Easter- the Holiest of days on the Christian calendar.
Back in 2008, I was fortunate enough to travel with then Vice President Dick Cheney to Jerusalem, Israel. My particular assignment was to guard the main entrance of the King David Hotel, where the Vice President was RON’ing (Secret Service slang for “Remaining Overnight”). It just so happened that the VP’s visit coincided with Holy Week. And since I was working the midnight shift, I had a “day off” to sight see.
During this “day off” I, along with a group of five other agents, hired a local guide who took use on a tour of the Old City. We entered through the Jaffa Gate, one of the seven main open gates in Jerusalem’s Old City walls. It was crowded with people— locals and tourists alike—making their way through the city streets.
Since it was Holy Week, our guide took us along the Via Dolorosa–believed to be the path that Jesus walked on the way to his crucifixion. As a former Catholic school student, I walked it with my mouth wide open. Me, a “kid” from New Jersey, was walking along the streets that Jesus and his disciples all had walked upon. My mind was a blur. I felt an undescrible energy as I touched the stone walls. It was as if the stories I read in the bible were suddenly very, very real. As I write this, I struggle with the words to describe the feelings that pulsated through my body and mind, and can only say that it was an utterly surreal moment.
We continued through the city until we arrived at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the place where Catholics believe Jesus was crucified. The entrance to the church was surprisingly low-key, and as I entered I heard the muslim call to pray echoing from a nearby minaret, a reminder that the world’s three major religions lay claim to this Holy city.
The inside of the church was packed with worshipers, and I noticed several “high-ranking” bishops leading several groups of people. Near the entrance was the Stone of Anointing–the place where Jesus’ body is said to have been anointed before his burial. I, like the many others around me, rubbed several crucifixes on the stone slab (which I gave out to my family.) I then visited the other Holy sites inside the Church –including ones dedicated by the Greek Orthodox and Armenian Apostolic churches. Thinking back on the experience I wish I had more time to sit there and contemplate what exactly I was seeing.
We then visited the Western Wall (the Wailing Wall) –considered to be the holiest place where Jews are allowed to pray. When I approached the wall, I was amazed to find dozens and dozens of little slips of papers shoved into the various cracks between the stones–simple prayers written to God by those seeking help.
Afterwards we left the Old City, and travelled to the garden of Gethsemane (the picture of the olive trees) and the Mount of Olives (where I took the picture looking back at the city, the Dome of the Rock, and the Golden Gate.)
I worked a lot of hours on this trip, but it was well worth it.
We left before Easter Sunday…but this was one of the best trips I took as a special agent with the U.S. Secret Service.
Happy Easter–the Lord is Risen, rejoice and be glad.