Still More To Come

Today we begin the last leg of our journey through the Bible and the Holy Land. We have already seen such great wonders of the earth. We have witnessed the remains of lives that have all gone before us blazing a trail of character and strength in taking a stand for God. We have seen how in just a few short hours we can move from hilly, green countryside to the empty desert We have felt the warm breeze of the Mediterranean Sea and the harsh wind carrying sand that picks at our faces.

We have watched lives of those who live in this land. We have seen the daily routines of many. We have discerned the differences of routines just because of their birthright. Some have it a bit easier than others. Others are willing do go through daily stops, restrictions, and searches in order to stay in the country and the homes they in which they feel they belong. We have heard the stories of tension and anger. We have also heard stories of love and grace. We have spent time with those who feel being in ministry here is what God has called them to do. We have watched and listened as we have seen them changing lives.

And through it all there remains one common thread. Where is God in all of this? Those who struggle, feel they are struggling with the God who promised to go with them. Those in a position of strength and power, do so, believing that God has promised them this land and their position. There are those of us, who cone to see, and grow, and learn and listen. Why? We come because we believe that God is working in and through us with the people living here today; and, with those with whom we will be coming home. We must share the stories and testify to what we have seen, touched, smelled, tasted and heard.

So, we will spend these last few days in the footsteps of he One who led ted the way for us. We walk in the footsteps of Christ. He saw everything that we have seen and knew how to appropriately respond. We need to follow this path, not only to know and remember; but also, to learn and know, for ourselves, how to appropriately respond.

We start at the top of the mountain, on the far side, in a small town called Bethany. We learn that Jesus loved to stay and visit with his friends, Mary, Martha and Lazarus, Know this is a place he liked to stop and fellowship and to teach. He counts them more than just friends. He feels are close enough and have enough experience with him that if anyone can, they should understand who he is and what he is capable of doing. How do we know this? When Lazarus dies, Jesus comes to give aid. He finds the mourners surrounding the home and calls for Mary and Martha. He finds them mourning the loss of their brother. Mary cries and says if only you had gotten here sooner. Jesus is hurt and disappointed. There was no need to get there sooner. He is capable of helping even now, and they should know it. He called out to Lazarus and brings him forth from the grave. We visit the church which calls Mary and Martha to mind. We go down the dark tunnel to the place where Lazarus was entombed.  We come forth, just as Lazarus, with a chance at our own new life.

We move around the hillside and see in front of us the entire city of Jerusalem. The old mixed with the new is all within sight. We are drawn to specific monuments which call out the rich history and challenges that have presented themselves to Jesus and even still to us.

Before making our way down the hill we stop at a place called, “Pater Noster.”  There we see remnants of church upon church surrounded now be a new church of which holds over 70 placards in which the Lord’s Prayer has been written in different forms and languages. These prayers are all around us. There are beautiful garden places outside the sanctuary for prayer and meditation. There is a small chamber of what is left of one of the first Grottos designed as a place of worship. I am taken in by the differences and yet, knowing that they all say the exact same thing. All of us, no matter where we come from, are called to unit in prayer and supplication with contrite hearts and have a conversation with our God about living out our daily lives securely in the Spirit and presence of God. It is then, and only then, that we will be ready to descend this mountain.

We begin to move down the same kind of trail Jesus took on what we call Palm Sunday. We know from our own understanding what took place and how triumphant it must have felt to be in that procession. But, do we really? Before we even get halfway down the hill we are stopped at a place called, “Dominus Flevit.”

We are told is scripture that Jesus looks over Jerusalem. He is not excited or elated. He cries. Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how I have longed to gather you under my wings, but you wouldn’t let me. Jerusalem, killer of the prophets, The tension and struggle we have seen and feel in Jerusalem and around the country is nothing new. Jesus saw it. Jesus felt it. Even in the midst of a heroic celebration he knew what it would take to make things right in the world. He Knew and he did it.

We move on down to the bottom of the hill and we stop at what we find to be a place of special remembrance for Mary, the mother of Jesus. It sits just next door to the Garden of Gethsemane. We descend a large number of steps to an Orthodox chapel with marks her life and death. I cannot imagine what she went through in those 33 years. It is good to stop and remember her.

We find as we proceed around the old city a place just outside the walls which again is marked for the life and love of Mary. This large church is “Dormition Abbey.” There are a couple of traditions that collide here. The first is that Mary never died. She was allowed to go to sleep…to rest…and God then took her to Heaven, Thus, Dormition Abbey is that place where she was to rest.  The second tradition is that in fear others would later come and desecrate her place of resting, the body of Mary was removed and placed in “a secret place” near to that which was sacred to Jesus, the Garden, and buried there. So Mary is not believed to be in the Dormition Abbey for two reasons, 1) she never died; and, 2) if she died, her body was moved in order to protect her remains and give her a peaceful place of rest.

We again change our focus back to the last week in Jesus’ life. We go to a place in which appears a wide open space on the upper level of a home. This Upper Room could have been such a space where Jesus would have had the homeowner prepare you him, friends and family the Seder. He shows acts of humility and hospitality as host by greeting the guests and washing their feet. He teaches them, and us, about keeping a clear head about authority and responsibility. They eat and celebrate as the custom required. They told stories of what has gone on from history and especially those of the last three years. Jesus uses those elements in front of him to remind those present that more change is about to occur. These changes will affect the entire world. These changes will call on God for a New Covenant to be sealed with his life, and more importantly his body and blood as a sacrifice for our atonement. Jesus moves them forward relying on their very own traditions and rituals to a new time and place in our relationship with Him and with God.

We cross the street just down the roadway to a large church structure built on the side of a hill. This hill would have been a place of honor just to the edge of the City of David. It would be a natural place for one in Authority to literally look over the city and keep an eye on things. Tradition says below this church we find the remains of the House of Caiaphas. We find rooms and chambers, a well and holding place for those in detention. We find running alongside of the house a full set of Roman Steps dating the house to the proper time.  The church marks that which Jesus encounters with Peter even at the Seder Meal. Peter offers his undying love and devotion. Jesus tells him that even before the Cock crows for the morning light, Peter will deny him 3 times. Jesus has already identified Judas for his betrayal at the very same time and place. How many more will deny him? How might we have handled the same situation?

This is where we leave Jesus. He is being abandoned by those who claim to love him and would serve him even unto death. He has offered himself up to them and to us for the forgiveness of our failings, hesitations and denials. We leave Jesus in the house of Caiaphas awaiting still more to come. It has been an emotional day, for sure.