I woke up our last day in Jerusalem and ventured into the Old City to
attempt some quiet time and reflection. I entered through the Jaffa Gate and
walked the Via Dolorosa, this time on my own clock without the time regimen of a paid tour. The Via Dolorosa is the 14 station art depiction of Jesus’ condemnation, his walk carrying the cross, and his crucifixion. It is oftentimes referred to the as the “Way of the Cross” and follows a meandering path through the Old City and concludes at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The Old City felt hectic this particular morning, like any popular destination on a busy day.
I strolled to the southwest area of the Old City and ran into David, one of our tour guides from week one. He was headlong into a sticky situation, helping a local attempt to back his small car out of an alley not much larger than his car. A crowd had gathered, slightly amused but waiting to get through. The path was intended for pedestrian use, not cars. The driver must have entered by mistake or had important business that just couldn’t wait.
David emerged after successfully helping liberate the car and driver. He didn’t recognize me and offered to show me the way to the site of the last supper. His demeanor was a little less relaxed than before. Morning was getting away and it appeared he hadn’t sold a tour yet.
I explained who I was, and he remembered me after I took off my sunglasses. “Oh yes, I remember you! I checked with the gift shop and you didn’t buy anything”. He was referring to the shops he took us to following a tour to buy souvenirs. I assume he gets a piece of the sale when his patrons purchase something.
We ended up in a brief discussion about his religious beliefs and ethnic background. Discussing such matters here seems to be a staple of the traditional discourse for some. It’s interesting. He told me he was an Armenian Christian. After a gentle back and forth, we decided to walk as we talked. We walked through the traditional sites of the last supper and David’s tomb. He really wanted to take me on a full tour, but I explained I needed to be alone for the remainder of my time in the Old City.
We parted ways and I began to wander, quickly stumbling headlong into a Bat Mitzvah that had taken to the streets. A father, his son, and a crowd of lively people sang, danced, and played percussion, celebrating this young man’s passage just outside the Old City wall near the Zion Gate. The revelers made a lot of entertaining and ceremonious noise and had a great time doing it as they paraded along the wall.
The celebrants carried a 5 x 5 white cloth banner with a blue Star of David in the middle and held it up over the boy with 4 foot poles on each corner as they walked. I’m not sure what it’s called. They kept it positioned it over him as he walked with the crowd. He was having fun but appeared tentative about all of the attention. They chanted and spontaneously broke out in dance throughout the procession. They were headed toward the Dung Gate entrance to the Western Wall (Wailing Wall).
After thoroughly enjoying this lively spectacle, I strolled to and through markets in the different quarters, buying a few things I had wanted to bring back for the family. Finally I made it to my destination and last stop on our Holy Land excursion…Station Four of the Via Dolorosa where Jesus is said to have seen His mother Mary. I needed to take another picture of the statue at this station. My pic from last week failed to capture the detail and beauty of the art.
It struck me as profound that the statue here of Jesus and Mary in each other’s arms appears to portray Jesus as having consoled and strengthened Mary, in the midst of His agonizing public climb to His crucifixion. I do believe He would have been the one to provide comfort, regardless of His physical and emotional pain. It amazes me how well the art here brings events to life and evokes a range of emotions.
I spent some time at the station, took a few good pics, and before departing sat down on the steps outside overlooking a small courtyard for some planned one on one time with God in the Old City. I prayed about a few things that were tugging at me and for each of my family members, all of whom I missed. Finally I pulled my Bible out of my backpack in hopes of reading something meaningful. This was important. Here’s why…
I began this Holy Land journey half expecting to walk away pure, glowing even, and perhaps hearing a spontaneous Hallelujah Chorus break out. There were great moments along the path, but nothing of the magnitude I had hoped for. There were humbling moments as well. Like bouts of aggravation along that famous and oftentimes heavily crowded walk – the Via Dolorosa. The walk makes for a long day, leaving plenty of time for humanity to rear its head. It wasn’t just the personal agitation (it’s crowded!). It was all of the things I typically find myself challenged by at home, which was not part of the plan.
These bouts represented episodes of reality punctuating important and sometimes fleeting spiritual moments, similar to life as a believer at home. I found this disappointing. I wasn’t feeling pure, most definitely was not glowing, and I certainly had not experienced the Hallelujah Chorus. I felt a little empty and needed to be sure I wasn’t missing or forgetting something.
I randomly opened my Bible to Romans 5 and started reading there. Good a place as any. Romans 5 turned out to be a great reminder of our plights as a humans, and why this path needed to be walked two thousand years ago. It’s about our powerlessness and faith, and about God’s redeeming love and grace, not something I do right or wrong. I read on and began to shed a little guilt for my state of mind and heart. Then I flipped to Romans 7 and especially focused in on 7:15, where the Apostle Paul goes into his “I do not do what I want to do” word dance. God’s gentle reminder that He already took the purification matter into His own hands. He never intended for me to do this on my own, or glow, or even hear the Hallelujah chorus in the Old City.
Romans 5 and 7 were timely reminders that ten days or ten years in the Holy Land cannot change the fact that my acceptance by God is and will always be a result of His grace. He is God, I am not. While my humanity is my travel companion, so is God. He’ll forgive me and enable me to get my heart in the right place. That’s why He stepped in 2000 years ago, and still does today.
No amount of spiritual conditioning alters my humanity or my need for grace , nor will dwelling in a holy place even if it happens to be the geographical epicenter of Christ’s gift. I am human both at home and in the Holy Land, always in need of God’s grace. Otherwise His walk on or near this well worn path, the Via Dolorosa, would not have been necessary, making right what I cannot. Romans 5 and 7 drove it home. A Hallelujah Chorus wouldn’t have compared to this hallelujah moment.
I arrived and departed the Holy Land in the same very human condition. Forever in need of His grace. It would be hard to think of a better place to have been handed this well timed reminder.
In the end, it all came together at just the right time. Lessons learned, and in God’s time and way. I took a breath, stood up, and walked toward the Jaffa Gate. Still far from perfect, but full to the brim.