a series of churches have stood since some time back in the fourth century.
This is the traditional sight for Jesus’ feeding of the multitude, a rock outcropping and a mosaic marking the spot where Jesus may have blessed the food. Just a little further along the shore there are the stones of the beach where the risen Christ prepared a fisherman’s breakfast for his still disoriented disciples, and offered a new lease on life to Peter after that disciple’s triple denial of Jesus on the night of his death.
Of course, there is also the rock of Golgotha, all but completely hidden now beneath the massive structure of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, but still showing a “socket” in which the cross may have stood. And, for those who know where to look, behind an unmarked door, in a little used chapel, the bare, chiselled rock of a few first-century tombs – none of them likely to be the one in which the body of Jesus was actually laid but, to me, far more resonant of kind of place the Saviour was actually willing to go for us – and where history’s greatest moment actually took place
– than the marble-encased shrine the vast majority of pilgrims see.
I encourage you to ask those who were there how the stones shouted to them. I’m sure they have stories to tell themselves.