Monday, June 18
Scripture Reading: Luke 24:1-12
“This is amazing grace. This is unfailing love. That you would take my place, that you would bear my cross. You laid down your life, that I would be set free, Jesus I sing for all that you’ve done for me.” Phil Wickham
The old city of Jerusalem is much the way it could have been 2,000 years ago. The streets are narrow stone alleys between tall stone buildings. Garbage piles and the stench of them are prevalent. Small shops, some less than 10 square feet, compete for local and tourist shekels selling everything from camel skin bags to fresh produce to crucifixes to underwear.
We entered Old Jerusalem through the Herod gate. Inside this archway is the praetorium where Pilate washed his hands of his responsibility for Jesus’ torture and death sentence. This is where the Via Dolorosa begins.
Via Dolorosa means “the way of sorrow”. Fourteen stations of the cross line this stone pathway for nearly a mile where Jesus walked to Golgotha. When the Romans destroyed the city in 70 AD they took as many of the stones from the buildings as possible leaving the street stones buried where they were. Therefore, archeologists believe many of these could be the same stones Jesus walked.
The last five stations are within the ornate Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the site most archeologists and Christians believe is where Jesus was crucified and buried. It’s hard to imagine what it was originally like because of the elaborate interior decoration adorning the entire area.
The church is shared by six denominations–Catholics, Copts, and four Orthodox churches. There is a strict hierarchy for worship space and times among these churches. The day we arrived the patriarch of the Armenian Orthodox Church (think the Pope for Catholics) was right in front of us because a priest had died and they were having his service. This meant that the Armenian Orthodox would move to the “top of the pecking order” until another priest from another religion dies. (Politics and power struggles are nothing new in our current day!)
The Stone of Unction, the slab where they laid Jesus after He died, rests directly inside the door of the Church. Behind it are mosaics showing the disciples and women taking Jesus’ body from the cross. What struck me was the strong emotions depicted on the faces of the followers. It’s easy for us on this side of the resurrection to criticize and say they should have understood Jesus’ teachings about rising from the dead. But in that moment, this man who they had put all their hope and trust in and whom they believed to be the long-awaited Messiah was dead. What now? They had no hope and a lot of confusion and fear.
The alternative theory of the resurrection site is the Garden Tomb. Contrary to the glitz of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, this peaceful, quiet English garden shows what the garden might have been like on that first Easter morning when Mary Magdalene met the risen Savior. Perhaps this may have been the spot, but no matter where Jesus was laid, the most important thing is this: There is no body. You’ll find no bones. THE TOMB IS EMPTY! He is Risen!
Our group sang the old hymn “In the Garden” and received communion in the serene setting. It was the most emotional experience of the trip for many of us.
Another moving experience of the day was the visit to the wailing wall. On Monday and Thursday mornings, bar mitzvahs are held at the wall and we just happened to be there on one of these days. Safety precautions surround the area of the wall and visitors must go through security before entering. Men and women are separated and men are required to wear hats. The wall is an emotional site where hundreds of scraps of paper with prayers written on them are tucked into the cracks and crevices of the wall. Jews weep in this place where the second temple had been and long for the temple to be rebuilt.
This was the most touching, emotional day of the trip and a perfect way to end our pilgrimage.
Heavenly Father–thank you for your incredible love and grace for us. Help us always to remember the sacrifice Jesus made for us in that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Help us to live our lives every day so that by our actions and attitudes people will know that we serve a Risen, living savior who gives us, not only strength for this life, but blessed confidence in the hope of eternity. Thank you Jesus. Amen.