Monday, March 8, 2010

Monday 8 March 2010: The Way of the Cross and The Church of the Resurrection

I woke up early this morning, well before the alarm. And that says something, as the alarm was to have gone off at 5:20. Our instructions were to be ready to leave the College at 5:55AM and to keep silence. Our mission: to walk The Way of the Cross.

The Way of the Cross, or the Stations of the Cross, traces Jesus journey from his arrest to his death on the cross. Walking the Way of the Cross in Jerusalem is a whole different experience from walking it in a church, using pictures on the wall (which is how I've done it for my whole life).

We used the book A Walk in Jerusalem: Stations of the Cross by John L. Peterson. It's a progressive and intercessory version of this ancient service. I am grateful that we've been given the copies we used, as I will use this version again in the future, when leading the stations.

It will come as no surprise to learn that I found praying the Way of the Cross in Jerusalem to be a moving experience. It was early in the morning, so the streets weren't bustling. We were asked to keep silence, so it really was prayerful. The intercessions were powerful. But, in the end, what brought tears to my eyes, repeatedly, was watching my fellow pilgrims. We come in all ages and sizes. We have a range of physical abilities. And, having now walked the actual way of the cross, I get why Jesus fell three times. The roads are difficult and it's a climb. The tenacity of my companions was moving. And in a number of cases, those who volunteered to carry the cross were those who already bear significant burdens. As I watched each one take up the cross, I cried.

We ended at the Church of the Resurrection (from its Greek name Anastaseos), also known as The Church of the Holy Sepulchre (no longer its preferred name, this is what the Crusaders called it). Based on gospel information, scholars believe that Calvary (or Golgotha, the Place of the Skulls) and the tomb were actually in close proximity. Within the Church of the Resurrection, you can find Calvary, the anointing stone where Jesus' body was prepared for burial, and the empty tomb.

Church of the Resurrection is another place where there is so much bustle and so many pilgrims, that it can be a bit overwhelming. [Also, because of something called the status quo, the custody of the church is shared by Greek Orthodox (who hold the largest share), Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholics (called the Latins, here), Armenian Apostolic, Coptic Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox, and Ethiopian Orthodox churches, with a Muslim family acting as keyholder. As you can imagine there is always a great deal happening liturgically, and sometimes different things are competing!]

We entered the church, and went down to the regular tombs. Then, we queued to touch the rock of Calvary. I was most moved by the anointing stone where Jesus' body was taken from the cross and prepared for burial. To this day, people come and pour oils on it, and so it is redolent with the scent of perfume. After I knelt to touch it, my hands came away smelling sweet. I carried that scent with me for hours. Finally, we entered the empty tomb. In the spot where I knelt, grooves have been worn in the stone by the hands of centuries of pilgrims, kneeling as I have, in this empty tomb.

There are several places around the church where pilgrims of old scratched crosses into the stone walls to mark their pilgrimages. I traced several crosses with my thumb as I passed, to add my own cross to the walls, to take my place among centuries of pilgrims to this holy place.

When we finished there, we were on our own. A friend has a Palestinian friend who cooked a few of us a remarkable lunch in a communal bake oven. We ate chicken baked with onions and potatoes and a beef/lamb mix baked with tomatoes, eggplant, and red peppers, all scooped up with pita bread.

Before heading back to College, Anne and I shopped. I've come to appreciate the scarf here - having worn one virtually non-stop in all kinds of weather. Scarves, or pashmina, can be shawls, or scarves, or merely decorative. I now have a collection, as well as beautiful piece of jewelry. Oh, and I "accidently" bought the most glorious icon of the Virgin and Child. It was not on my agenda or my list. But, she literally jumped off the shelf into my arms and I could not resist her. I then learned that the original hangs in in the Virgin's tomb in Gethsemane, where I have been (though I did not see her there). She will enrich my prayers when I return home.

Sideways view of the Church of the Resurrection entrance.

Pilgrim crosses, scratched into the walls. I am there, now, too.

Pilgrims waiting to touch the rock at Calvary.

Dome over the empty tomb (with a bit of the enclosure around the empty tomb on the bottom right).

A view of some of the iconography around the church. Additionally, you can see more of the structure which houses the empty tomb on the right.

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