By: Brandon Dirks
Day 7 (Sunday): Temple Mount, Via Dolorosa and the Stations of the Cross, (Ecce Homo), Church of the Holy Sepulchre
It’s raining on the outside. But He’s reigning on the inside. ALL DAY! I even had to buy an umbrella. It is a PERFECT day to walk the Via Dolorosa (way of sorrow).
But I do not feel sorrowful. I want to be. I expect I should be. But I’m not. Does that make me a bad disciple?
Today, I stand on the Temple Mount. The Temple Mount…controlled by Muslims. The Dome of the Rock is the third holiest site for Muslims. We are not allowed to go in and see the rock from which the prophet Mohammed was taken to heaven and received the five prayers. As we walk around, some Muslims are outside the wall protesting the Jews presence on the Temple Mount. They are worried that these Jews wish to rebuild the third temple in order to usher in the Messiah. The Christians believe the Messiah has come. And yet, in this city, in these walls…three of the major world religions have a claim. Wow!
By the time we finish exploring the Beautiful Gate, Bethesda, St. Anne’s church…we are thoroughly soaked. Yet, somehow this rain is fitting for what’s next…the part of this journey I was most ‘excited’ to experience.
I was about to walk the way of Christ…the Way of Sorrow…the Via Dolorosa. But my Spirit was full, not empty. I started to worry that I was about to waste my experience here because I was in the wrong mindset. I kept trying to tap into the emotion from yesterday. But nothing.
The Via Dolorosa has 14 markers to indicate the stops of Jesus. We saw many of them. A few we experienced. The depictions of Jesus’ condemnation and flagellation at the 2nd station (which is two churches next to each other) were stunning. I cannot get the image of John and Mary Magdalene trying to shield Mary’s eyes from seeing the horrific sight of what was happening to her son.
I was worried about Station 5 as the story of how Simon the Cyrenian was forced to carry the cross…a story I somehow can relate to. I laid my hand on the rock in which they believe Jesus rested his hand when Simon picked up the cross beam. It was quite a moment. But still…
The last 5 stations are in the Holy Sepulchre. The 11th, Jesus being nailed to the cross, has an amazing story that connects to Abraham and Isaac. I could not get a good enough pic of the mosaic of Abraham preparing to sacrifice Isaac. It has everything to do with the empty thicket in the upper right corner of the mosaic of Jesus being nailed to the cross. The corresponding mosaic of Abraham also has a thicket, but it contains the scapegoat! There is a nice Sunday school lesson in this!
Now, I was ready for the 12th station, Jesus dies on the cross. I was going to place my hand on the very rock, the very spot, they believe Jesus’ cross was when he died. The spot, at one time, would have had the blood of Jesus flowing over it. And I was going to touch it with my own hands! It was a moment I will never forget. But the sky did not crack open and I did not hear the Lord’s voice…believe me…I was listening!
I laid my hands on the Stone of Anointment, Station 13, in which they laid Jesus after taking him off the cross. I thanked Him for his sacrifice.
The final Station, 14, the tomb. I was quiet standing in line around the “Rotund” which they built over the tomb, reflecting on the 13 stations. What they meant. What they mean. To me. To the world. As I entered the Chamber of the Archangel, and prepared to enter the tomb…I was ready. My journey from Kentucky to Galilee to Jerusalem all comes down to this moment.
The priest signals for me to go in. I intentionally decide to take no picture. This is not the time for pictures. I kneel at the bench where they say Jesus body laid. All I can think about are the words I used when I spoke at my dad’s funeral and while looking at his body, “He is not here. He is NOT here. He is not HERE.” A smile spreads on my face. A smile!!! Where did that come from???
I exit the tomb into the chamber and look at the faces waiting…somber, downcast, lonely, mixed up, confused, worried, expectant…exactly the way I came in. And I wonder what they are thinking when they see me exiting…SMILING!
I burst out of the Rotund with one word on my lips: Joy! If I could sing (and didn’t care about disturbing the pilgrims going in), I would have sung Joy to the World at the top of my lungs. He is not in a tomb. He is risen! He is risen indeed! This is why the good news is so good. Jesus conquered death! And in Jesus, we have life!
Broken may seem like it should be a painful, sorrowful, thing…but like the crown of thorns on the ceiling in the church of the Flagellation, it may drip blood, but flowers are in it to remind us that something good comes from it. Being broken in Christ…brings JOY!
I was looking for my heart to be broken on this pilgrimage. For my heart to be unequivocally broken into a renewed committed to Jesus’ commission to be His witness and to make disciples who can make disciples. To lose myself in the blinding love I once had for God and for others. To be broken into Christ. Once and for all and for always.
But, now I see. It wasn’t me that needed to be broken. I was ALREADY broken. I just needed a powerful reminder that…Christ has made ME whole because HE WAS the one broken! Whoa!