Pastor Paul's reflections on the day:
I was up early today to visit the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, and to leave a cross at the tomb for a friend. The Franciscans were just beginning Mass inside of the Sepulcher, with seating in front. I joined in with the 50 or so gathered at 6 a.m. (could have been earlier). The Syrian Orthodox Church was beginning their service at the same time, with two cantors exchanging 'calls' in Arabic at the same time as the Franciscan Monks were giving the responses in Latin. Talk about a lot going on! All the while the services were unfolding, pilgrims were qeueing, and following Mass, I found myself on the wrong side of the tomb! Oh well, I was about 150 people away from the front, and got to see first-hand the Syrian Orthodox procession with incense - I was fully blessed! (cough, cough) We all had to move 2 feet away from the wall of the tomb for the procession to pass. A man came among us yelling, "Two feet, two feet!" and motioning us to move, gesticulating with his arms and hands. Move we did.
There is a low entrance to the tomb, and the words of our guide at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem came back to me, "the entrance is low, so you must enter in humility." What was true for the beginning of Jesus' life is also true at the end, the model of humility - one must stoop to enter if one wants to draw near. May I remember those words and those entrances to Holy Places. There is a Greek Orthodox Priest who serves as the 'bouncer' at the tomb entrance, allowing just so many in at a time. There is an ante-room and then the tomb itself. I sensed the the three people in with me were a bit surprised that there was nothing there except a slab of stone. HALLELUJAH! I placed my friend's olive wood cross there, said a prayer and exited. I walked through the early morning streets of the Old City, with people preparing for the day ahead of selling their wares. Back to the Notre Dame de Jerusalem Hostel and breakfast. I sat alone to begin with, letting the images of the early morning percolate. Most of our group went off to Christ Church Episcopal at Jaffa Gate for 9:30 Eucharist. We were there in good time and by the opening hymn there wasn't a seat to be had. So thankful to be able to worship in peace, and to return to the place where I worshipped for the 10 months I studied just a kilometer away in 1983/4. Looking back, that was my entree to Anglican worship. Christ Church's ministry to the Jewish people began in 1849 by a Jewish convert to Christianity who became the first Anglican Bishop in the Holy Land, and Christ Church Jaffa Gate has been a model for others to invest in Jerusalem and serve its people. Praise God! The Guest House and cafe with its dappled courtyard is a nice place to be.
We also walked the ramparts (walls) of the Old City. From Psalm 48:12-14:
Walk about Zion, go around her count her towers, consider will her ramparts, view her citadels, that you may tell of them to the next generation. For this God is our God for ever and ever.
We walked the southern ramparts in a late afternoon with the sun casting long shadows. It was a beautiful end to our day and brought me back to when I walked the walls when I was here 34 years ago - something I enjoyed to do 'erev shabbat' (just before Sabbath was called). So today we walked the northern section from Jaffa Gate to Damascus Gate. It is a view into neighbourhoods from above; schools, back patios, clothes lines, monasteries, shops, poeple having a smoke and a coffee... a slice of life in the Muslim and Christian Quarters of the Old City.
From Mike Mason's book, 'Jesus: His History in Stone' the following is written about the ramparts: "These verses [from Psalm 48 - quoted above] exhort us to take a good look at the walls of Jerusalem and realize how secure they are. Yes, they've been breached and broken and rebuilt countless times, and the city ravaged. Materially speaking, this is true. But considered another way, these walls have wonderfully protected their people. Certainly the Jews have been ravaged in myriad ways over centuries yet the miracle is that they are still here. No other people group has survived the loss of their homeland for more than three hundred years. Where are the Assryians? Where are the Chaldeans? Where are the Philisintes? All have been assimilated into other nations. But not the Jews. Their identity has persisted through war, exile, pogrom, holocaust, and relentless hostility from hordes of enemies. Twice they have lost their homeland utterly, only to return and rebuild. This is a story unequaled among all the other nations and peoples of the world. Jerusalem's walls have indeed stood secure, and will continue ot stand, for biblical prophecy asserts that this nation will endure until the very end." (Page 67)
This is a very rich place and this has been (still is) a very rich experience. I am so thankful to be here and to share it with Joanne.
Shalom / Salaam aliakum, Pastor Paul
p.s. You remember the cross that I left in Jesus' Sepulcher for a friend? Later in the day the friend asked me if I had been to the Sepulcher, and I happily reported, 'yes!' Then the 'oops' came - I found out I had misunderstood and that the friend wanted the cross back to give away!