When the kids were little, it was a real struggle to help them see beyond the bunny and candy to understand what Easter was really about. I always tried to be purposeful in the way we celebrated the Holiday. One way was to share what makes Easter meaningful to me.
When I was in college I spent a semester studying abroad in Israel. Passover and Easter were celebrated while I was there. The memory of my experience during those holidays continues to make Easter meaningful each year.
The Last Supper
One evening, just a few days before Easter, our professors led us reverently down into the Old City just after sundown. We retraced Christ’s footsteps as we walked through Lions Gate and past the temple mount to a building in the Jewish quarter. Tradition believes this upper room is similar to where Jesus took his disciples for the last supper. Once settled we read :
And as they did eat, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and brake it, and gave to them, and said, Take, eat: this is my body. He took the cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them: and they all drank of it. And he said unto them, This is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many. Verily I say unto you, I will drink no more of the fruit of the vine, until that day that I drink it new in the kingdom of God. And when they had sung a hymn, they went out into the mount of Olives.” (Mark 14:22-26)
We also sang a hymn and took a moment to contemplate the significance of what disciples must have felt at this point in the evening. Quietly, with only the sound of shuffling feet, we left the old city and hiked to a garden called Gethsemane.
If you had been there, do you think you would have understood the significance of the last supper?
I do not think it is a coincidence Jesus chose to go here. Translated as oil press, Gethsemane is a garden of olive trees where the olives were pressed to make olive oil. The process crushes the olives until every drop of oil has been removed. I’d imagine Christ must have felt a crushing pain as he suffered in Gethsemane.
He shall suffer temptations, and pain of body, hunger, thirst, and fatigue, even more than man can suffer, except it be unto death; for behold, blood cometh from every pore, so great shall be his anguish for the wickedness and the abominations of his people.” (Mosiah 3:7)
The lower Garden area contains a number of massive, gnarled olive trees carefully protected by a garden fence. Their age is estimated to be hundreds of years old – possibly dating to the time Christ would have been there. According to tradition, it was in this area where Jesus went in the full moon of Passover to pray. We spread out to be alone and think about what had happened in this garden. I remember thinking about what pain the Savior had to suffer for me. Today I contemplate how I can follow His example by giving my will more freely to God.
How often do you consider Christ’s suffering and his ability to succor you during yours?
Palace of Caiaphas
Next, we were abruptly taken back into the old city to the Palace of Caiaphas where the High Priest of Israel resided. It was here where Peter denied Jesus, and where He was tried informally by the Sanhedrin. We quietly walked through the dungeons in the basement and envisioned our Savior tied to the wall waiting for trial.
If you were Peter would you have denied Him?
The Antonia Fortress is where Roman troops were housed during the time of Christ. This is where Christ was taken to be tried before Pilate. After Pilate washes his hands of the “act,” a crown of thorns was placed on Christ’s head. He was forced to carry His cross to Golgotha, just outside the city walls.
He cometh unto his own, that salvation might come unto the children of men; … and even after all this they shall consider him a man, and say that he hath a devil, and shall scourge him, and shall crucify him.” (Mosiah 3:9)
Does your cross ever seem too heavy to bear?
Today, just outside the city wall is a bus station believed to be Golgotha or sign of the skull. With the hustle and bustle of the world all around it is easy to imagine this as a major thoroughfare during Christ’s time. As he hung on the cross, he was on display to those who passed by.
And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities” (Alma 7:11–12).
He took upon himself not only the sins and temptations of every human soul who will repent but also all of our sickness and grief and pain. He suffered these afflictions as we suffer them. All of them. He did this to perfect his mercy and his ability to lift us above every earthly trial.
How have you felt his mercy and love lift you?
The Garden Tomb
His body was taken from the cross and placed in a borrowed tomb just over the ridge from Golgotha. It was here, after three days, Christ’s body and spirit were reunited and He was resurrected to an immortal state. This broke the final set of chains for the Atonement to be complete: the bands of death. It was here in the garden tomb where one of Christ’s greatest miracles happened. This is why we celebrate Easter today.
Have you felt the blessings of The Resurrection in your life?
When I first decided to study abroad in Israel my initial motivator to be able to someday tell my children I walked where Jesus walked. I thought standing in holy places would somehow make me a better mother. But after walking the path of our Savior’s final hours, I learned an important lesson.
As I went back to my dorm room contemplating all I had seen, I felt impressed to sing one of my favorite hymns.
🎶(I know that my Redeemer lives, what comfort this sweet sentence gives.)🎶
Alone in the quiet,
🎶 (He lives; he lives who once was dead, He lives, my ever living head)🎶
my dorm room became more holy than any of the “holy places” I had just visited.
🎶 (He lives to bless me with his love, He lives to plead for me above.)🎶
My heart was taught what I had been seeking for.
🎶(He lives my hungry soul to feed, He lives to bless in time of need.)🎶
It does not matter whether we journey to the holy lands to walk in our Savior’s footsteps or follow them here at home. What matters is we follow them. We can make the space immediately around us become holy because of what we seek in our hearts.
How do we make Easter more meaningful? We share our love for Him through our words and deeds. We focus on becoming the type of example we would want to follow. And we seek His light every day of the year.