It was just about a year ago that I walked the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem. Actually I was leading my group through the crowded streets of the Old City of Jerusalem because our guide had an emergency errand to run. It can be a bit unnerving shepherding so many people, often distracted by the many shops and photogenic opportunities.
And yet the Via Dolorosa is also a time to pause, reflect, and pray, as the many Stations of the Cross come along the way.
We ended our pilgrimage at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and we placed our hands on the Hill of Golgotha. It was a powerful day. Usually crammed with pilgrims, it was an unusually light day in the Sepulcher, and I was able to go the place where tradition holds that Jesus was crucified. An altar has been built over the Hill of Golgotha, and under the altar is a hole where one can reach down and literally touch the actual bedrock. It was a powerful moment for me. I felt connected to the Sacrificial Lamb in a whole new way, and I felt like I was at the base of the cross begging for forgiveness.
Today Christians remember the crucifixion of Jesus. It is a holy day beyond all holy days. The crucifixion itself does not take place within the context of our daily lectionary readings, but if you go to our Tenebrae service today at Noon, or any of the Good Friday liturgies you will hear Jesus speak from the cross. You will dwell at the base of the cross.
It is a dark day. One enshrouded in deep emotion and haunting mystery, for the people surrounding his death did not know the fullness of his resurrection, or didn’t believe it.
We encounter the burial of Jesus. Joseph of Arimathea is there, a disciple of Jesus, who fears the wrath of the Jews and goes to Pilate in secret to inquire of the burial of the body. Nicodemus is there too, the man of power in the House of Israel, who brings a mixture of myrrh and aloes, 100 Roman pounds, or about 75 English/American pounds. It is unclear what this represents, but is clearly to reduce the odor of decay, and it is extravagantly large in scale. Perhaps it represents the great honor they had for Christ. Or perhaps their inadequate faith in his resurrection.
The questions come. Where were the twelve disciples? Why are these odd previously-unknown characters helping? Where are the others, who knew and loved him? It wasn’t just Peter who denied him. They all seem to have lost faith.
This is the true darkness of this day. Not only is our savior dead, but we all seemed to play a role in it: the politicians, the Jews, the crowd, even his family and disciples, who stood by and did very little. In a sense, we all played a part in the destruction and rejection of the one who came to bring life.
But as we know, this is not the end of the story. This day is one like Ash Wednesday – a time to look inward and seek out the nooks and crannies of our hearts that need resurrection and healing. As Jesus hung from the cross he said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Let us look upon the cross today with mercy and humility, longing and courage, for the one who will rise from the tomb and free us from ourselves.