December 18, 1999
Have you ever wished you could go back in time to experience an event?
To know your parents when they were young, perhaps, or maybe to alter a decision you've made?
As a Christian, I often felt that way about the Bible, but more specifically about the life of Jesus Christ. How did it feel to be amongst those healed by the miraculous touch of his hands? What was he like when he wasn't preaching to the multitudes? What would have happened had Judas not betrayed him and set off the chain of events that led to his tragic end--death by crucifixion?
Questions like these filled my thoughts as Kavitha and I made our way to Jerusalem, the Holy City, the place where it all happened. The rocky hills of Jerusalem were as I'd always imagined--dry and somewhat barren like a land not far from the desert.
The New City, however, was like every other big city: a bustling downtown with all the modern amenities. I could imagine that there was a time when Jesus passed this way often, on his way from Galilee, or heading out to Bethlehem. A taxi driver told me that Jesus would have frequented his Mercedes Benz stretch limousine taxi service if he had been around back then (purely speculation, I'm sure).
Kavitha and I giggled at the thought, and no sooner did we laugh than the bus arrived--we were there. No more speculation, no more wondering. We were touching the same ground Jesus touched, in the place where he lived and worked--a stone's throw from the manger that cradled him at birth, and steps away from the hill where he gave up his spirit.
The Bible verses I'd memorized over the years disappeared, and my mind went completely blank. It was as if I knew nothing of Jesus, and a new account, the real-life story of his experience, unfolded before me.
I walked, overwhelmed, through the tiny streets of the Old City of Jerusalem. My mind's eye could never have imagined what it was really like, but now the streets told me of a time long ago.
The ancient historical sites cried out, some in sorrow and some in happiness and great joy. The trees on the Mount of Olives, scientifically dated at over 2,000 years old, with the wind breezing gently through their branches, created a peaceful lull and an atmosphere that made you want to linger.
At the top of the Mount I found a small garden nestled in the corner alongside the Church of Dominus Flevit. It's the only Catholic church built with the altar facing west--all others face the east, toward the rising sun.
This unique altar, however, overlooks the Old City of Jerusalem, and has one of the best panoramic views of the city. This same view captivated Jesus for many years--it was a favorite spot of his, according to the Bible. He would retreat to the mountaintop often for personal meditation, to escape the crowded city below, or to teach his disciples. On the night he was arrested, he chose this special place when he wanted to speak with them one last time.
It was after their last meal together, more commonly known as "The Last Supper," that Jesus explained that the end was near. He knew that Judas would betray him and that Peter would deny him. What's more, the Bible says Jesus knew it was only a matter of time before he would be tried, convicted and killed.
Near the bottom of the Mount is the Garden of Gethsemane. The actual arrest took place here, but only after sweat like blood fell to the ground as Jesus, an anguished man, cried out to God for mercy. He spent hours praying here--one of the most famous Biblical prayers - and it is remembered with a carved stone memorial:
Because he was Jesus, a mystical Biblical character to some, it is often hard to imagine the life of the real person: someone who had feelings, someone who would have preferred things to be another way if possible. His words and his courage were gripping.
In an attempt to capture those dramatic last moments, the same architect who designed the Dominus Flevit up the hill also designed the classically styled Church of the Nations. Adorned with dark stained glass and mosaics depicting Judas betraying Jesus with a kiss, and Jesus being seized as his disciples watch in fear, the church captures the intensity of the moment.
Once inside, we approached the altar built around the rock Jesus last prayed on. My heart sank in grief, feeling the heaviness of the sanctuary with every step forward. Tears fell from the eyes of the woman kneeling beside me, so I placed my hand on her shoulder, hoping to soothe her pain and mine.
Solemnly we walked down from the hill, entering the gates along the Via Dolorosa. This path, winding through the Old City, is believed to be the way the prisoners were led to Golgotha, called "the Skull."
The streets, though uncovered for sewer repairs, still hold the stones that were there in Jesus' time. We noticed a church group passing in front of us and followed the trail of hymns as they sang. Together, we all stopped at each station of the cross to pay our respects. There are 13 stations in all, some disputed by the competing denominations that lay claim to certain sites, and some inside buildings that have long since covered the sacred sites.
At one place, a man called Simon was seized from the crowd and made to carry the cross when Jesus grew too weak to continue, according to the Bible. Jesus fell three times, and these stations are marked with plaques or memorials as well.
At one point, in the midst of the wailing and crying of his followers (who included his mother Mary), Jesus stopped and spoke. "Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me..." he began. The words echoed in my mind as I wiped my tears and continued to walk.
Time escaped me as we passed through the small twisting streets inside the walls of the Old City. I hardly noticed the vendors, the children and the numerous people coming and going from the small steel doors that marked their homes in the rock walls.
The end was near as we took the last steps toward the final stations of the cross, all located inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. This church was built on the hill formerly known as Golgotha, where Jesus and the two thieves were crucified. At the entrance is the slab of stone upon which his body lay for the three days he spent inside the grave.
According to Christians, he arose from the dead at this point, conquering the grave and the bondage of human sin for all those who believe. Christian pilgrims from all over were gathered around, some with bowed heads and tear-filled eyes, and most kneeled to touch and kiss the stone.
The stone was like ice under my fingers, and the chill lingered as I passed to the other stations in the church. Each station is owned by one of the rivalrous denominations which were granted principal ownership rights in 1852: the Armenian, the Greek Orthodox and the Latin or Franciscan churches.
This might be the first time some people actually grieve for the loss of life, the pain, the suffering and rejection endured by Jesus Christ. Though many question Jesus' deity, Muslims, and some denominations of Jews celebrate and respect the life of this individual.
Whether you see him as a prophet, the Son of God, or a great teacher and leader, few have impacted the world like Jesus Christ. As we celebrate the anniversary of his 2,000th birthday during this upcoming holiday season, we should take a few moments to reflect on the past that so tremendously affected our world today.
In looking to shape the future for generations to come, it would be wise to remember the purpose Jesus tried to model and share with humankind - regardless of race or religion. In the face of dwindling natural resources, world hunger, and lands being torn by war and violence surely there is much to learn.
Jesus knew that his example would equip the world with the knowledge of truth and unconditional love. He emphasized faith, hope and love--the greatest of which is love. The New Testament's book of Galatians says it best:
If nothing else, he challenges each of us to be accountable for the decisions we make, and the contributions we realize in this life, not only for our own benefit but to help others as well. What do you hold true? What do you value in this world? What mark do you want to leave?
p.s. - Please e-mail me at ...firstname.lastname@example.org
Abeja - Where the Heck are We, Really?
Christine - Flee to Egypt, and Stay There Until I Tell You
Jasmine - Promises of the Promised Land
Kavitha - The Miracle of the Oil
Nancy - Two Women, One Man - Feudin', a-Fussin' and a-Fightin'
Team - A Global Holiday
Team - Exercise Your Right and Write
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