Revisiting Israel - Day Seven - the Final Day
I have lots of pictures for this last day on my tour through Israel. It’s hard to see it end, as I’ve enjoyed the daily reminders of the trip. A part of me will always be in that land, as the land has been important to me since I came to faith in Christ. The difference is that before I was able to visit in pictures alone. Now I have memories to go with the pictures – memories that grow sweeter every time I read Scripture and see geography mentioned here and there. The Via Dolorosa is a thoroughfare with shops lining either side of the road. Chapels (shrines again) have been erected at designated stations where tradition says Christ stopped on the road to His death. One of the chapels was the spot where they say Simon of Cyrene was commissioned to carry Jesus’ cross.
Different denominations have built these small chapels and they don’t seem to like each other much. Our guide spoke with the man in charge of one of the stations who told our guide not to mention one of the other chapels. Apparently, it’s all right to talk about church number five but not church number four – or perhaps church number three but not church number seven. I can’t remember which was which, but the whole thing seems a bit sad. If these people all claim the name of Christ, there should be no such disunity. But whether they truly know Jesus or just know His name only God knows.
The Via Dolorosa is the traditional route Jesus took to the cross, but a few days earlier our guide showed us a wider street that may have been the actual road he took. It is much wider and more likely to have been a main thoroughfare or marketplace where more people would have seen the condemned men. The Romans would have wanted to make as big a spectacle of the event as possible so would have taken him down the most populated road.
Either way, merchants would have lined the road and people would have watched Jesus as He stumbled toward the cross. The same people who hailed Him the week before as the Son of David and wanted to crown Him king, now shouted “Crucify Him” and turned the other way as His blood spilled for them.
Of all the shrines in Israel, The Church of the Holy Sepulcher could be said to be the most diverse. It’s a huge, ornate church and home to five denominations – Armenian, Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Coptic, and I think Russian Orthodox.
Each denomination has a specific area of the church and no one apparently knows how big it is because they don’t cross over into each others' area. Our guide said these denominations also do not get along – a sad commentary on what the church stands for.
The church is very dark inside. The picture with the people kneeling over a stone is supposedly the stone where Christ’s body was prepared for burial.
The framed glass-enclosed rock is supposed to be the spot where the cross stood. There is a split in the rock, possibly where it split when the earth quaked after Christ’s death. It was hard to see let alone get a picture. Beneath the church is supposed to be catacombs or tombs where some think the real tomb where Christ was laid still stands. But we weren’t allowed underground in that area. Funny, we could traipse through tunnels to talk about water systems but when we got to the place we would have most liked to see, the empty tomb, we weren’t allowed down there.
I was disappointed with such policies and found this shrine more depressing than inspiring. It was impossible to see things as they truly might have been for all the trappings men and women put over them. I loved everything about our trip to this land and Jerusalem is a city that will always hold a special place in my heart, but this church made me sad.
On the other hand, the other Garden Tomb – the one the tourists are allowed to see – does look like the tomb as we imagined it would be. It is similar to other man made tombs in Israel and the visit was a more uplifting experience.
The site of the Garden Tomb appears to be run by Christians, and our guide there (not our normal guide) spoke of Jesus as if he knew Him. We all took a turn going inside to look at the empty tomb, then moved to an area in the garden where we took communion with our entire group. There are several places in the garden for the different tour groups to split up and hold their own individual communion services. It was fairly crowded the day we were there, but not nearly as crowded as I heard it was a few weeks later on Easter.
Still, it was a wonderful experience and a fitting end to our tour of Israel. We left the garden and went back to the hotel to pack, have dinner, and take the bus back to the airport. Our time in Israel had come to an end. (Even now three years later that seems sad to say.)
But the wonderful thing about this Holy Land is that it is far more than a piece of property in the Middle East. It holds both history and future glory. One day I will visit again and maybe even live there for a time. Maybe in this life. Maybe in the life to come. Someday Jesus will walk the streets of Jerusalem again, no longer the meek and bleeding Savior but the strong, conquering King of kings. I look forward to that day with great joy! Even so, come Adonai Yeshua. ‘sar-salom – Prince of Peace!