The Last Days of Jesus and the Pilgrimage

Ross Fairweather

Thursday, July 16, 2015

The focus today is the crucifixion and the resurrection; Good Friday through Easter and the post-resurrection appearance on the road to Emmaus.

Breakfast was at 6:30 so we’d be ready to start walking the Via Dolorosa, the Way of Sorrow, for the Stations of the Cross at 7:15. This was a silent walking journey from the college through East Jerusalem to the Old City, with one of us carrying the wooden cross above our heads as we followed Fr. Mike through the ancient streets and to the first station.

At each station, Fr. Mike led us in prayer and chanting, and one of us read the scripture appropriate for that station. Then, someone else would take the cross, and we all followed Fr. Mike to the next station.

After the process was completed at the 14th station, some pilgrims went into the Holy Sepulchre, while the five seniors (from Saint James) returned to the college with Fr. Mike and his wife Judy, arriving there by 9:10 am. As we walked back out the Via Dolorosa in the Old City, we watched young men with wooden carts weighed down with heavy fruits and vegetables trying to defy gravity and not lose control of the carts on the slick old limestone ramps. Behind them was an old man alone with his cart, beginning his downhill trek. I was immediately worried about him, wishing some young boy would come to his rescue and assist with his heavy load. But as I got closer, I noticed he was standing on an old bicycle tire which was flat on the walkway surface; his weight against the tire slowed the descent. Ahh … a wise man from Jerusalem.

The Stations of the Cross experience was absolutely exhilarating. It was early morning, traffic was light, streets were being swept in preparation for the daily trash pickup, and some street vendors were setting up their shops or having their morning coffee and reading the newspaper.

I was struck by all things familiar as we walked through East Jerusalem, passing vendors who had goods just like what we’d find back home: juice glasses, socks, measuring tapes, scarves, plastic placemats. But the smells and the various languages being spoken were a constant reminder that we were not back home but in Jerusalem.

Clark saw a man driving his motorcycle with a little girl, his daughter, on the back. He stopped as they arrived at a school; she got off the bike, took off her helmet and jacket, handed them to her dad; then she hurried off to school as they waved goodbye to each other.

Jim Stewart always got excited when he saw cats along the way; they seemed to be everywhere … at the college, in East Jerusalem, in the Old City. But this morning we saw a mother cat and her two kittens walking up an alley away from the main thoroughfare; they’d probably already found their breakfast. Who doesn’t love kittens! Cats are always roaming the college/cathedral campus. Given the beautiful weather in Jerusalem, the front door to Reception is often wide open. Once a cat got inside before we all returned from the bus; the cat was suddenly very frightened and started whaling at the top of her lungs before she could find her way out. Her cries were amplified with the marble floors and open staircase! We all had a good laugh.

After a 30-minute break, we boarded the bus and headed west to Emmaus, the site of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearance and his breaking bread with his disciples. Biblical scholars are not exactly sure of the original Emmaus referred to in Luke 24; but the church we went to is about seven miles from Jerusalem, high atop a hillside. As we entered the property of the Church of Our Lady of the Covenant, we were greeted by one of the five nuns who live there in the monastery. She greeted our leaders with hugs, then started talking to us, asking us where we were from. She was a bit disappointed to discover that none of us were from her homeland of Ireland.

The Church of Our Lady of the Covenant.

The Church of Our Lady of the Covenant.

The front facade of the church.

The front facade of the church.

The simple altar in this huge church for just five nuns.

The simple altar in this huge church for just five nuns.

An icon of Mary above the Ark of the Covenant...Mary is seen as the bearer of the new covenant and the ark bearing the old covenant of Moses, the Ten Commandments.

An icon of Mary above the Ark of the Covenant…Mary is seen as the bearer of the new covenant and the ark bearing the old covenant of Moses, the Ten Commandments.

Kathi Sabino and Rev. Lauren helped Fr. Mike prepare the Table. Then we began our mass in a beautiful outdoor chapel overlooking the hills outside Jerusalem. Here we were, on the site commemorating the resurrection of Christ, having just, two hours earlier, walked the Via Dolorosa and the Stations of the Cross, marking his condemnation, crucifixion and death. During the exchange of peace, we all hugged each other, some with tears of joy, as we’ve all become a new community, having shared ten days of this magnificent experience together.

At the end of the service, we sang “Here I am Lord.”

Here I am Lord. Is it I, Lord?

I have heard you calling in the night.

I will go Lord, if you lead me.

I will hold your people in my heart.

Our setting for the final Eucharist of the pilgrimage.

Our setting for the final Eucharist of the pilgrimage.

The table is set.

The table is set.

After enjoying the grounds and the gift shop, we climbed aboard Abed’s bus for our last journey with him. He’s been our driver most of the way, staying true to his professionalism while keeping the strict Ramadan fast of no food or water/drink from dawn to sunset. As we exited the luxurious chariot back at the college, we all gave thanks to him and bid farewell.

Lunch included chicken schnitzel, humus, mixed salad, olives, and watermelon.

We are now wrapping up our respective affairs as we prepare to go home. The graduation reception is tonight before dinner. Then the five of us (Kathi and Jim, Clark, Jim and I) take a van to the airport for our overnight 11 ½ hour flight home.

This journey has been an absolutely exhilarating experience. I left home with a box full of jig-saw puzzle pieces which had few connections. Now I am returning home with the pieces connected forming a meaningful and memorable picture of the life of Jesus Christ. I still have a lot to learn, but I have a whole new clarity leading me to enhanced spiritual growth and a self confidence in helping others learn.

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