Saturday, June 13, 2015
Day 5 afternoon: Mary's birthplace, Via Dolorosa
After lunch we visited the basilica of Mary, Jesus’s mother. The sanctuary had amazing acoustics. One member of our team defended St. Bart’s acoustics, but after listening to a solo chanted version of Psalm 23 in Mary’s Basilica, remarked “Ok, I hear now--that was amazing acoustics.” As we took time to pray, another group entered and began to sing in Latin. It was a powerful experience for me as I was swept up in beauty of God’s angels’ songs of praise. God was clearly preparing us for what was to come next.
Many of us have participated in the Stations of the Cross, a physical prayer on the move to recall the final steps Jesus walked. In some parishes, the Stations of the Cross is a weekly event. In others, they are reserved for Holy Week, especially Good Friday. Stations of the Cross in Jerusalem does not claim to walk the actual route Jesus walked – that was made impossible by the temples’ destructions, reconstructions and additional constructions over the centuries.
The Via Dolorosa is the practice of venerating the mystery of Christ’s life in places sanctified by prayers of the faithful over the years, decades and yes, centuries.
It was remarkable to stand in close proximity to where Jesus was condemned to death, flogged and then handed the cross to carry. As we walked the Via Dolorosa route, we found ourselves eyed by countless Muslim street vendors in the narrow corridors. We stepped off the streets, through what seemed random doorways, into little chapels for several of the stations. We were not carrying a cross as other groups were. In fact, we used the simple script found in the Episcopal Book of Occasional Services.
It was the end that took me for spiritual ride. We knelt to touch the hole where the cross had been placed – and literally sat at the base of the cross where Jesus died. The spot is under a short altar –the bedrock The Church of the Holy Sepulcher was built around. After more prayers and movement, we ended at the tomb of Jesus Christ. Before we entered, a group of Franciscan Monks came through, chanting a sung version of the Stations of the Cross and stepping in front of us to venerate. While we waited, I was swept up in the moment of chanting, the crowds of the faithful and my own need to be on this pilgrimage.
When it was our turn, a Greek Orthodox Monk let us in, four at a time. The first chamber is very small and we moved from there, almost crawling on or knees, into a smaller chamber. I found myself on my knees, weeping and overcome with peace. The Greek Monk was whistling at us to get out within minutes.
Without anticipating it, I had experienced all the emotions of Holy Week, all the emotions and more, in less than three hours.