By: Brandon Dirks
Day 10: (Wednesday) Travel to Egypt (by bus!!), St. Catherine
Last night, the majority of our tour group left to go back to the States. It was so sad to say goodbye. Strange how one so easily bonds with over 100 pilgrims when you travel on buses, eat every meal together, stand in lines to use pay toilets, worship together, pray together, and discover together. There are about 32 of us left from the original 110.
Yesterday morning (Tuesday) I was in the lobby doing my personal worship, when Kevin Birney appeared. I asked him why he was up so early, and he told me that every time he returns to the Holy Land, he gets up and walks to the church of the Holy Sepulchre. I asked if he would show me the way. In only 15 minutes, we walked by the Garden Tomb, entered through the Damascus gate, stumbled on the paved stones of the Old City, and arrived at the unassuming entrance to the Holy Sepulchre. What a place to have my daily personal worship!
For those who do not know, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is really many small churches and chapels run by several different denominations, but the ownership of the land belongs to a different religion! Often, many of these open air chapels do not have doors, and you can hear the worship coming from various parts of the cathedral at the same time! That’s hard for us to understand…but it would like one downtown location and building, where the Methodists, Baptists, Lutherans, Catholics, Presbyterians and Episcopalians would share niches under its roof, while the Muslim church unlocked the door every morning and locked the door every night. I don’t know, maybe we ought to try it!
Daily personal worship is more than a devotional. Typically, I spend about 30 minutes every day following the pattern of corporate worship: praise, repentance and confession, thanksgiving, scripture, petitioned prayer and recommitment. At the church of the Holy Sepulchre, I moved throughout the church for each part. Starting at Golgotha rock where Jesus was crucified, I confessed and laid my sin there. I moved to the Rotund (where the tomb is located) and thanked God for great gift of life!
After that I dove down a small passageway, and down a flight of stone steps to the Armenian section of the church, to the quiet little chapel of St. Helena. This is the part of Golgotha that the Armenians believe the crucifixion occurred, and where Queen Helena had a vision of where the cross of Christ lay buried. As I sat on a stone bench along the side wall to pray and journal, I noticed the only other person in the room was a tiny woman standing at the altar. Uncharacteristic of the rest of the Sepulchre even at this hour, this space was very quiet. After a moment, I heard this woman begin to hum. So beautiful. After a few more minutes, she softly sang. I could not understand the language, but the lovely sound of her voice echoing off the walls of the chamber still echo in my memory. I was lost in it. One woman. All alone. Singing to God. Worship like I’ve never experienced. It was one of the Holiest moments of my entire trip to Jerusalem
I closed my eyes to just listen to the Lord…I’m sure He was in that sound, as sure as Elijah was sure he heard the Lord’s voice in the cave. When the singing ended, my eyes still closed and head bowed, I could hear her soft steps turning and walking toward the steps. But then she paused. Right in front of me. I know it. You can sense these things. But for some reason, I did not look up. I couldn’t. I felt the presence of something that said…wait. Then, after a moment, I looked up…and she was gone.
I never saw her face. I didn’t need to. Was she an angel or a mere mortal? Does it matter? It doesn’t matter. Maybe I got a glimpse of what eternal worship will be like in heaven! What a way to spend 30 minutes of daily personal worship!
As I walked out to meet Kevin, the Greek Orthodox (I think) were having mass at the Rotund (the Tomb) with a small crowd while the huge pipe organ played at top volume. Quite a contrast from what I just experienced!
Walking back, just outside the church, we stopped at a little shop for a pastry and coffee. Kevin met the owner years ago, and he introduces me to him. The pastry was tasty, but what was really memorable was the coffee. I paid the man on the street a dollar, he took a tin cup, scooped some dark powder and water into it, and then held it over a Bunsen burner! My first taste of the Turkish coffee told me it was something I would never taste anywhere else in the world; cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and vanilla. That taste, if I ever have it again, will forever take me back to 6 am in the Old City.
So, like a good disciple who makes disciples, it is now my job to show the way. Mark joins me this morning at 4:30 am, Wednesday, and we walk the same deserted steps that Kevin showed me (although I got us turned around in the Old City, but we were aided by a kindly old gentlemen who saw two confused Americans).
One last visit to the Holy Sepulchre did not disappoint. We stumble in at 4:55 am and Ash Wednesday Mass is about to begin in the Catholic portion. What a way to spend daily personal worship and to start the Holy season of Lent…at the church of the Holy Sepulchre! Now I am ready for the eight hour bus ride to Cairo.
And yes, I introduced Mark to the little pastry shop on the tiny street…and the man who makes the most memorable coffee!