Our feet are within the bounds of Jerusalem.
The trip was long and had a glitch on the front end. But all in all, it was not inordinately arduous – just long. Flying into Tel Aviv, my first impression was that it is green, very green. Immigration, customs, and security at the airport were all low key. I had expected more suspicion and firepower.
We took a cab from the airport to Jerusalem. The taxi driver was Iraqi. Felt like home. He asked where we were from. I said, “Las Vegas” and he turned around to look, impressed. That is always fun in international travel. They’ve all heard of us.
He drove us though the outskirts of Tel Aviv, which looks to be a modern high tech city. We hear the cool young Israelis live here. At first, I thought they sure have a lot of cell phone towers here. Then I realized these really are palm trees.[i]
On through the countryside. Green, verdant, in active agricultural production. We drove into the moonrise, a full moon over green hills. As we came through a canyon we saw the lights of a city on a hill. Isaiah 2.2. It is a small city on a substantial hill, but you certainly get the point. The lights are not our bright colored lights. They are simple white lights shining out over the darkened lowlands. Matthew 5:15-16 is about letting the light of good works, the witness for justice, shine into a darkened world. Seeing Jerusalem across the valley called that text to mind.
Once we were in the city, the fireworks started. They continued into the night until we fell asleep. It is Purim. We were warmly greeted at the College by Honey, the minister of hospitality, a deacon who hails from New Orleans by way of Hawaii. She fed us left overs from a party earlier today, plied us with wine, and packed us off to our rooms – where we fell into bed and slept the night away.
Our first day began with Eucharist in a small holy dimly lit chapel of St. George’s Cathedral. There were seven in the congregation. I was the lector, and also coached the deacon on how to pronounce phylacteries. Bishop Dawani was there so we met him as well. It was a quiet, sacred Eucharist – my ideal way to worship these days. I already look forward to doing it again tomorrow.
After breakfast, we went to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. It leaves me confused. The overarching feeling is one of holy space. It has a numinous feel like John the Divine in New York only more complex and convoluted in an Orthodox sort of way. But there is the unseemly division of turf with various Christian sects “controlling” this part for a certain time and others controlling other parts for other times. The small-mindedness of trying to control and ration grace is in striking contrast to the feel of mystery in the building itself. But that is precisely what I am here to get a perspective on – the beauty of our faith and its troublesome off-putting shadow.
We stood in line to enter the structure that houses the putative burial place itself. There is something psychologically compelling about going into and out of a place so small. On the one hand, the notion that this is actually the place of the burial is so unlikely that I felt gullible and superstitious to go there at all. (I hope to go to the Garden Tomb – some distance away – which has a better claim to authenticity – but still a highly speculative one). On the other hand, I told myself that this place was rendered holy by the prayers of millions of people who had honored this as the tomb of Christ for hundreds of years. Facts matter less than prayers when it comes to bestowing sacrality.
But I was confused by the prayers too. People were weeping on the way into the tomb – and more were weeping on the way out. I am not even remotely critical of their emotions. But I do wonder what it was about. If they were weeping at the site of the crucifixion, I would have gotten that clearly – but this site commemorates the resurrection. I have known a lot of folks whose religion is so centered on Good Friday that they never make it to Easter. I wondered what was on their hearts and what hope they held for joy.
On the way back to St. George’s, we stopped at a souvenir shop. The owner said to me, “You are a bishop?” (I was not in clericals. I was in fact fairly unkempt.) “Yes, I said, but how did you know.” “I see it in your eyes,” he said. Hmmmm. I must give some thought to that one.