In the Name...
A journalist visiting Jerusalem heard about a very old rabbi who had been going, for as long as anybody could remember, to the Wailing Wall and praying for one hour every day at noon. So, she went to check it out, watched him pray, and when he turned to leave, she approached him for an interview. "Rabbi, how long have you been coming here?" "For about 60 years." he said. "Sixty years! That's amazing! What do you pray for?" "I pray for world peace” “Wow. How do you feel after doing this for 60 years?" "Like I've been talking to a wall."
The Scripture tells us that when Jesus was on his final journey to Jerusalem, he stopped on the Mt. of Olives to view the city and there it is recorded that he knelt and wept. Several years ago, Sue and I had the privilege to visit Jerusalem and one day we decided to walk to Mt. of Olives. It was something of a harrowing experience because, on the eastern side of the Old City, there are no pavements for pedestrians. The only way to get around is to walk in the road dodging cars, tour buses, and camels.
Eventually, after some adventures, we arrived at our destination. We then continued along the steep path until we came to a little church built in the shape of a tear drop. The name of the church is Dominus Flevit, “The Lord Wept”, and it commemorates that incident.
It is an unusual church, not only for its shape, but, for the way it faces. By ancient tradition, Christian churches are built facing east. In fact, the tradition is so strong that the altar end of a church is always called the "east end" regardless of actual compass orientation. Dominus Flevit, though, faces west towards the city and instead of an elaborate stone or wooden carving behind the altar, there is a plain glass window so that worshippers can have an unobstructed view of the city and see what Jesus saw when he was moved to tears.
Standing in that unusual piece of sacred space, one cannot but think of the tears Jesus shed because, if there is one place tears could be shed, it is with that city in view which has seen so much sorrow. It has been besieged 23 times, attacked 52 times, captured and recaptured 44 times, completely destroyed twice, and remains a target for modern terrorism. It is internally divided into four ancient ethnic and religious sections and today, both Christian and Muslim Arabs will tell you they live in "occupied" Jerusalem.
Signs of tension are easily found. Not only are soldiers at street corners, on rooftops and at religious sites, but, one of the strangest sights is that of a student bicycling along with a bag of books and a machine gun over his shoulder.
Tears may also be shed over other things, as well. Over 20% of Jewish families live in poverty and that rises to 50% for Arab. Unemployment and homelessness are growing problems. And if we consider the deprivation of the Palestinian Territories after decades of blockade and apartheid, the overall condition of the region grows worse. Yes, there is much about which we can shed tears.
But, there is a paradox here, for sorrow is not the only motive for shedding tears. There are also tears of joy and there is cause to shed these, as well, over Jerusalem because, it is an inescapable fact that, as odd as it may sound to say it, Jerusalem is THE Holy City. No other place on earth is considered sacred by so many religions. Jews from all over the world assemble at the Western Wall; Muslims from all over the world gather in the Al Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock; and Christians from all over the world make pilgrimage to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre built over the sites of Calvary and the Tomb.
Jerusalem is one of the oldest inhabited places on earth and its name, recorded in the Egyptian annals nearly a thousand years before David made it his capital, means the "Place of Peace." Somewhat ironic considering its violent history, but then, peace is a spiritual virtue and not one the powers of the world are happy to tolerate. Indeed, given the fact that tens of thousands of other cities around the world have been swept away by the march of history, the endurance of Jerusalem, despite all attempts to eradicate it, surely points to some divine intervention.
Of course, when Sue and I were there, we concentrated our attention on visiting the Christian holy places, such as Dominus Flevit, and we found they are numerous and even have a tendency to multiply and move about. For example, we were shown at least three places said to be where Mary lived. We were solemnly shown places which did not exist in Jesus' time where he is supposed to have done this or that. Along the Via Dolorosa are markers indicating where he fell and where Simon of Cyrene and Veronica were standing. In the Garden of Gethsemane, a certain rock is pointed out as the very place he knelt in prayer and in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre a certain tile marks where Mary stood while watching the crucifixion. Indeed, many American Protestant groups don't accept the traditional site of Christ's tomb and, instead, have chosen another location nowhere near it.
And yet, if it could be shown that all of these were wrong, that Mary didn't live in this or that house or if Jesus carried the Cross along some other streets, these places would not be any less holy and Jerusalem would not be any less the Holy City because these events we commemorate in the Gospel did, in fact, take place at a very place and have meaning beyond the details.
This morning we heard the words Jesus spoke to his disciples in the Upper Room. The fact is that there was an Upper Room and regardless of where it was, the words spoken in it about how we should love one another as Christ has loved us need to be part of us in all the rooms to which we go. Walking along the Via Dolorosa, it doesn't matter if Jesus fell here or there or where Simon was standing because Jesus fell, Simon was there, and, today, I am asked to also pick up that Cross and carry it in my life.
Christianity is about history, but, more than that, it is about God's action in history through Christ, an action which culminated on Easter morning with an Empty Tomb. Indeed, one of the reflections our leader gave us was that while tourists usually travel to see things; in Jerusalem millions flock to the Holy Sepulchre to see nothing. Nothing. To gaze upon an empty space. Not so much where Christ was buried, but, from where he got up. And, when he got up, he made Jerusalem, a city known four thousand years ago as the "Place of Peace", the very place where peace was made between God and Man.
Yes, there are reasons to shed tears of sorrow over Jerusalem, but, there are also reasons to shed tears of joy and I will never forget the privilege of doing both.
In the Name...