Thursday, July 19, 2012

Gethsemane, the Wall and Via Dolorosa


I can see why he came here. The peace emanates from the olive grove, wafts around tall evergreens, wraps itself around me in this ancient place. The Mount of Olives lies relatively unchanged after two thousand years, still providing a quiet counterpoint to the busyness and violence of Jerusalem's history. Tellingly Jesus chose to come here for his last moments of freedom instead of the temple, the predictable place of prayer. His spirit lives richly here, and prayer cannot be resisted.

The Western Wall

Why do we build walls to separate ourselves from God? I understand the need for respect; I know the biblical story. But when I finally see the western or wailing wall, full of eagerness for a sense of the divine, of history, this last standing part of the Temple of Jerusalem simply disappoints. I am moved by the people who come to pray, and yet saddened by those who are kept out. Women on one side, the smaller side of course, men on the other. A checkpoint to keep Palestinians out.

When did humanity become so divisive? When did we first forget that every human is created in the image of God and loved by God? When did we first say God is for me, my people alone, or at least those among my people that worship according to the right rites, the right dress, the right gender? Because every religion does this. So when are we going to let God out from behind our walls and into our hearts?

Church of the Holy Sepulcher and Via Delorosa

Our guide Johnny speaks precisely, sharing the history of this walk of sorrow. We see the Church of the Flagellation, the fortress of Antonia where Pilate lived. The markers let us know as we come to each station of the cross. On this hottest of days we finally make it to The Church of the Holy Sepulcher, perched on top of the hill. The art is beautiful and disappointing. Too much for a place so simple and so sacred. Here Jesus died. Here he was anointed and buried. I am most moved by the places where the bare rock still shows through.

Shared by seven denominations, visited by thousands, the Church testifies to our struggles for ecumenism. Mostly the churches work together well, but there is much more to do. A simple wooden ladder leans against a window on a ledge. We ask its purpose, and our guide explains that no one remembers. But it is located in a place where no one denomination has specific jurisdiction. No one has the right to take it down. So it sits there year after year testifying to humanity's unreasonableness in this holiest of sites.

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