Friday, April 13, 2012

Good Friday Indeed...

Stress. I felt a lot of stress.

The plan for the day had been laid out and I was supposed to be responsible for 5 college students as they walked around a city I don't know on one of the busiest days of the year.

We got on the number 24 bus just outside of the Bethlehem checkpoint.

I just needed to pray and clear my head. 

When we arrived at Jaffa Gate, I collected our team and smiled - it was gonna be fine. We were gonna enjoy every bit of today, no matter where we ended up and how long it took us to get there.

So, I took a big breath and walked through the threshold of Earth's holiest city: Jerusalem.

We headed East. 

I had no idea that the old city is basically just a giant bazaar, but found out quickly as the small shops continued to go on for the entire street until I stumbled almost headlong into the sign that said Western Wall.

We walked down the steps and I reveled at the place. What majesty was here. It is an incredible testament to the buildings that once laid on this foundation.

You see, today was particularly special, as it is the last day of Passover. There was a large group of orthodox Jews gathered in front of the last remaining piece of Soloman's great temple. 

I found myself in the middle of said crowd who were all reading, bobbing, shaking hands, smiling, praying, and worshiping. 

There is a sort of sublime surrealism to the place.

It's humbling to say the least. 

Western Wall below and Dome of the Rock above.
After trying to process just where I was, we turned and headed North.

Our plan was to park somewhere along the Via Dolorosa and people watch. This didn't really happen.
A Russian pilgrim prays against his cross...

We found our way to the Via, but it was blocked off by Israeli Defense Force officers. So, we tried another road. Fortunately, this one was open. However, it was a tiny little alleyway absolutely swarming with people, crosses, incense, and singing.

You see, today was particularly special, as it is Orthodox Good Friday. There was a large group of Orthodox Christians processing down the road over which Jesus' carried his cross.

We were planning on just watching, but got sucked into the stream of people and before we knew it were lead directly into the church of the Holy Sepluchre.

I can honestly say I have never experienced anything like this before. It was a flash-bang grenade of sights, songs, scents, and spirits.

The church is so beautiful - and so complex and fought over - it hurts.

I need to go back so that I can actually experience the place.

The Dome of the Church of the Holy Sepluchre.
Then we headed out of the city as we were going to go to the Mount of Olives.

We didn't quite make it the way we had planned.

We happened to be leaving the city right at the wrong time.

We tried to make it through the Lion's Gate at the same time as hundreds of Muslims who had just finished praying.

You see, today was particularly special, it's Friday, the Islamic holy day, and Muslims use this day to go pray at the Al-Aqsa mosque atop the Temple Mount.

We were pressed up against a crowd of men, prayer rugs in hand, all leaving the Old City to return to their families.

What should have taken us a minute took a half hour as the crowd bottle-necked out of the city.

But frankly, I didn't mind.

I was in awe of it all.

What a day.

I later realized that in the span of one day, I was completely surrounded at three different times by Jews, Christians, and Muslims in the middle of their pilgrimages.

Now that puts this city in perspective.

Welcome to Jerusalem.

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