Friday, April 3, 2015

The Way of the Cross: Jerusalem at Easter

The entrance to the Garden Tomb in Jerusalem  (Taylor)

JERUSALEM -- Jerusalem is a city where three great religions converge.  It has witnessed more than its share of conflict and, if history is any indicator, it will continue to do so. It is a place where the layers of time continue to add to its mystery, perhaps forever creating more questions than answers
Ancient step on the Via Dolorosa  (Taylor)
For travelers to the Holy Land, these constantly changing layers of history make Jerusalem a challenging destination to absorb.  A good example occurs at Via Dolorosa, Latin for the “Way of Grief” or the “Way of Suffering,” which is the path Jesus took while carrying the cross to his crucifixion.  Today, a labyrinth of narrow passageways between a myriad of shops and stalls lines the route from the Lion’s Gate to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

Each year thousands of pilgrims walk the route, a distance of just under a half a mile, as the where fourteen stations mark the way, representing important events that occurred during Christ’s excruciating ordeal. 
Station Number Three on Via Dolorosa  (Taylor)

Over centuries, the route of the Via Dolorosa has changed many times, making it virtually impossible to do the walk as Jesus did it.  In Christ’s day, the path was relatively straight from beginning to end. 

The historic stations do provide specific locations to aid travelers in comprehending the dramatic events of the day.  Among the most popular are stations one, two, three, four, seven and nine. 

Numbers one and two are said to mark Jesus’ encounters with Pontius Pilate.  Stations three, seven and nine signify locations where Christ is said to have fallen during his trek. but there is no evidence that Christ literally dropped to the ground in the true sense of falling down.
Station Two on Via Dolorosa said to be where Christ encountered Pilate the second time  (Taylor)
The fourth station claims to be the site where Jesus encountered his mother though there is no mention of any such meeting in the New Testament.

One of Jesus’ favorite places was a mountain ridge just beyond the walls of the Old City called the Mount of Olives.  It was so named because of the olive groves that once covered its slopes. On Palm Sunday, Jesus traveled across and down the mount riding a donkey to enter Jerusalem.
The Dome of the Rock inside the walls of Jerusalem as seen from the Mount of Olives  (Taylor)
The golden light that pervades the city, especially in early morning or late afternoon, is awe inspiring.  From the crest of the mount, the Old City exudes an aura that feels much as it was two millennia ago.

Lion's Gate where Christ entered Jerusalem  (Taylor)
Also visible from the Mount of Olives is Lion’s Gate which is situated just a short distance away.  The gate marks the entrance Christ used for the last walk from prison to his crucifixion. Today, the walls of the Old City still surround the dusky desert hues of a place that altered the course of history for all mankind.

The Garden of Gethsemane is not large, but here the olive trees with their ancient, gnarly appearance, create a sensation that they could have actually been there during those historic events. It was at there that Judas betrayed Christ, arriving with soldiers, high priests and Pharisees to arrest him.
Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus was arrested  (Taylor)

One of the most intriguing sites in Jerusalem is called the Garden Tomb. The traditional location of Christ’s crucifixion, burial and resurrection is situated at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, but during the 19th century some doubts were raised about its authenticity.

Many believe the site was a garden and sepulcher belonging to Joseph of Arimathea.

While on sabbatical in 1893, General Charles Gordon, an important member of British society, became curious about the name of a rock cliff in the garden known as “Skull Hill.”
Skull Hill, Jerusalem:  Golgotha in Aramaic means "the place of the skull"  (Taylor)
Whether a person calls the crucifixion site Golgotha (Aramaic) or Calvary (Latin), both terms mean “the place of the skull” when translated and the appropriately named cliff resembles a skull when viewed from several angles.

Slim evidence yes, but Garden Tomb officials make no claims that their site is the indisputable place where Jesus was interred. What they will state however, is there are several features about the area that coincide with biblical accounts of the crucifixion. 
The Garden Tomb in 1906  (Wikipedia)

The Bible says Golgotha was located outside the city walls of Jerusalem along a busy thoroughfare near a gate of the city at a place of execution with a garden nearby, and the site was shaped like a skull.

The tomb itself was located in a garden belonging to a rich man; Joseph of Arimathea was wealthy. It was hewn out of rock, entered through a low doorway with a burial chamber located to the right of the entrance and sealed by a rolling stone.

All of these elements are found at the Garden Tomb.

In the “Gospel According to John” in the King James Version of the Bible, John specifically states that Jesus’ tomb was located in a garden.

The Garden Tomb which some believe is the actual site of the resurrection  (Taylor)
Many authorities have opposing views about the authenticity of the Garden Tomb as the true site of the crucifixion and resurrection. Despite those beliefs, the Garden Tomb has become a popular pilgrimage site, especially for Protestants. For travelers, regardless of whether the Garden Tomb or the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is the actual spot where Jesus died and was resurrected is a matter of personal conviction.

But as one Catholic priest put it, “If the Garden Tomb is not the right place, then it should be.”
Crowded, narrow merchant streets of the Via Dolorosa as they appear today in Jerusalem  (Taylor)
Walking in places so familiar to people of faith from around the globe is spiritually powerful, and Jerusalem is a place where visitors relive events that changed the world more than two thousand years ago.