Thursday, August 18, 2011

Reflections on My Trip to Israel - Day 3 of 10

This was our day to walk the Via Dolorosa -- the way that Jesus walked to His crucifixion, and visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. For years I had heard of this road of suffering and imagined it to be a tree-lined street of some kind but the Via Dolorosa turned out to be very different. This is a bustling, dusty, narrow, brick-paved alleyway, lined with colourful bazaars and market places, and teeming with shoppers for merchandise of every sort. However, we trudged along the Via Dolorosa to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

And along the way we could see marked places that commemorate important accounts of Jesus’ journey to His crucifixion, which are the Stations of the Cross, well known to the Roman Catholic tradition.

Here we were, a bunch of pilgrims, hustling with our tour guide to see the place where the Roman Catholic tradition says Jesus’ was crucified and his body laid to rest. As usual, there were throngs of noisy people at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and we had to strive to hear every bit of information that Doron gave.

This is a busy place. People filled the courtyard and the church, pushing and shoving to see this place where it is said that Jesus was buried. Some could be seen kissing a rectangular slab of stone on the ground that is said to cover the place where Jesus’ body was laid. Some were sombre-faced and in tears as they contemplated Jesus’ death.

And in the midst of all that commotion, robed monks were making procession inside the building and chanting liturgies in Latin. As I listened, trying to catch some of the words they were singing, it brought back cherished memories of my Roman Catholic convent school days when we often had to chant various liturgies in Latin. The inside of the building is filled with beautiful paintings of biblical scenes of angels and Jesus crucifixion.

The ornate beauty of the building and the Latin liturgies, complete with a myriad of lighted candles, provide a religious ambiance to the place and is not to be easily forgotten.

And I thought: “if only the place was not so noisy, and with crowds going to and fro, it would make a wonderful place for meditation on the Passion of Christ. It would have been more meaningful if we were allowed to take our time walking the Via Dolorosa and to have moments of peace and quiet upon entering the church rather than hurrying along, and having to cope with noisy crowds." However, that is how it was and time was of the essence.

What are my thoughts about the two major sites where it is said that Jesus is buried? I am torn between the Garden Tomb at Gordon’s Calvary and this place, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. There is evidence both “for” and “against” both locations but I have come to the conclusion that the important thing for us is to recognize the reality with the crucifixion, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ and not be hung up on exact locations of same.

However, I can now envision the 14 Stations of the Cross as a help and means of meditation on the Passion of Christ rather than the actual journey of Christ to His crucifixion.

After a visit to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre we headed for the Wailing Wall, otherwise known as the Western Wall, which is Judaism’s most holy site. Tradition tells us that this wall is the only remaining portion of the Temple that was destroyed in the first century and it has become a belief that prayers offered up to the LORD in that place will be answered by Him.

I thought to myself: “Israel is an interesting place to visit. In the midst of the chanting of prayers in Latin at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre one could hear the Muslims not far away, blaring out the afternoon call to prayer while at the same time, at the Western Wall, Jewish men, most of them with prayer shawls, were rocking their bodies in rhythmic motion as they did their prayers and devotions to the LORD.”

Our next visit was to Hezekiah’s Tunnel, which is a 1,750 feet tunnel carved through solid rock to divert a watercourse from one side of the city of Jerusalem to the other (2 Kings 20:20, 2 Chronicles 32:30). We walked through that tunnel, which is an intricate water system and a maze of dark pathways and stairs built by the Israelites in the year 700 B.C. under King Hezekiah in an effort to ensure safety and an adequate water supply in a time of siege from the Assyrians.

In the route that we were led we could hear sounds of water but did not wade through it. We took the landlubbers’ route, walking on a dry path. In some areas the place is so narrow that we could only walk in single file. This gives it a “closed-in” feeling and is not recommended for people with claustrophobia.

Trudging through Hezekiah’s Tunnel has taught me lessons of faith and determination. In my analytical thinking, the Israelites’chiselling through solid rock to form a pathway to safety and security reminded me of the times in our lives when we cut through stony, everyday experiences.

It reminded me of walking through those stony times…those times that seem to have no end. It has taught me that in those tough times our main focus should be just to keep on trudging through those paths till we come out at the other end. Friends, if you can walk through Hezekiah’s Tunnel and emerge from it with a smile on your face, you can walk through any hard place or experience to a desired end (Jeremiah 29:11).

Hezekiah’s Tunnel is definitely one of the places to visit on a tour of Jerusalem. This place is an astounding, engineering feat and gives a sense of awe to witness the skill and strength of the ancient Israelites in their time of need. The tunnel stands today as a monument of determination, strength and skill and is one of the highlights of a tour of Jerusalem.

With such a heavy trek for the day, dinner at the hotel and a good night rest were more than welcome.

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