Our trip turns homeward. Or is it that our trip will actually take us away from home? The first words of our tour guide 13 days ago were, “Welcome home!” It took a few days for what he said to sink in, but the more I walked and looked and prayed, the more I realized that, somehow, it all goes back to this land for each of us.
We walked the Via Dolorosa – The Way of the Cross. We began this morning in an underground portion of a Catholic church. Two-thousand years ago this was not an underground area, but much has been built around and over it since. We stopped to observe a carved out portion in a pavement stone – carvings that have been identified as an ancient game board.
A cruel “game” played by the Romans of that day was to pick a prisoner and make him “king for three days.” At the end of the three days he would be executed. To pick who the king would be, they often played “Bazuleous” – using the round game board we saw.
This area of Jerusalem was where Jesus was held, and just maybe, where He was mocked by the Roman guards as “King for three days.” When this “temporary” King of the Jews was brought before the crowd, we know that they shouted for his immediate crucifixion. “King for three days” would become “King for one day,” or so everyone on that day thought.
We made our way from what was once the Antonio Fortress down a small slope before turning right and heading up the slope and out of the city. This is the traditional Way of the Cross taken by Protestants. What I guessed was going to be a contemplative and sober walk quickly became a battle. We were flanked on both sides of this narrow stone street with Arab shops, which likely mirrored Jesus’ walk that day He bore the cross. And we also found ourselves determinedly swimming up a stream of people. Actually it felt like a tsunami. Our departure was at the same time when thousands of Muslims were walking towards the Temple Mount for a special Friday prayer at their mosque.
Because of the crush of people, I stayed in back, following closely behind Vern – an incredibly engaging and vibrant 85-year old with our group. The sometimes steep climb was very challenging, but Vern was quietly determined. A few stops to lean on a wall or sit on a rock were necessary breaks.
Several times on the Via Dolorosa I wiped my wet eyes. Not overcome with emotion from this courageous walk by Jesus, but rather from the courage and optimism exhibited by Vern. Vern was married for 56 years. I refer to his marriage in the past tense because it was exactly one year ago today that his wife passed away.
There we were, slowly making our way to the Garden Tomb that may or may not be where Jesus’ body lay for those three days. All I know for certain is that wherever that tomb may be located, it is empty.
And I’m confident that the empty tomb is a sustaining source of joy for Vern today.
Hmm… One final thought:
I’ve been typing and adding daily to this pilgrimage document on my computer. At the end of each day’s entry I click on the icon to save the document before closing the lid on the laptop. When I save the document – or any document typed in Microsoft Word – it displays a little message for just a second or two that reads, “Word is saving…” and then it shows the name of the document.
Twelve or thirteen days ago when we embarked on this trip, I titled this document as “Israel.” Each night has concluded with a simple clicking on an icon that prompts the display on my screen: “Word is saving Israel.”
“In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” That’s what we read at the start of John’s gospel. So when I see on my computer screen, “Word is saving Israel” I agree with this little laptop, and after my two weeks here I pause to make that a prayer:
Word, save Israel.