Jerusalem: The Last Day (part one)

Crowded streets in the Old City

Reading from the Gospel of Matthew: After they had mocked Jesus, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him. As they were going out, they met a man from Cyrene, named Simon, and they forced him to carry the cross. They came to a place called Golgotha (which means “the place of the skull”).

Our last day in Jerusalem was – as expected – packed. We saw a lot of wonderful things, including the actual Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah, but the definitive experience was the long, slow walk we took through the Old City, following the route known as the Via Dolorosa.

Narrow streets of the Old City

What struck me about the “Way of the Cross” was the narrow, crowded, marketplace atmosphere. This, our guide pointed out, would have been they way the city felt when Jesus was forced to carry his cross (in all likelihood the cross-beam portion) to the place of execution.

It was the intention of the Romans to make crucifixion as public a spectacle as possible. They wanted the suffering – the horror of the experience – seared into the hearts and minds of as many people as they could. And, as I helped Rebekah and her painful ankle hobble through the narrow, uneven streets, crowded with people and goods and food and merchants – the throbbing pulse of a living city – it was not a stretch to imagine Jesus, weakened by a vicious flogging, struggling under the weight of it all and stumbling as he went.

Rebekah receiving encouragement from Lonita

BIG CHALLENGE: We started the day with a wheelchair for Rebekah. But we soon realized that “accessibility” is seldom compatible with history. The idea of retro-fitting a historic site is impractical, we understand that, but what did surprise us was the “too bad about you and your wheelchair” attitude at Jerusalem’s premier museum. “The Israel Museum” is a showpiece of archeological presentation, housing not only the Dead Sea Scrolls but hundreds of other important artifacts. Eventually, after more than an hour of aimless wandering, Rebekah and I finally found an exit we could roll the wheelchair through. Then, once we reached the room featuring the scroll from Isaiah, she still had to crawl up a flight of steps to get close enough to see.

At the Israel Museum

We learned a lot about accessibility.

Then the miracle occurred. There is no way to take a wheelchair into the Old City of Jerusalem, so we left it on the bus and told our guide we’d catch up at the Garden Tomb, our final destination. Rebekah put all her weight on my right arm and we simply determined to “make it happen.”

It turns out we never became separated from out group. It helped that, this time, movement from point A to point B was not a forced march! But the ankle loosened up. It hurt, but we were able to move. And that, given the scope of what we were witness to on our final day, was a blessing from God.

Church of the Holy Sepulcher

The Church of the Holy Sepulcher was constructed at the place tradition holds as the site of Christ’s crucifixion. We like – as evidenced in hymns such as There is a green hill far away… to imagine the crucifixion on top of a hill. However, more typically such brutal executions were performed at some busy intersection on a busy highway – something you simply couldn’t avoid.

The church, also known as The Church of the Resurrection, is an interesting complex, containing chapels administered by a variety of Orthodox and Catholic groups. In a way, the place is beautiful.

Rebekah with the key-minder

Rebekah rested by the front door and struck up a conversation with the man sitting beside her. Later, our guide stopped by and said, “Do you know who that is you’re sitting with?”

“Oh yes,” Rebekah said, “we’re friends already. He’s the official key-minder and gatekeeper. He showed me his humongous key and I have his card!”

I have to finish here for today – tomorrow we’ll continue down the Via Dolorosa to the Pool of Bethesda and then communion at The Garden Tomb.

The Door to the Church of the Resurrection

DOOR: But look – here’s a photograph of the door. I guess today’s post is really about accessibility: Accessibility of The Kingdom… of peace… of people we want to keep in the shadows… of the Good News. All this and more.

We wished we could have had more time to simply wander through the city, talking with the merchants and the gate-keepers and the regular people who call this place home. Jerusalem is a place like no other, but it is a real place and not some museum exhibit.

Ultimately, taking in the sites and the history without taking in the real people who pulse life through the Middle East would be a tragic mistake. Essam, Mohamed, Michele, Avi, Hoosam (some of our guides and drivers) – these folk all live and work and struggle and raise families in the middle of the politics and the unrest and the fear. Simply put, we’ve got to spend more time sitting on a bench and listening to their stories….

Peace – and I really mean that – DEREK

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