The Church of the Holy Sepulchre 

Finishing the Stations of the Cross in the courtyard

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is probably the most sacred site in the Holy Land.  We arrived here after doing most of the Stations of the Cross along the Via Dolorosa.  The last four stations are inside the church; however, it is against the rules to do private group devotions inside the church.  This has something to do with the fact that it is a church controlled by six different denominations, all with their own worship space and schedule.  And they also want to keep the crowds moving along.  So we stood outside in the courtyard and did the last of our stations.  It was beautiful being there together.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is surrounded by city now, but according to archeologists and historians, it is the most likely spot of Jesus’ crucifixion and burial.   It is a very beautiful and ornate church, which is to be expected when the Orthodox and Catholic churches have a part in it.  I liked it.  I appreciated that they wanted to honor this holy spot.  Yet it’s a bit overwhelming and difficult at the same time.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre

There is an incredible amount of history here, and the current church dates back to around 1100 AD.  The original was built by St. Helena, Emperor Constantine’s mother, in 326 AD and was destroyed on orders of a Muslim caliph from Egypt, Al-Hakim, who was occupying the land, sometime around 1000 AD.  They worked very hard to demolish it completely, including digging out the tomb of Jesus so that is was not recognizable.  Part of the difficulty with the rebuilt Church is that it’s not just one church, but many chapels added on to each other.  I’m betting that part of the reason for this is that the Catholic and Orthodox had to have their separate spaces, though that’s a guess.  They have not gotten along well in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and according to a book I’m reading, occasionally the Catholic and Orthodox monks will break out into fistfights to this day.  (It’s probably for the best that the Lutheran church is down the road a bit.)

Where Jesus hung on the cross
The stone on Mt. Calvary. It is said it was split by the earthquake after Jesus died.
Here you can kneel down and touch the rock where the cross was
entrance to Jesus’ tomb
Jesus’ tomb

Anyway, the result of the construction and decoration is that it’s busy and overwhelms your senses.  In a sense, it’s a metaphor for the church.  The Christian church’s history is messy, full of conflict and sinners, distracting from the truth. And yet it is beautiful at the same time because the Truth goes on through the bumbling efforts of sinners, as God guides them.  So in this confusing yet beautiful place, we were able to go to the truth: the place where Jesus’ cross was placed and where He was placed in the tomb not far away, and that means something to me.  In the midst of the messiness of life, the truth is always there.  And as we’re in the middle of Holy Week now, it means something more to me to have been there in person.  I remember what it looked like, and I remember the sense of awe I had at looking at everything in this church and looking at Jesus’ country, Israel.

Church is messy; it’s full of sinners.  It’s full of craziness, meanness, laughter, friendship, betrayal, anger, arguments, love, and yes, it’s full of joy.  It’s full of life.  If you haven’t been hurt in church, then you haven’t been there very long.  I feel like I’ve almost come full circle now since Pastor Matt left.  He was leaving when we were on the pilgrimage.   We’ve come through Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, and now Lent.  We’ve come through the anticipation of Jesus’ birth, and we are at the anticipation of Jesus’ death and resurrection.  We are chest-deep in the call process, which in itself is messy, full of sin, yet full of joyful anticipation as well.  And God has His hand on it all: on Jesus’ death on the Cross for our ultimate joy in salvation and resurrection, on Pastor Matt going to his new church in Rhode Island, where he is serving so many grateful people, on Gloria Dei as we get ready for a new chapter in our church, and as we learn how to take care of each other and keep things going with a vacancy.  I am so excited about our potential pastors and can’t wait to see who God has in store for us.  I have joy, and yet I also feel like I’m on the brink of joy.  All because of God’s mercy.  All because, no matter what we go through, He never leaves us.  “I thank you, my heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, your dear Son, that you have graciously kept me this day, and I pray that you would forgive me all my sins where I have done wrong, and graciously keep me this night.  For into your hands I commend myself, my body and soul, and all things.  Let your holy angel be with me, that the evil foe may have no power over me.  Amen.”  (Martin Luther’s Evening Prayer)

A mosaic showing Jesus taken down from the cross
the other side of the same mosaic showing them laying out Jesus’ body
Crosses carved into the walls by Crusaders



The Day I Almost Cried 

IMG_1547Some of the most heart-rending situations I found myself in as a hospice nurse happened when I was working in Admissions.  We were the ones who would be sent out first, to evaluate whether a patient was appropriate for hospice, and if so, get them signed onto the program.  Because we were the first ones out there, we sometimes encountered some very crazy and sad situations.  Occasionally, someone would sign up for the program so late that the admissions nurse would be the first and the last hospice nurse they would see.

Whenever I’ve told someone that I worked in hospice, people react in very sweet ways, “Oh, you guys are angels” or “I don’t know how you do it.”  I haven’t found hospice nursing to be very difficult emotionally most of the time.  Usually our patients are old, have lived full lives, and are ready to go home.  When they do pass away, it is sad for the family, but they are also relieved that their loved one is now free in heaven.  So I would rarely get choked up in my work. I don’t remember ever crying.  I think that it would be unprofessional to do so because it would make the family or patient focus on you instead of on themselves.  And you are there to help them, not for yourself.

There were things that pierced my heart all the time.  But only one time I remember almost crying:  I went to admit a man who was living with a friend in a trailer in a poor area of town.  He was in his late 40s or early 50s, and he had very advanced cancer.  His roommate was unable to care for him anymore; his roommate hadn’t really signed on to be a caregiver, and my patient had no one else who could do it.  I was blessed that the hospice also sent a social worker to help me; that would happen occasionally if there was a red flag about the admission. Possibly this man’s younger age or caregiving situation triggered the social worker.

I talked with his roommate and the man’s power of attorney for awhile.  The power of attorney signed the papers for him to go on hospice.  Then while the social worker talked with the roommate and power of attorney, I went up into the trailer to see the patient.  There was garbage everywhere.  He reeked of urine.  It was clear that he had not moved for some time, and that his roommate never cleaned him up.  It may have been like this for days.  He was unable to speak or move, though I was could not tell if it was because of his cancer or because he was in incredible pain.  He was awake.  He had some pain medicine there, and immediately I gave him some.  It was clear that he was not going to live more than another day or two.

I called our hospice doctor and got him admitted to our inpatient unit for pain out of control.  The doctor asked me if he would die in the ambulance, but I said I didn’t think so.  His breathing was still regular.

I changed him and gave him a clean pair of adult briefs from my car stock and a clean pair of pants.   Just moving him a little caused a lot of pain.  With the doctor’s orders, I was able to give him more pain medicine.

Then the social worker came in and called his family.  They did not live close by, in another state somewhere.  I think they had been estranged, that my patient was someone who had substance abuse problems and had not been in regular contact with his family.  The social worker explained to my patient’s parents that he was in the last stages of his cancer, that he would not live very long, that we were moving him to our hospice facility to care for him, and that he could not speak.

Then the social worker held the phone up to his ear while his mother got on the phone.  I heard, “I love you, my sweet boy,” I heard forgiveness and love, and a mommy in her 70s now who loved her son just as much as when he was a baby.  I could imagine her stroking his hair as a little boy.  I almost lost it.  But I didn’t.  I got on my computer and started charting, so I could hang on during that conversation.  It didn’t last very long, but my patient heard his mother and father say goodbye to him for the last time.  He had tears.  I was grateful for this social worker, because I never would have thought to call his family.  She gave them a wonderful gift.

This man is one of those I think of when I hear the words that Jesus spoke, “as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”  My patient made it to our hospice facility.  The nurses and aides cleaned him up, gave him a proper bath, and relieved his pain.  He was treated with dignity.  He died the next day.

Palm Sunday in Bethphage

Palm Sunday is coming up this Sunday.  It is the beginning of Holy Week, the holiest week that the church celebrates throughout the church year.  Jesus enters Jerusalem on Palm Sunday to begin His work that He came on earth to fulfill: redeeming mankind.  Palm Sunday was a triumphant day for Jesus; He entered through the Mercy gate, and He was still the hero, the Messiah.  Crowds were cheering him, laying down their coats and palm branches for his donkey to walk over.  He would bring in Israel’s kingdom and rid them of the oppressor.  Jesus definitely did do that, but not in the way that the Israelites expected.   Instead, by the end of the week, He was hanging from a cross.  Very few stayed around to see that: some Roman guards, John the disciple, Jesus’ mother, Mary Magdalene, and some other women.  Not the ending for their hero that the crowd expected.  Yet on Easter, it turned out to be something much better than they could have imagined.

Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.” This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying,

“Say to the daughter of Zion,
‘Behold, your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’”
The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them. Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road.  And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?” And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.”  Matthew 21:1-11

On our Holy Land pilgrimage in December 2014, we stopped at Bethphage, where Jesus’ disciples got the colt.  Nowadays, Bethphage is part of the West Bank, close to Jerusalem.  Back in Jesus’ time, I’ve read it was about the length that one could walk to or from the old city before the sun went down on the Sabbath.  There is a Franciscan Catholic church in Bethphage commemorating Palm Sunday.  At first when we arrived, a church service was going on in the church, so we went around back and had our devotion outside.  Later after the service was over, some were able to go into the church.  My son wasn’t feeling that well (got a bad cold on the flight over), so I stayed in the bus with him, but my husband and daughter got some pictures.

Mural of Lazarus, Martha, and Mary–Bethany is not far away
The altar at Bethphage
Mural of Jesus riding the donkey into Jerusalem
Identified by the Crusaders as the stone Jesus used to stand on to mount the donkey.
Statue of Jesus riding the donkey in the back courtyard of the church
Took this picture while sitting in the bus. Unfortunately not an uncommon scene in the West Bank: garbage everywhere, and feral cats going in and out of the dumpster. In the background is an armored vehicle.
graffiti on the wall in the West Bank near Bethphage


Depend On Me: Christian Identity, Community, and Assisted Suicide (a LWML talk)

When I was younger and “thought like a child,” I felt it was a chore to come to church. When I was in high school, I used to try to sleep in late so that my mom wouldn’t make me go to church. But over time, as I “gave up childish ways,” I gradually recognized all of the gifts I am given in Divine Service and in fellowship with my brothers and sisters in Christ here at Gloria Dei and across our LCMS family. And I began to look forward to coming to church every week. Now I can’t imagine my life without this beautiful church, this fellowship of believers, but most importantly His gifts of forgiveness and salvation given to me in Divine Service.

Though we’re members of different congregations, we are of the same family of believers, and I love that we come together to share fellowship, support each other, and support this wonderful cause, the LWML. We recognize that this is the Christian life—sharing our joys and our sorrows.

In addition to being a member of Gloria Dei, I have also been a hospice nurse for 8 years, so I have seen many people, Christian and non-Christian, go through a lot of suffering. The dying process is not easy. I have helped people with pain, anxiety, shortness of breath, constipation, delirium, agitation, weakness, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting, wounds, and more. I have seen a lot of things as a hospice nurse; I have seen the young and the old die. The dying process is not easy. Even when we’ve accepted our dying, the body sometimes take its time. One of the worst things, though, about dying is that loss of control over one’s own body.

Assisted suicide seems to be the answer to both the suffering and the loss of control. After all, Christians don’t particularly want to suffer either. They also don’t want to be dependent on other people to feed them, help them to the bathroom, or even, towards the end, to change their diapers. It sometimes feels like they have no dignity left. And having control over their own death, dictating when it happens, seems to feel like a restoration of that control and dignity to some people. But does it bring peace? Or is that the devil whispering into our ear, “Did God really say, ‘Thou shalt not murder?’” Recently, I had a patient who died about an hour after I got to his house. He was an older gentleman who had been battling cancer for 16 years; last year he had pneumonia five times, but he was only put on hospice less than 24 hours before he died. A little while after he died, his wife, a Christian, said that she wished that California would pass the assisted suicide legislation because she wouldn’t want anyone to suffer like he did. She said she knew it was a sin but that she felt God was bigger than any sin.

And I thought to myself, yes, God is bigger than any sin, but as St. Paul says, “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means!” (romans 6). Here are a couple things to consider:

First, we do not own our bodies. Our culture would say that we can do whatever we like with our own bodies, but that is not the Christian perspective. Paul says in Corinthians, “You are not your own, you were bought with a price.” God not only bought us with the blood of His Son, He has already killed us and brought us back to life, as it says in Romans: “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” When we were baptized, we were killed, we were raised again, and our bodies were bought by God, and no longer belongs to us.

Our illusion of independence while we are healthy is just that: an illusion. We are completely dependent on God for everything that we have, including our good health. Though we ask Him to “Give us this day our daily bread,” when we are strong, it is easy to think we can go it alone. But when we are weak, this dependence becomes obvious. We know that Paul was weak too—he asked God three times to be rid of the thorn in his flesh, and God said no each time. God said, “my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” God wanted Paul to be weak, because He wanted Paul to know that he was not a great apostle on his own merits. Paul suffered, but Paul was also given great gifts through his suffering: most of all, learning complete dependence on God’s grace. So we know that God does not always prevent us from going through suffering. But we also know that He is always present in it, walking alongside us, even carrying us. Jesus did not try to escape the Cross to prevent His own suffering, but, determined, He went right through each Station. He suffered, as Hebrews says, “for the joy that was set before him.” That joy was in our salvation, in seeing us with Him in heaven someday. When we are dependent on others to take care of us, this is when we are most likely to realize that we have been dependent on God for everything that we have every moment of our lives, and that is a great spiritual lesson. Do we want to miss the great gifts that God has in store for us at the end of our lives?

And do we want the people who love us to miss out on serving us and learning the great spiritual lessons that go along with self-sacrifice, with compassion, with dependence on God’s grace? As many of us know, caregiving is exhausting and difficult. But how many people who have taken care of their dying parents, even though exhausted at the time, would trade away any of that special time with them? Dying has a way of bringing families together, of mending old fractures in the family, of making family members confront their sometimes long-forgotten spiritual history. Because we often live cross-country, we don’t come together as families as much anymore except when something like this happens. But it is time spent together that matters, conversations that occur in tender moments, that makes us realize we’ve received far more than we have given.

The second thing to consider is that there is a flip side to every commandment, including the fifth: “Thou shalt not murder.” What does this mean? We should fear and love God that we may not hurt nor harm our neighbor in his body, but help and befriend him in every bodily need.” We cannot murder ourselves or our neighbor, so what do we do instead? We help him, and we let others help us.

One of the ways we can help is by recommending hospice. Hospice is a medical service that aims to relieve suffering for people who are terminally ill, in any setting in which the dying live: home, nursing home, and assisted living. It is paid for by most private insurances and is 100% covered under Medicare. All patients on hospice have visits from nurses, doctors or nurse practitioners, social workers, and home health aides. Nursing support is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Hospice nurses and doctors are specially trained to be experts in palliative care, or symptom management. Hospice also provides medical equipment and supplies under the hospice benefit. The longer a person is on hospice before he or she dies, the more time the hospice team has to manage or prevent pain and other uncomfortable symptoms. Most people who die on hospice die in comfort and do not want to have assisted suicide. As friends and family members, we can tell people about this service, and we can ask doctors about it for our family members when the time comes.

My time spent working in hospice was very meaningful to me. Usually as an RN, I was focused on relieving my patients’ physical symptoms, but occasionally spiritual matters came up. When they did, God was faithful to me. One time I was admitting an older gentleman to hospice while he was in the hospital. The purpose of having hospice while in the hospital is so that hospice will work with hospital nurses and doctors to help relieve suffering. Also family members can have the benefit of free grief support after their loved one dies. So this gentleman was admitted to hospice with difficulty breathing. His breathing was getting worse, and he didn’t want to be put on a ventilator. I knew, and he knew, that he was going to die very soon. He was not going to church anymore, though he had been a Baptist, and he had sinned in his life. He was feeling his sin, but he didn’t know if God would forgive him. I stepped a bit out of my own comfort zone and taught him the Fourteen Words, a little prayer that Pastor Matt taught us from Luke and Matthew. The Fourteen Words are these: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” “Take heart, child, your sins are forgiven.” Such a simple yet powerful prayer. Through that prayer, my patient was assured that his sins were forgiven. He was calm, and his son-in-law, who was in the room with us, was crying. Sometimes we think that faith is so complicated—yet at the end of our lives, we hold on to the simple things. “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” “Take heart, child, your sins are forgiven.”

In addition to hospice, we must continue to be mindful in supporting our brothers and sisters in Christ in our church communities. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in his book, Life Together, “The physical presence of other Christians is a source of incomparable joy and strength to the believer…” Pastors are very good at visiting the sick and the homebound, but that shouldn’t be just a pastoral job. We can do it too. One thing that I have learned through this call process is that we love our pastors, but sometimes pastors come and go. Still we are Gloria Dei, and we must take care of each other, pastor or not. It is ok to consider our own abilities: some people we know better than others, and sometimes we’re not able to do much other than send a card regularly. But I was surprised to learn recently how much just a regular card meant to one of our homebound parishioners and to her family—even though our ability to deliver the Sacrament to her was disrupted for a bit after our pastor left, she knew because of these cards that she was still remembered and loved. Even the little things matter. Shorter visits are usually better than longer visits, and it’s also nice to check in with the family to see if they need anything the church can help with. The most important thing is that we promote an atmosphere of warmth and love in our congregations, and we let people, especially our weakest, our “least of these,” know that they are loved. As Jesus said, “as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”

Our larger church family in the LCMS has been very honorable in speaking up for the “least of these.” I was so proud of the LCMS this year, when during the LCMS Life conference on the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, Concordia Seminary in Fort Wayne awarded Maggie Karner an honorary doctorate of Humane Letters. Maggie had been director of LCMS Life and Health Ministries for ten years, but had to resign recently due to a diagnosis of an aggressive brain cancer called glioblastoma. This is the same brain cancer that Brittany Maynard had. Brittany was the young lady who committed a widely publicized and sensationalized assisted suicide in November. Our Maggie Karner, however, is a beacon of hope and faith in her witness to God’s mercy and grace even while suffering a terminal disease. Maggie wrote a wonderful article pleading with Brittany not to commit suicide, but instead to trust in God. Maggie wrote, “Death sucks. And while this leads many to attempt to calm their fears by grasping for personal control over the situation, as a Christian with a Savior who loves me dearly and who has redeemed me from a dying world, I have a higher calling. God wants me to be comfortable in my dependence on Him and others, to live with Him in peace and comfort no matter what comes my way. As for my cancer journey, circumstances out of my control are not the worst thing that can happen to me. The worst thing would be losing faith, refusing to trust in God’s purpose in my life and trying to grab that control myself.” Maggie Karner is my heroine, and so are all of you—to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves and to have faith in God’s mercy and goodness instead of grasping our own control in the face of suffering is a truly countercultural, truly awesome act of love. God will always carry us through with His perfect love, for as the apostle John wrote, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” (1 John 4:18a) “For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 John 5:4) God bless you and keep you in His true faith.

“The Lord Wept”

Dominus Flevit means “The Lord wept,” and it was the next chapel that we visited after Pater Noster–just a short walk down the Mount of Olives.

Walking down the Mount of Olives
The chapel of Dominus Flevit is shaped like a tear drop
First look at Jerusalem
First look at Jerusalem

Honestly, I wanted to weep when we first entered Jerusalem too, and not just because I spent a 10 hour flight being squished between two big guys: a Lutheran and a Catholic (they were very nice).  We took a short bus ride from the Tel Aviv airport to a university on the Mount of Olives just to get a good view of the city in the evening.  We were going to say a Psalm (Psalm 122) about Jerusalem.  But when we stepped off the bus, all we could hear were the Muslim evening prayers which are broadcasted over some far-reaching loudspeaker from a minaret.  The Muslim prayers were everywhere we went in Jerusalem, in Galilee, in Jordan.  We heard them in the morning, the afternoon, the evening, but to me, it never seemed like a regular pattern of times.  (Or maybe my sense of time was messed up.)  We had our devotion anyway, just as we did at Nain and other places, speaking as well as we could over the prayers. But the division was ever present in these countries, a visible and audible reminder that many people in the world still reject our Savior.

View from the altar of Dominus Flevit
View from the altar of Dominus Flevit

When you look out of the window behind the altar at Dominus Flevit, you have a beautiful view of the Old City, but prominent in that view is the Temple Mount, bright golden.  The Temple Mount was taken over by the Muslims and is not accessible to Jews or Christians.  Jesus wept while on the Mount of Olives because He knew the Jews would reject Him, crucify Him, and He knew that the city and the temple would be destroyed by the Romans not long after His death.

And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.  For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side  and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.” Luke 19:41-44

At first, it really seemed to us like a tragedy that the Temple has been turned into a mosque, that from the view in this beautiful little chapel, we are looking through a silhouette of Christ’s Body and Blood (see above the priest’s head) at something that was taken away from our God.  But after thinking about it a bit, and talking about it with our pastor, our perspective changed.  When Jesus died on the cross, He fulfilled the Old Testament sacrificial laws.  He ended the need to sacrifice animals to atone for our sins, because He was the ultimate and final atonement for our sins.

“All those who believe and are baptized will be saved.”  

“For God so loved the world that He sent His only Son that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send His Son to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.”

There is no need for a temple anymore, and really, it is probably better that there is not one (because, unfortunately, there are even Christians in the world who are confused about the need for a Temple).

the Old City of Jerusalem

But the division in the world is still sad, and that division is what makes the view from Dominus Flevit troubling.  Many denounce the current persecution of Christians by militant members of the Muslim faith.  But to me, the tragedy is not that Christians are persecuted for their faith, because the Lord makes it clear we will always be under persecution as long as He has not come (and those who suffer under persecution are blessed: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven“).  The real tragedy is that there are so many people who do not know the love of Jesus Christ, the Savior who wept over them, who died for them, who loves them so much.  So we must be careful in speaking about this, myself included.  We must pray for those who declare us their enemies and show them the love of Christ.  A God who loves them, who dies for them, who gives them rest from their labors: that is a God they do not know, and that is worth weeping over.

But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 5

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Romans 12

Pater Noster

After Jesus was transfigured on Mount Tabor, He set His mind toward Jerusalem and began the journey to His death on the cross.  Now I am going to write about some of the things we saw in Jerusalem on our Holy Land pilgrimage in December, in anticipation of Holy Week coming up starting March 29.

Jerusalem is a beautiful city, and there are churches and synagogues everywhere.  It is a very spiritual city, with a tremendously rich and long history, most of which I don’t know.  Jesus speaks about going “up” to Jerusalem, and He is literally correct.  As you travel through the Judean desert, you venture below sea level, so to get to Jerusalem, you must ascend.  From what I understand, it used to be a somewhat dangerous journey, with many hills and turns, and that robbers would often try to accost people on their way up to Jerusalem.  Partially for that reason, people would go in caravans up to Jerusalem.  The way up to Jerusalem is the setting for Jesus’ Good Samaritan parable.

We saw many churches in Jerusalem in one day of our Holy Land Pilgrimage, especially on the Mount of Olives.  On this particular day, I think we saw Bethphage (where Jesus got the donkey colt for Palm Sunday), Pater Noster, Dominus Flevit, Gethsemane, Cenacle (or the Upper Room), and St. Peter in Gallicantu (possibly Caiaphas’ house).  That was a lot to do in one day and a lot of walking.  Our group did wonderfully.

Pater Noster is the church on the top of the Mount of Olives that is dedicated to Jesus’ teaching His disciples the Lord’s Prayer, or the “Our Father” (Pater Noster meaning “Our Father” in Latin).

“And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this:

“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.

I cannot add anything significant about the Lord’s Prayer that has not been written in many books before.  But this is what it means to me:  it is a beloved prayer, because it is the prayer that Jesus taught us.  “Give us this day our daily bread” not only means bread, but everything that we need in our life to sustain us.  It is a prayer that teaches us the importance of confession and absolution: “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  It asks God to help us avoid sinning ourselves, “lead us not into temptation,” and to save us from the sin and evil in the world, “but deliver us from evil.”  Lutherans and other Protestants add on another line to the Lord’s Prayer “For Thine is the Kingdom and the Power and the Glory forever and ever.  Amen.”  This line is considered a doxology, and a form of it was written in the Didache, a very early Christian catechism of sorts.  I have known the Lord’s Prayer since I was a young child.  It is rich in meaning, comprehensive, yet simple to say. Martin Luther recommended beginning and ending the day with the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer.  It is really every man’s prayer, taught to us by every man’s Savior.

Pater Noster is a church that recognizes the “everyman” aspect of the Lord’s Prayer, because the Lord’s Prayer is written on plaques around the church in over 100 different languages.  During our devotion at Pater Noster, we were sharing some thoughts about the Lord’s Prayer, and I let people know that as a hospice nurse, I always prayed the Lord’s Prayer silently in my heart as someone was dying in front of me.  I also always pray the Lord’s Prayer when taking off on an airplane flight–usually the plane is in the air by the time I get to the end of the prayer.  I hope that someone will say the Lord’s Prayer for me someday when I take my last breath.  There is no greater prayer that could be said.  For this reason, the Lord’s Prayer comes before the Lord’s Supper in the Service of the Sacrament; it is the “table prayer” before the Holy meal.  Gregory the Great wrote, “…it seems most unseemly that we should introduce a prayer even of the learned over the elements and speak over the Body and the Blood of the Redeemer any prayer except the prayer he has given us.”  Truly no greater prayer could be said.

Entrance to Pater Noster
A look into the courtyard at Pater Noster
Devotion at Pater Noster


English Lord’s Prayer
The Lord’s Prayer in Norwegian
Chapel at Pater Noster


Soon afterward he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him,  and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means.  Luke 8:1-3

Magdala is the site on our pilgrimage where the women of the New Testament were honored.  It is in the Galilee area, not that far from the Mount of Beatitudes, and on the Sea of Galilee.  We were able to walk through Magdala and see the current archeological excavations going on down there.  They have discovered houses of rich men, which included their own ritual bathing spots, and houses of poorer men, who did not have them.  A synagogue has been uncovered with the original mosaic tile still somewhat intact.  A church has also been built on Magdala, and it had one of the most beautiful altars I have ever seen.  In the narthex, there were smaller chapels with beautiful mosaics depicting a different Bible scene surrounding a baptismal font.  Magdala was an impressive place.

Mary Magdalene is a rock star in the New Testament.  Luke tells us that she was healed of seven demons by Jesus and began following Him around as a kind of “an apostle to the apostles” (a phrase attributed to St. Augustine).  Mary may have come from Magdala, which is why she was called Magdalene.  But she followed Jesus all the way to Jerusalem.  She was there when Jesus was on the cross:  “standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.” (John 19:25)  She saw where Joseph of Arimethea and Nicodemus laid Jesus to rest, and she came on that Easter morning to find that Jesus was not there in the tomb.  Mary was the first to encounter the risen Savior, and she was the one who told the disciples that He had risen (I don’t think they believed her at first).

The treatment of Mary by Jesus in the New Testament really is radical for its time. To have the place of honor of being the first to see Him after He has risen?  To be prominent enough to be mentioned in the New Testament, not once, but several times?  Mary Magdalene was a rock star.  Unfortunately, we have no idea what happened to her afterwards, though I imagine she remained a follower of Jesus, helping in the new churches.  She is an example for us.

Mary is the predecessor to the faithful women of the church.  Our belief is that the role of pastor is for men only, however women do have an important role to play in the church.  In fact, in my church, women keep it all going.  We set up the altar for Sunday services, make sure that we have treats on Sundays after worship, play bells, sing in the choir, serve on the Board of Directors, teach Sunday School, greet people on Sunday morning, count offerings, keep the kitchen clean, serve as librarian, run a Mercy ministry to visit homebound, maintain the website and Facebook page, change the sign outside when it needs changing, serve on the call committee, and more.  Our church secretary is a woman; our extremely talented organist/music director is a woman.  Mary Magdalene and the other women, while not running a church in the same way we are, probably did a lot of the same things; they helped keep Jesus’ ministry going.  They probably washed clothes and made food.  They worked behind the scenes, but they were not unimportant.

The women of my church are important to me, because we are sisters in Christ.  We have found time to talk about Jesus with each other, to talk about our problems and concerns, to pray together, to learn together.  We encourage each other and support each other.  None of us feel unimportant because we can’t be the pastor; in fact, I think most of us are happy that we don’t have to have that particular responsibility.  There is a place of importance and love for all of us; we all fit in somewhere in Jesus’ kingdom.  Jesus looks at each of us as individuals, and He loves us.  He gives us our vocations and places in life to serve others.  During Lent, we follow Jesus to the Cross, and on Easter, we find His tomb empty.  We encounter Him in Divine Service and proclaim Him risen.  Mary Magdalene walked alongside Jesus, and so do we.

The excavations at Magdala, with the church in the background


Synagogue with original mosaic tile


Ritual bath site


House in Magdala


A nice doggie in Magdala lets Rachel and Jackie pet her


baptismal font


Mary Magdalene’s column in the “narthex”
Rachel and me by the column for the faithful women of the church
Unique church altar in Magdala. The windows look out to the Sea of Galilee
Mosaic of Jesus walking on water with Peter “O Ye of Little Faith”
Jesus and Mary Magdalene
Jesus calls Peter and Andrew
Jesus Raises Jairus’ Daughter
The beautiful church at Magdala