Wednesday, May 25, 2011

(5) Holy Land

Being back in Jerusalem was almost too much. I had to see so
many places before I was due to return home. Unfortunately I
wasn't able to see nearby Bethany (now an Arab town) where
Jesus knew Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. Speculating of course,
it would seem that Jesus must have gone down to Jerusalem
periodically, maybe on feast days, because he counted the two
sisters and their brother as his friends,

As for myself, finding some friends, we bravely went forth into
the Old City of Jerusalem. Unbelievable, but we walked through
narrow streets, amongst bazaars, that surely seemed as if they
were transported unchanged through the centuries--all the way
from Jesus time to our own. Lots of Arabs, selling their wares, and
I ended--up buying a little crucifix made by a Muslim. Somehow
it all seemed appropriate.

I did manage to reach the "Wailing Wall," reputed to be the last
standing portion of the Second Temple--the one where Jesus
preached on its steps and drove out the moneychangers.
Probably this particular act led eventually to his condemnation
and ultimate crucifixion. But I returned to the scene of his agony:
the Garden of Gethsemane, located at the foot of the Mount of

After his trial Jesus was crucified. I read later the fine details of
a Roman crucifixion, It was very "tough" reading. Bluntly put, the
prisoner wasbrutalized first, whipped harshly, and stripped naked
he was usually roped to a tree or a cross. As Scripture notes,
Jesus was nailed to the cross. The technique of hanging caused
gradual suffocation--and to hurry along this process, there was a
crotch piece that proved terribly painful, thus disallowing a point
of rest where the victim could catch his breath. Oft the prisoner's
legs were broken to hasten the process of death. And upon death
the body was left to rot on the cross, eaten away by birds. dragged
down into the dirt by dogs. Roman crucifixion was a terrible,
terrible way to die.

With this in mind, I ended my time in Jerusalem by visiting the
Holy Sepulcher. As I started this journey, I ended once again
with Constantine's mother, the good lady Saint Helena. She
supposedly found the "True Cross" in a rock-cut tomb, thus
determined as Jesus' tomb. (There's competition, however, called
the Garden Tomb where landscape around shows sunken holes,
looking like the eyes of a skull.) Nonetheless, I chose Saint
Helena's choice.

Entering the dark old church that encases the Holy Sepulcher ,
I found myself in a long line of pilgrims. We slowly inched our
way into the tomb area that looked utterly strange and un-biblical.
There was simply a dark slab standing underneath a canopy of dark,
black stone with supporting columns, People paused at the slab
where one could light a prayer candle. I offered a prayer and
started to move forward out of the tomb area, only to be stopped by
a huge burley priest with a long bushy beard. He was holding what
I first thought to be a tambourine. Imagine my confusion in that dark
place. He wouldn't let me through, and I didn't understand.

Finally the priest shouted "money, money"! Whew, but I'm dense
sometimes. The tambourine suddenly became a collection dish.
And I was expected to pay as I go--or at least pay for the prayer
candle. I should have known better. Nevertheless, this event proved
very sad for me. At that point I was most glad to leave the Holy Land.
Flying home I had a lot over which to ponder.