An Easter Awakening in Jerusalem

He is risen!

Garden tomb

In 1987, a single phone call from a friend changed my life. He invited me to go to Israel with him on a “Fam Tour” [1] for ministers of different religions. It sounded intriguing, and I agreed to go. As I got off the plane in Tel Aviv, I was immediately struck with a feeling of familiarity, and over the next week I fell in love with the land and the people.

Since then, I have been to Israel 64 times. I run a charitable foundation that helps Israel and I also work closely with Jewish leaders from around the world with Israeli government leaders. But none of these experiences have impacted me as deeply as did a simple walk through the streets of Jerusalem on my very first visit.

Steps to Golgotha

That walk was no ordinary walk. It was a walk retracing the footsteps of Christ on the “loneliest journey” [2] ever made. Let me take you with me on that walk.

The Upper Room

The season was Passover, which centers on sacrifice, deliverance, and remembering. Jesus and his disciples met in “a large upper room furnished and prepared.” [3]

The upper room

This room, (the Cenacle or The Upper Room) is in the “upper” part of Jerusalem and represents the site of the Last Supper. The atmosphere is heavy with the weight of impending events, as Jesus institutes the sacrament, washes His disciples' feet, and delivers profound teachings about love, service, and the coming of the Holy Ghost. I think of the cowardice and hypocrisy of Judas’ betrayal and the burning question of “Lord, is it I?” As I contemplate the sacredness of this moment, feelings of gratitude for the Savior's infinite love and sacrifice well up within my heart.

Jesus in Garden of Gethsemane


For each of us, the covenant path leads to exaltation, but it inevitably detours through Gethsemane. Not even Christ was exempt. The Garden of Gethsemane had always been His refuge. But on this night, its stillness and serenity were displaced by despair and despondency.

white orchid

We enter the garden. The air is redolent with the scent of flowers, but there is no mistaking the heaviness that accompanies this place. It is palpable. Solemnity and sorrow fill my soul.

I look for some telltale sign of His ordeal, and I find it in the trees. Their ancient limbs seem to be twisted in agony and gnarled in pain as they stand in silent witness to His suffering- suffering which was “how sore you know not, how exquisite you know not, yea, how hard to bear you know not.” [4]

I think about pain. I treat it every day as a physician. I have had five kidney stones. I have witnessed women in labor work so hard that tiny drops of blood appeared on their cheeks. But His pain is unfathomable. He bled from every pore. The severity of His suffering is surpassed only by the depth of His love.

Old Olive tree

We are “a peculiar people,” [5] which means “purchased.” [6] We were bought and paid for that night with His blood, the purest blood ever shed, with the highest price ever paid. Hereafter, we belong to Him. And because of the price He paid, He will never let me go. Or you.

Betrayal and judgment

Betrayed by a kiss, He was led “like a lamb to the slaughter” [7] to the house of Caiaphas, the high priest. As I climbed those ancient steps to the house, I wondered what awaited inside. A dungeon lies beneath, and the only way in or out is through a pit in the floor. I felt cold and oppressed in that dungeon and couldn’t wait to leave. But there was no escape for Him. He was illegally tried, mocked, and scourged, then kept there overnight to suffer in the darkest place on planet earth. Alone.

Jesus betrayal

Outside, I notice a flat area at the top of the stairs where I visualize Peter sitting at a fire, waiting for the Master to come. I think of Peter’s loyalty to Christ and consider that perhaps Christ’s words to him, “thou shalt deny me thrice” [8] were a commandment, not a prophecy, to protect him and the future of Christ’s fledging church. I will never judge Peter again.

Daylight came. He was taken to Pilate, then to Herod, then back to Pilate. In haste, judgment was passed. Pilate rinses his hands, but only “living water,” [9] could cleanse those hands, and he had just sentenced that Living Water to die. I shake my head in vexation.


The Place of the Skull

Golgotha [10] awaits. The hill-sized rocky skull is still clearly seen, with its prominent nose and sunken eyes, those hollow eyes still stretched wide in horror in remembrance of what had transpired there. It’s eerie.

The area in front of the hill, the site of His crucifixion, was a busy byway 2000 years ago but is now a bustling bus station. Passersby’s then, and now, are oblivious to what happened here so long ago.

Crucifixion nails

While on that cross, the pain returned. Full force. For Him, there was no balm in Gilead. No one washed His feet; no one dried His tears. He suffered again - alone. Even His Father withdrew, leaving Him to drink one final draught from that “bitter cup.” [11] I feel empty and hollow at the thought of His death.

The Garden Tomb

Finally, it was finished. His body was laid in a tomb adjacent to Golgotha. In this garden, I feel unparalleled peace, hallowed by the Spirit of the Prince of Peace, then, and now. The beauty and serenity of winding paths and fragrant flowers amidst timeworn trees fills my soul. Small alcoves allow privacy for individuals or groups, each of whom have come seeking the Christ. While there, a man asked our British guide what makes this tomb different from all others in the area. His answer was profound: “This tomb is empty.” Inside the tomb, I could see precisely where He would have lain. President Kimball testified, “I can see his head here, and his feet there…we have been in sacred places before.” [12]

Angels rolls back stone

I feel overwhelming gratitude and joy that “The fight was won by Jesus.” [13] The Spirit testifies to me with stunning surety that He lives. I know that Spirit. Like you, I have felt it over and over in the temple, in my home, and in countless other circumstances. One need not be in the Holy Land to feel holy things.

Sheet over jesus in the tomb

The door to the tomb reads, “He is not here. He is risen.” And because of that, we too can “arise from the dust” [14] and be reunited with Him and those whom we love. “Oh sweet, the joy this sentence gives, I know that my Redeemer lives!” [15]



1 “Familiarization Tour” for travel agents

2 Jeffrey R. Holland, “None Were with Him,” Ensign, May 2009

3 Mark 14:13,15

4 Doctrine and Covenants 19:15

5 1 Peter 2:9

6 1 Peter 2:9 (see footnote)

7 Doctrine and Covenants 135:4 (like Joseph Smith)

8 Matthew 26:34

9 John 4:10-11

10 Matthew 27:33 (the Place of the Skull)

11 Matthew 26:39

12 As related by Daniel Rona, who was present

13 “Gethsemane,” by Melanie Hoffman, Copyright 2016 (published in The Friend)

14 2 Nephi 1:21

15 “I Know That My Redeemer Lives,” Hymns, no. 136