A tour group made up mostly of Baptists (along with three Catholic friends) wouldn't normally pray the Stations of the Cross on the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem, but the study tour group from Campbell University Divinity School tried our best on Thursday, May 23.
We began the day with an opportunity for prayer at the Western Wall, where several bar mitzvahs were taking place, and a climb (after a 45-minute wait in the security line) to the Temple Mount for a closer look at the Dome of the Rock and the general environs that once were home to the temple of Solomon (destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC) and the Second Temple, which Herod the Great transformed into a wonder of the ancient world before the Romans leveled it in 70 AD. The Dome of the Rock was built several hundred years later, and has stood now, in various configurations, for the past 1300 years.
St. Anne's church is always a welcome break from much walking, and an amazing place for singing and listening to others sing. The respite wasn't long, though, before we began the Via Dolorosa, where the only relatively quiet spot was the Lithostratos, a first century floor and street thought to have been part of the Antonia fortress that Herod built on a corner of the Temple Mount -- and possibly the place at which Jesus was held by the Roman soldiers and flogged before beginning his hard walk to Calvary.
Praying the Stations of the Cross in Jerusalem isn't easy, for most of the stations are located on narrow and crowded streets or alleyways through the Old City, and Cameron Jorgenson, who led the service, often had to shout over passersby and construction equipment. The last five stations are located inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which was way too crowded and noisy for any sort of reverent service, but Dr. Jorgenson gave it a valiant effort.
After a lunch of falafel pitas, some of us enjoyed brief jaunts into the Arabic market before a long walk back to the bus for a drive south to Kiriath Arba, a Jewish settlement across from the town of Hebron, in the West Bank. There we saw a Herodian building constructed over the traditional site of the Cave of Macpelah, and visited a synagogue containing symbolic tombs for Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, and Jacob and Leah.
Though physically and emotionally tired, we ended the day at the Yad VeShem, Israel's Holocaust Museum, where the Children's Memorial had a strong impact on many of us, and the museum itself offered both education and a very visceral experience.
With each day, we find ourselves worn to a nub, but intensely grateful to be in this special place that we call holy.
Blogs from other members of the group can be found at these links:
David Stratton: davidsdeliberations.blogspot.com
Josh Owens: joshuakowens.blogspot.com
Susan Sevier: sevierlybaptist.com