A lot has happened in the last 24 hours. It’s an incredible thing to see things a second time after so many years. Many of the places we have visited are familiar. But even in the familiarity there are many new experiences and new ways of seeing the familiar. The Church of the Nativity is a very special place – you can sense thousands of years of pilgrims footsteps and prayers. As restorations continue, new elements peak from underneath years of smoke, grime and plaster.
There were also new experiences today. Seeing this mountain that Herod the Great had his engineers and slaves actually move was awe inspiring. From the top of this great man made mountain, you can see clear across southern Israel. You would have NO problem seeing what was coming from any direction – and that was part of Herod’s genius.
But I think 2 other moments were the incredible take-away’s of the day. The first came inside the High Priest Caiapahas’ house. This is the place Jesus was tried. It was where he was beaten. It was where he was imprisoned as he awaited Pilate, Antipas, and the cross. At one level of the structure is a place where prisoners were beaten – where Jesus may have been tied up, spat upon, punched and slapped. Below this level is a dried up cistern that would have been used as a prison or holding cell. Prisoners were lowered with ropes into a pit. Today there are stairs that will let you stand in this heavy space.
In that tight confined space, Bishop Fairley read words from the Psalms – “i have been cast down into a pit and I am alone.” The words were heavy. The space was heavy. The moment was a reminder of what the Savior endured long before the cross. His passion and destruction was complete – it was more than what I often focus on.
The other key element was dinner in the Palestinian area of Bethlehem with a Christian family. This is an area literally “walled-off” from the rest of Israel for the sake of safety. Understanding the conflict between Jew and Palestinian is no simple task. News agencies may like us to think that it’s simple, but they write for ratings and, in many cases, to keep a version rooted deeply in our hearts and minds. Eating dinner with this family was humbling. As we ate, other family members came in to say hello and we learned that their house was actually just a part of a larger structure built for the entire extended family. There was joy. There was hope (even when the father hadn’t worked in several days due simply to his address and a permit needed to leave Bethlehem). There was a sense of something deep and rooted in that house (it was a family redefined…at least from our western perspective).
As I sit here in my room reflecting, I find this heaviness both good -something i want to drink in slowly and fully – and something disturbing. It is disturbing because I find myself wanting more. Being in the pits is something most of us are familiar with and yet Jesus’ pit was very real – this family who opened up their home have learned to live within the pit. And I realize, in the pit is where God has done some great work in my life. It is in the pit where I have been fine tuned and the pressure has helped me be stronger.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not gonna start looking for a pit to jump into (physical or emotional). But I pray the next time I feel like I’m in one maybe I’ll remember the heaviness of this night, and I’ll whisper a prayer of remembrance and one of thanks.
Tomorrow onto the Temple Mount where I’ll be praying for you and then on to Jericho and the Dead Sea to test my buoyancy. Until then, shalom from Jerusalem!
Grace and Peace