Friday, March 14, 2014: Jerusalem.
Wow! Friday, our first day in Jerusalem, was exhausting! Lots of walking for our pilgrimage sites, followed by heading back out to the Wailing Wall at sundown to begin Sabbath in Jerusalem. I LOVED being on the Mount of Olives. We were taking the walk down the Palm Sunday Road into Gethsemane.
Of course, we know that’s not entirely how it happened – he didn’t go down from the Mount of Olives right into the fateful night in Gethsemane. Even if the story was being experienced a bit out of order, I could imagine his followers super excited. Making a big deal out of his entry into Jerusalem! Maybe lots of them thought he’d come out of it all triumphant. Over-turned all of Judaism and Rome before he even got there. Certainly his closest friends knew otherwise: Peter, James, John, his mother, Mary Magdalene. I’m not sure they would have been all that excited about his entry into Jerusalem the week of the Passover Festival.
We had lunch Friday somewhere that seemed like an upper room – a beautiful space to relax and reflect and rest after the hustle and bustle of the busy Jerusalem streets. I found the Via Dolorosa more moving than expected. But before that part of the story and of our pilgrimage was that rock of agony in Gethsemane.
What a beautiful sanctuary there – the Church of All Nations! And in it, what an immense rock upon which Jesus most probably threw himself trying to come to terms with the road ahead! I’m sure it was a struggle because he certainly knew Rome’s power. He knew how upset the other Jewish teachers were becoming with him. You can feel it when the pressure’s building and folks are ready to get you. And yet, he knelt on that rock . . . I like that it was a rock: the foundation. The solid base upon which we can stand. He was able to get up from that spot trusting his father would get him up from another rock just a few days thereafter.
From that rock of agony, he was taken to a place we saw on Saturday (the day I’m actually writing this reflection). To the house of Caiaphas, the Chief Priest. We saw the stairs. The Golden Stairs they are called, which he walked down in order to get from the Upper Room of Maundy Thursday through the Kidron Valley to the garden of Gethsemane.
As they snatched him out of the garden that night, they led him bound back up those stairs. Then down them again in the morning as they tossed him between Pilate and Herod in the city. By that point of his last day, he’d been in that pit – another rock. A pit in a massive rock where they would have lowered him for the duration of that one last night after binding him in the garden. The way the archeology tells the story there, the free Spirit of God-in-flesh was tied up. Locked down and lowered into the earth to await all that would happen. Our pilgrimage leader read Psalm 88 while we all were in that pit. When he was waiting there, I can imagine him wondering if Peter was out in the courtyard. In those very moments, three times denying him. Three times saying he never knew him. As I sat in both places today – the courtyard and the pit – I felt sympathy for Peter. At least he had the courage to follow his bound Lord there. Even if he said NO when asked his allegiance to him.
And in that pit. I can imagine it dark. Cold. Terrifying waiting for it all to unfold. Pain in his body. Trouble in his soul. I hope that rock reminded him of all the other rocks. The place on which his soul was strengthened just a few minutes prior in Gethsemane. The rocks all over Galilee upon which he promised Peter he’d build his church. The rocks and falling waters of Caesarea Philippi: the Source from which he was to draw strength. In those moments, I hope he trusted that the rock of the tomb upon which his broken, life-less body would be placed, would NOT be his end! I hope he was able to lay aside any of his fear to hope and trust and be assured of the miracle that lie ahead!
From that pit he was dragged to the site of his conviction and flagellation under Pontius Pilate. BTW: We couldn’t go into that first site on the Via Dolorosa. But how I wish we could have. To see and feel it for a moment: the passive work of our Lord – letting it all happen to him.
His ego was a true, whole self. For he was willing to let it all come. No stopping it. And each of those spots along that road, until, at last, the Skull.
It ended at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher – though I find The Garden Tomb and Place of the Skull behind the old religious stoning site just outside the Damascus Gate much more probable. The Garden Tomb was the kind of holy place I need yet today: a simple, yet abundant garden. He was killed, not for religious reasons, but politically motivated – at least according to the Jewish law we were reminded of today.
According to our pilgrimage guide, execution for religious reasons in those days required four things: no arrest at night, 24 hours held in prison, witness before the entire Sanhedrin (of 71), and no religious execution on a Holy Day. It certainly seems as if the plan from the start was to get Rome to do the dirty work.
Whatever the scheme, as the statute of The Servant of the LORD in Caiaphas’ House reads: “He surrendered himself to death . . .” (Is. 53:12b). Down deep in that pit on the grounds of Caiaphas’ House there no longer was anyway out. Now that’s commitment. . . . A total surrender of self that somehow would change all the world.
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