Last night I lay a-sleeping
There came a dream so fair,
I stood in old Jerusalem
Beside the temple there.

I heard the children singing,
And ever as they sang,
Me thought the voice of angels
From heaven in answer rang
Me thought the voice of angels
From heaven in answer rang.

Jerusalem! Jerusalem!
Lift up your gates and sing,
Hosanna in the highest!
Hosanna to your King!

Jerusalem! Jerusalem!
Hark! How the angels sing,
Hosanna in the highest!
Hosanna to your King!

And then me thought my dream was changed,
The streets no longer rang,
Hushed were the glad Hosannas
The little children sang.

The sun grew dark with mystery,
The morn was cold and chill,
As the shadow of a cross arose
Upon a lonely hill.And once again the scene was changed;
New earth there seemed to be;
I saw the Holy City
Beside the tideless sea.

The light of God was on its streets,
The gates were open wide,
And all who would might enter,
And no one was denied.

No need of moon or stars by night,
Or sun to shine by day;
It was the new Jerusalem
That would not pass away.

Jerusalem! Jerusalem!
Sing for the night is o'er!
Hosanna in the highest!
Hosanna for evermore!

The Holy City by Charlotte Church

This song was a jewel from my trip to Israel/Palestine. It was actually a song I had never heard before–nor did I know that my grandmother sang it and played it almost daily for my father on an old pump organ that she had shipped from Colorado to Michigan.  Now, I can barely type the words without tears, knowing that God spoke so personally through it to my father during one of the darkest and brightest days of his life.

Often my dad and I would wake up in Israel with Scripture or songs on our hearts. We would share what God was saying at 3 a.m. when we were both awake from jet-lag and in the mornings when we would wake up in a new region of the Holy Land. We were in awe by how God was clearly present with us and was giving us gifts of Himself throughout the journey. But we could have never anticipated Him giving Himself to my dad in the profound and miraculous way that He did.  

    It was the morning we were to walk to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. My father awoke singing the song, “The Holy City,” and he shared with me the history of that hymn in his family. He sang it for me in our hotel room as we got ready for the day. We walked from our hotel to the church. As I approached the tomb of Christ, I became overwhelmed with emotion.  Tears streamed down my face and I was overcome with sadness at what had happened there. I don’t remember the last time I mourned so deeply thinking about Christ’s suffering on my behalf. My father comforted me as we approached the entrance to the tomb. Together we knelt down inside the tomb and my heart beat wildly inside my chest as I heard the words, “I am not here! I have risen just as I said! I now live inside of you!” Peace washed over me and my tears dried.  I felt ready to move from lament to celebration, savoring the hope and peace of the resurrection. Moments later, my father looked at me and said, “I am not feeling well. I need a restroom and I have to get back to the hotel.”

    How quickly our celebration turned to despair knowing that there wasn’t a restroom we could access nearby. I left my father in the hands of our Muslim guide knowing that in that moment he could care for my dad better than I could. I watched him walk away. I felt the pains of separation anxiety, having not been apart from my father at all during the trip so far. I tried not to worry, but I had a sense that my dad was being asked by God in that moment to carry his cross. He shared with me before the trip that he worried about getting sick in the Holy Land.  His worst fear was being realized–not being able to make it to a bathroom–and I knew that he would have to suffer humiliation reminding him of how Christ suffered on the day of his death. I lit a candle at Golgotha and prayed for my dad. “Lord, please give him the hope of Your presence as he walks back to the hotel. Show him that he is not alone.”

The vision of Christ strengthened my faith, my dad’s faith, and the faith of our Muslim guide.

    From there we left for the Pools of Bethesda. Still missing my father, I looked down by the pools and saw a plaque. It said: Jesus Heals A Sick Man. I began to pray, “Jesus, please heal my sick old man.” I wandered and prayed. I sat in the sunshine and offered my pleas to God. As we were about to leave, Dr. Burge, our teacher, asked, “Lisa, are you worried about your dad at all?” Yes, yes, I was. I didn’t know if he was receiving the care he needed. I didn’t know if he was staying hydrated. I didn’t know if he would be able to call the reception desk if he needed something. It felt out of my control and my faith was shaky at best. He offered me his cell phone to call the hotel. I was immediately connected to my dad’s room and I prayed that he would answer the phone. He answered right away and I could tell his voice was shaking. “How are you dad? How are you feeling?” I asked. “Lisa, I saw Him! I saw Jesus! I had a vision that we were in the New Jerusalem and I had a glorified body and He was welcoming me into His arms. But He had one arm out as if to say, ‘Not yet, but when I am ready for you I will be here to welcome you.’ I felt so much love in His presence!” I listened to my father weep on the other end of the phone. He said he went through a whole package of Kleenex. All I could think about was how badly I wanted to go see my dad and ask him questions. What did Jesus look like? How did He sound? Where was He and how did it feel to be in His presence? I was amazed and overwhelmed by how tangibly God had answered my prayer. I had asked for Jesus to be with Him. I had no idea He would show up in such a real and miraculous way!

    Later, my dad told me that had he not been a Christian he would have cursed all the way back to the hotel. The experience of becoming sick and not being able to make it to a bathroom was so humiliating. But he realized through the vision that in heaven there would be no such thing as bodily functions that would cause us to feel ashamed. What a relief that in our glorified bodies we would no longer suffer pain and humiliation! He had been given the greatest gift of all: the presence of Christ in his darkest hour and the hope of resurrection for all of eternity.

    This experience also created a very special bond between my dad and our Muslim guide Walid. He kept asking about my dad throughout the rest of the trip, wondering if he was okay.  Eventually, I was able to share, “Walid, my dad is more than okay. He saw Jesus!” Walid was taken aback with emotion himself at hearing this, and he said, “Wow, I’m so happy for your dad!” The vision of Christ strengthened my faith, my dad’s faith, and the faith of our Muslim guide. What a God we serve!

    As I remember this experience, I think back to how God demonstrated His love to us by sending His son to renew and redeem the darkest places of our lives and the darkest places on earth. How would I ever read the Bible the same again after experiencing the tangible evidence of His love in such a mighty way? How could I read the stories of Christ’s miracles the same way after having seen one through my father’s eyes? This is the gospel made real. This is the incarnation manifested in our daily life. This is the hope of heaven intersecting with the pain of earth. This is what the Bible is all about.  

I realize not all of us will get to travel to Israel or experience a vision of Jesus Christ in our lifetime, but we each have a testimony about how God enters into our story and brings about love and life in a difficult situation. I hope that my story will encourage and strengthen you on your own faith journey and that you will be on the lookout for those moments when God brings heaven down to earth. Your “Holy City” is right where you are. I pray you will meet Christ there.

Lisa De Young is a 3rd Year M.Div. student. She also serves as a CPE student at Handlon Correctional Facility.