What Begins, Must Come To An End

This is our last day.  We plan to walk the streets of the Old City of Jerusalem and follow the path known as the Via Dolorosa.  There are 14 Stations that mark the steps to Jesus’ crucifixion.  Each of the first nine stations are found along a winding path down the old city. In most cases there are small chapels or at least Indicators as to where each of those Stations is located and give some indication as to what it marks such as Punishment, Crown of Thorns, Meeting Mary, Meeting Veronica; along with, Carrying the Cross and Dropping it three times. The final Stations of the cross are all located in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

We begin our walk entering through the Lion’s Gate.  We stop off at the Church named for Mary’s mother, St. Anne. This church is behind a well-groomed and lush garden. It sits in front of remnants of historic pools. The real feature is the church itself. It is a modest structure with full acoustics in mind when the church was built. Those passing through can enter the church and make a joyful noise. As we approach the entrance, we find a choir already at work. Their melody floating up to the heaven with divine vibration. We enter with a sense of reverence and find seats near the back. The music immediately takes us in and we find ourselves at full attention. When the choir ends, just as soon as they begin to disperse, another choir circles up and begins to sing. I could just stay there and listen to the angelic sounds all day long.

Our journey continues through the street. Najeeb takes the time to describe some significant signs of architecture and what these signs tells us of the history and development of the city. We go into a center that is set up to further teach groups about the life of the city. We descend several sets of stairs and find below us some fascinating old cisterns and a rather complex set of tunnels that were created to see that the city had all the water that it needed. Amazing structure that baffles my mind how anyone could figure any of that out.

One of the first things that comes to mind as we continue down the street is just how busy it is. When I think of the Old City, I think of it in its history setting, The Old City of Jerusalem is still very much alive. There are crowds walking up and down all of the major passageways. There are local stepping in and out of doorways and entrances which remind me that there are families living within the walls and businesses run daily from with the city. Not only are there people, but we also have to keep watch for the cars and wagons and even trucks that are driving down these same streets.

There are tourists, visitors and locals all trying to make there way along the streets. As we progress down the Via we also find more and more stores and souks opening up for us to pay attention.  It begins to be a challenge to manage the streets, the group, the merchants and to keep any kind of focus on our trailing the 14 stations. That being our primary concern for the morning, we slow our pace and center ourselves, taking time at each chapel to step away from the high energy life going on outside and around us. We have nothing else on our agenda for the entire morning.

We take our time, focus on each chapel and marker right as we approach the back entrance to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. We come around to the outer court and find more and more people. As we had already been in the church earlier in our journey, we did repeat a few steps and made time to see and explore a couple of new areas which marked the place of Calvary or Golgotha. We choose not to fight through the crowd and go to each of the Stations within these walls.

We make our way out of the crowd. We find a quiet place to relax and reflect. Our morning is gone. Our path is complete. And, our journey is now near the very end. There is just one more place we want to go and that will not be until after early afternoon. The group is given directions as to how to find for themselves the Jaffa Gate. We have about two hours for wandering and reflecting on our own. The group splits up to see what they can find. I, too, have a couple of places I would like to touch base with in order to get some spice mixes I like to use when I cook some special dishes. That doesn’t take long to accomplish and I find time to relax, drink some ice coffee and visit with a friend I know it will be a while before I will have a chance to share life with him, again.

Our group finds its way to the Jaffa Gate. We find there our bus and head out for our last stop. Our final destination is not far from the hotel. Just north of the Old City is a garden spot in which also has in it a tomb much as thought to be seen as was used in the time of Jesus. We enter the Garden Tomb and take a short informational tour of the garden and their claim as to an alternative location of Golgotha that would go along with this garden and tomb to be that of the one owned by Joseph of Arimathea. Each member gets a chance to go into the tomb and take a look.  We are given a private space within the garden of which we have a chance to reflection our journey of the last two weeks. We discuss highlights, challenges, things we expected, the things that were a surprise. We also discussed some of the things we had hoped might happen and did not; along, with the things we had no idea would be a part of our experience and will certainly have an impact on how we remember this time together.

It has certainly been a trip of a lifetime. May it also be an experience that will strengthen our relationship with God, Christ and Holy Spirit as we come home to share our stories and witness for Jesus Christ in our daily living. Amen.