"Today we visit the place of Christ's death, burial, resurrection and then later the Garden of Gethsemane." Yishai, our tour guide made my heart sink. I would encounter these holy sites for the first time in 'tour mode' spending fragmented periods at each. I wanted each to be special and meet my expectations, not a 15 minute hop off and on the bus again. But perhaps this was gift I told myself. Left to my own planning I would be wracked with indecision about where to go, when and for how long. At least someone else was making those choices.
So we jumped in, the first stop of the day was a vantage point from which you could see the whole city, I rather self consciously said some prayers. I wanted to pray at each site, and yet I didn't know the other tour participants well, so the prospect of spending a day moving through sacred spaces exploring my faith alongside strangers was daunting. I think I withdrew inside myself in order to make the day work. My prayer was halting, but it happened, I used some of the Psalms of Ascent as a framework, they helped.
We moved quickly through the sites, and as we did I realized that I was more familiar with the movement than I thought. It was like the stations of the cross that I have known and loved for years. I was visiting these places for the first time, but I had been here before, in my imagination, and I had already spent plenty of time at each.
Did it really happen here?
There is some debate about the death and resurrection of Jesus took place. We were visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the traditional site of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus for 6 streams of Christianity. It is not certain that this is the site. Our guide invited us to suspend the need for a precise explanation and instead ask what these sites means to the millions of pilgrims that have visited here.
Walking down the stone streets of Jerusalem on the way to the church Yishai asked if I was Roman Catholic. We talked about my faith journey for a bit. We were about to arrive at the church of the Holy Sepulcher, he suggested that I take time to go to the Garden Tomb if I could. He seemed to read my reticence and recognized that I was looking for some silence and solitude. We would have no time to visit this alternate site on our tour, but I had booked to be in Jerusalem for 5 days after the official tour finished. More on the reasons for that in another blog entry, but for now, I realized that I would have time to revisit these sites later, and to visit other sites, such as the Garden Tomb. Remembering this helped me see my first day as an 'orientation' rather than a pilgrimage in itself.
By the end of they day I would tell some of the other group participants that I was experiencing spiritual indigestion from having seen so many holy places in such a short time. There was no time to process what I was experiencing at each one. I was to discover that this would be a theme for the whole trip.
From the UK, Matthew loved US culture from the first time he picked up a Fantastic Four Comic when he was 12.