An Ecumenical Pilgrimage to the Holy Land

Thursday, 30 April 2009

Thursday - the Way of the Cross

It's not me.

But I found it moving and in a strange way very special.

Our day began as we passed through the checkpoint and made our way to the old city of Jerusalem.

We walked through the Muslim Cememtry on the sides of the Kedron Valley and through the Lion's gate (though I may be mistaken with the name) and through the old city of Jerusalem to St Anne's church.

A church dedicated to the mother of Mary and celebrating Mary's upbringing as tradition would have it in Jerusalem, and may be in the temple courts.

By the entrance is a stone commemorating a deacon. Each of our church traditions values the part played by 'deacons' though in very different ways. They each have in common the notion of service. Our reading took us through Philippians 2:5-11, the hymn to the servant christ.

In the rich acoustic of the stone built church we sang Brother, Sister let me serve you. The pause between each verse, so much longer than I am accustomed to, allowed the echo to die away.

Outside we looked down on the pools of Bethsaida, read the account of the man who was healed there by Christ, and shared in prayers for healing and wholeness for ourselves and for those who are dear to us. This is one of those places of which it can be said 'it was here'. Not hereabouts. Here, that Jesus shared in his healing ministry.

A short walk took us to the church of Ecce Homo and in the basement the 'pavement', which tradition has it is near the Antonia Fortress and would have been the base Pilate used during his stays in Jerusalem.

Here it was we began our stations of the cross. You can follow them with us in our worship booklet link to the right of these thoughts.

A coffee break was much welcome. And then we started on the Via Dolorosa.

For me it was something special, and yet something I had done before. In our walk of witness on Good Friday we walk in silence through the bustle of the town centre and re-live the way of the cross. So too through the bustle of an Arab souk in the Arab quarter of Jerusalem we made our way from chapel to street corner, from street corner to chapel, marking the way of the cross.

We reached the Church of the Holy Sepulcrhe, known in the Orthodox tradition as the Church of Resurrection.

And here it was that I did what simply isn't me.

In that location which archaeology suggests is in all probability the place of the skull, the place of crucifixion, we read the account of the crucifixion of Christ. And then we waited in line, and in a spirit of devotion could see people kneeling to the foot of the cross to mark the place with a kiss.

As I had done when first I shared int the Good Friday vigil at Prinknash Abbey on the very day the Good Friday agreement was signed bringing the first steps towards peace in Northern Ireland, I joined that line to kiss the foot of the cross.

I found myself on my knees. Service at the foot of the cross.

I moved to one side, and someone from locally, or maybe Eastern Europe in the black of a widow's garb knelt to one side of the altar. It was moving to see. And then I could see Felicity lighting a candle.

That too is not something we do. Not in that setting.

And yet it was moving.

I didn't have to ask. I knew that as before she had remembered Angela and Nanny Zemlak, by lighting a candle, so too she, and I were, thinking in our prayers of Angela and Jan. Our prayer very much with them in a place we knew would be special to them.

And then we moved down to the tomb. The church of the holy sepulchre became for us the church of resurrection, as we shared in acclamation of the resurrection victory of Christ Jesus.

Lunch was very welcome, but not until we had had a group photograph taken on the steps of teh church.

A coach ride around the old city walls took us to the church of St Peter Gallicantu, and the house of Caiaphas the high priest.

In the peace of the church it was good to share in a service marking the light breadking into the darkness in that place of tears, the tears of Peter's denial.

And then down to the dungeon where Joanne shared with us the words of Psalm 88 and led us in quiet meditation in the depths.

It was time by now to relax a little and enjoy the peace of the gardens and a refreshing cup of tea, before returning through the checkpoint to our dinner and an evening exploring the power of Herod and the response of Jesus the peacemaker. The connections to be made between the world of Jesus's day and the world of our own are many, and disturbing.

The day has come to an end ... and tomorrow we make our way down the Mount of Olives to the Garden of Gethsemane and on to the road to Emmaus.

But tomorrow is another day.

Do continue to remember us in our prayers ... and especially pray for the peace of this place.

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