Tuesday, July 7, 2015
We had an orientation in the morning, followed by a lecture about pilgrimages, which was very thought provoking. We broke into groups of five to discuss our individual reasons for being on this pilgrimage. Everyone’s was different, but in this case there were no wrong answers. The Course Director Rev. Rodney Aist talked about the history of pilgrimages, their variations through the centuries and the ideas and concepts of pilgrimages in modern times. For example, a pilgrimage as a transition (discovery or adventure); as a sanctification; getting a sense of wholeness with the light of Christ beside you; or a search of places to find Christ. But there were two tag lines that spoke to me: (1) think of yourself as Abraham, not just as just following in the footsteps of Jesus; (2) “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” does not apply here; everything that happens in the Holy Land on our pilgrimage should definitely go home with us … the challenge will be making the message relevant to our environment!
As I am sitting here writing this with the balcony door open I can here a Muslim somewhere in East Jerusalem canting the evening prayers for others to hear. This sound is becoming one of the regular memories, reminding me of where I am regardless of the familiarity of typing away at my laptop!
After lunch we went by bus to the Beit Abraham Monastery, where French sisters welcomed us to climb to their 4th-floor roof top terrace to witness the most breathtaking panoramic view of Jerusalem. Rodney said it was a cooler than normal day for July, plus we had a lovely breeze. We could see the Dome of the Rock, the Mount of Olives, the Garden of Gethsemane, the West Wall, the East Wall, the City of David as well as the tip of the Holy Sepulchre. I hope you can appreciate this view from our photos as much as we were amazed at what we saw and had no desire to leave.
From there we were driven to the Old City, where we embarked on foot through the catacombs of vendors markets and wall-to-wall locals shopping until we finally reached our destination of the Holy Sepulchre. After lots of history lessons and theories about traditions and myths, we ventured into the dimly-lit multi-leveled caverns of one Christianity’s most holy sites, if not the holiest. The journey started at the Stone of Anointing where Jesus’ body was anointed and prepared for burial. We then ascended a steep smooth staircase that led to the Altar of the Crucifixion, under which encased in ornate glass and gold is the stone that held the base of the Cross. Around the altar were icons, lamps, and mosaics from other Christian traditions (Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox and Franciscan. The tour was strenuous, climbing lots of slippery stone stairs (often with no handrails). But the experience was incredible and almost unbelievable for me, personally. It was especially spiritually moving for me when I went into Jesus’ tomb, that tiny 6’x3’ space where he was buried. We all know he’s not in there, but at that moment it sure felt like he was with me. As I later reflected on the experience, I was really surprised that the entire setting was so ornate and glitzy, considering the poor and humble Son of God I’ve come to know. As we returned to the ground level, many of us had burning eyes from all the incense.
We retraced our steps through an even more crowded market, then out of the Damascus Gate and up the hill several blocks to St. George’s College. An hour later, we had dinner, I returned to the room to journal before retiring for a well-deserved rest in preparation for an early morning and long day ahead.