Come in! Come in!

"If you are a dreamer, come in. If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar, a Hope-er, a Pray-er, a Magic Bean buyer; if you're a pretender, come sit by my fire. For we have some flax-golden tales to spin. Come in! Come in!" -- Shel Silverstein

Monday, January 27, 2020

Day 8: Church of the Resurection

Who moved the ladder?

Today was another fascinating day in the Holy Land. It was a day of contrasts between the Christian belief in the Resurrection in the ancient city of Jerusalem, and a trip to the Yad Vashem (Holocaust) Museum in modern Jerusalem.

And, much of the day and my experience of Jerusalem is summed up in the story about this ladder you see there under the window. I'll come back to that in a moment. 

We began the day with Morning Prayer at the Chapel of St. George's Cathedral and walked the Cardo to the Constantinian Entrance to the Church of the Resurrection to the Holy Sepulcher.

We then went onto to St. Mark's Church which is the reported site of the Upper Room where Jesus and his disciples ate their last meal together.

The shrine at Golgatha
We had lunch at the Lutheran Guest House and then off we went to the light rail which took us on a 45-minute ride through modern Jerusalem and out to the Yad Vashem Museum. Turns out, today is the 75th Anniversary of the liberation of 7,000 prisoners from Auschwitz Concentration Camp.

In case you're wondering, my iWatch reports that I have taken 11,061 steps today, or walked 4.06 miles, all told. But, you know, who's counting.

So, Constantine's mother was named Helena and she is credited with overseeing the construction of churches on Holy sites. She is also credited with finding the true cross on which Jesus was crucified. I'm not sure she had the church of St. Helena built in her name but that's the church where the cross was found.

I am fascinated to see various people respond to various sites. There are people here from all ove the world but today there seemed to be a very large number of Asian people visiting. I noted some Japanese, Philipino and some Chinese.

And, I also noted that they are especially emotional, wanting to kiss and venerate the place where Jesus was crucified or where his body was laid on a stone. Some were openly weeping. It was really deeply moving to see the free, unabashed outpouring of emotion.

The stone where Jesus' body was laid
One young man went under the altar that covers the spot where Jesus hung on the cross. There's a hole in the ground covered by a silver plate. He crawled under the altar and took a long, thin piece of cloth out of his backpack, stuck it in the hole and wiped it around a few times.

Then, before he came out from under the altar, he shoved it into a plastic baggie, sealed it and then hid it in his backpack before emerging from under the altar.

I have no idea what he's going to do with that piece of cloth, but my immediate reaction was to imagine more questionable things than good.

I did see him later, out in the courtyard, holding onto it and weeping so I'm hoping it means something miraculous to him with which he's going to do some good. 

 The tomb where Jesus' body was buried - the one given by Joseph of Arimathea - was apparently raided a few times, so the Greek Orthodox built an elaborate shrine around the remains of it.

What's impressive to me is the very short distance from Calvary where Jesus was crucified and died to the stone on which they laid him to the tomb where they buried him.

I don't know what I had been thinking but I imagined it a greater distance apart. Indeed, everything is much closer than I imagined it from reading the stories in scripture. The impact of that, at least for me, was very emotional. There was an immediacy to it all that made it much more intense.

We left the Church of the Resurrection and went to St. Mark's Church to the Upper Room. Again, it was all much closer than I imagined. But, turns out, we had to go down to see the Upper Room.

The shrine at the tomb of Jesus
There are two reasons for that. One, the church was built on top of the Upper Room so, of course, we had to go down. It is also true that, in its original state, it was the Upper Room as there is a whole layer of life below that room.

The room itself is actually small. It was hard to imagine 12 men and three women in that space, all eating their last meal or serving food to the men or anointing Jesus' head and feet with oil.

We had a delightful lunch with the Lutherans who run a lovely retreat center and a guest house just steps away from all these Holy sites. It was lovely to break bread with these wonderful Christians.

And then, it was off to board the lite rail for a 45-minute ride out to Yad Vashem Museum.  I must say, it was an incredibly powerful experience. After the emotion of the morning's experience, this was just draining. What made this particular museum so powerful is that they begin in 1933, before Hitler's rise to power. They told ordinary stories of ordinary people and their ordinary lives.

So, by the time they start talking about Hitler's rise to power, you begin to have a window into what it must have felt like to have been caught up in the insanity of anti-semitism.

The ceiling at Yad Vashem
It was also shocking to see how it was that Hitler secured the backing of the courts and then the religious leaders, which gave him such a firm foundation to proceed with his plans.

I felt a cold chill of recognition as I watched Hitler rise to power.

George Santayana is quoted as having said, "Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it."

I suspect there are some who study history do so in order to repeat it.  

If you are ever in Jerusalem, you must come and see this. It's not only very powerful, but it is also instructive.

So, I want to end by coming back to that picture of the ladder at the beginning of this reflection.

Apparently, that ladder has been there for as long as anyone can remember. No one knows why it is there. No one has ever been known to use it. It serves no real purpose. It's just always been there.

One day, in 2007, someone removed the ladder. No one knows who. Just one day, it was no longer there.

And, apparently, people lost their minds. 

Who moved the ladder? Why was the ladder moved? Who had the right, the authority, to move the ladder? Why wasn't anyone told about the ladder being moved? 

The next day, just as quietly as it had been removed, the ladder was returned to its original place. 

And, just like that, peace returned to Jerusalem. 

At least, for a time. 

I think that's quite a metaphor for the tensions that exist today in the Middle East, which is bound by a sense of blind allegiance to antiquity while striving to live into the realities of the present world.

I think it's a great metaphor for the human experience of change. Some of us venerate the status quo, which can, itself, become an idol. 

I'm learning that, as important and wonderful as it is to have all of these shrines that keep alive the memory of the narratives of our faith, the veracity of the location is less important than the commemoration of the historical event. 

The church is the keeper of the story so that lives may be changed and transformed by it.

That's important to remember.

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