Thursday, November 25, 2010

On the Via Dolorosa

Tuesday, November 23

It has been another full day as we visited Old City Jerusalem. I knew, when we decided to come to Israel that many of the Biblical sites were just a guess as to their approximate location. I mean, let's be serious, it's not like all of this just happened in the late 1800's. I also knew that many of the sites have been taken over by the Catholic or Greek Orthodox church, and been basically enshrined and made to look very ornate. I suppose it's been done to honor Christ, but frankly, I found it all a little disappointing. On the other hand, were they not preserved in some way they could be completely gone. What I hadn't counted on is the fact that many of the ancient sites have actually been buried underground due to earthquakes and more recently, bombings. I suppose when you are talking about a country that is this old, it only makes sense, but being as I live in the United States, which has only been inhabited for less than three centuries, it had just never crossed my mind. All of this to say that much of what we saw today was more recently built, for instance the Jerusalem wall was rebuilt in the early 1500's.

Today we saw the Pool of Bethesda where Jesus healed the lame man. The story is in John 5:1-15. It was kind of cool to see it, but the pool has obviously dried up because I didn't see any water at all.

The Via Dolorosa was probably the most moving part of the day for me. This is where it is believed that Jesus carried his cross up the hill to Golgotha after he'd been mocked, whipped and beaten. The Via Dolorosa is basically a crowded marketplace and it all seemed so wrong in light of what happened there, but I've been told that it was a marketplace when Jesus walked it also.

Despite the hundreds of people milling about, I actually had a moment when I was totally overcome with emotion. Along the Via Dolorosa they have what is called the Stations of the Cross. Each station represents something that happened in the last day of Jesus' life. Station five represents the spot where Jesus walked past his mother, Mary. Right about that time one of the women on our team mentioned that Jesus was about the same age as her daughter (33) when he was crucified. Our oldest son is about a year and a half shy of 33 and when that crossed my mind right after passing station five all I could think about was how painful that would be for Mary. I can't imagine watching my son die in such a manner. I could hardly handle it when they had to have dental work!

Eventually we made our way to the church of the Holy Seplucher. This is basically a shrine over the spot where it is believed Jesus died. It seemed like the entire city of Jerusalem was in the church with us today and the whole thing was not what I was expecting. It's hard to picture Jesus hanging on the cross when there are gold candelabras and tile mosaics everywhere. Like I said earlier, this was a little disappointing.

Before we left the City of Jerusalem we had a chance to visit the Western Wall, sometimes called the Wailing Wall. I never really understood before why this is considered such an important place to pray but today our guide explained that this part of the wall was, at one time, the part closest to the Holy of Holies in the Temple. Of course, as Christians, we believe that our access to God was opened up on the day that Jesus gave His life for us and the veil to the Holy of Holies was torn in two. One thing I found interesting was that the women had one section in which to pray and the men had another section, about twice the size. Hmmm.....

My favorite part of the day was visiting the Garden of Gethsemane. Oh sure, it may not be the exact garden but you can certainly picture Jesus going there to pray as it looks out on the city of Jerusalem. It was here that Jesus spent his last night asking God to take away his cup of suffering, and yet praying for God's will, not his. There was a prayer sign in the garden printed right under the verse which records this prayer from Matthew 26:39. It says "O Jesus, in deepest night and agony You spoke these words of trust and surrender to God the Father in Gethsemane. In love and gratitude I want to say in times of fear and distress, "My Father, I do not understand but I trust in You." That about sums it up, doesn't it?

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