Jerusalem is where it all culminated — where our Lord was put on trial, condemned, executed, buried, and, we believe, raised. (To God be the glory!) It happened here — but exactly what part of here is a little more complicated.
We visited the Garden Tomb after lunch. It is a quiet, meditative place full of flowers and biblical quotes embossed on stone markers. There is also a very old tomb here, uncovered by the British in the nineteenth century. And just beyond the fence, looming over a bus station, there is a hill that, if someone told you it looked like a skull, well, you would say it looks like a skull. Skull Hill — “Golgotha” in another language; “Calvary” in yet another. Whether it is the right place, it has the right look for many people. And it is quiet, and meditative. And British.
Later, we followed the Via Dolorosa to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher — or as Eastern Christians call it, the Church of the Resurrection. It is, for a number of reasons, the more likely site — or at least in the more likely area. But it is often neither quiet nor meditative. Three church groups have argued for centuries as to whose building it is, and still live edgily according to a contract drawn up by a Muslim government — the keys to the building are in the hands of two Muslim families because the Christians don’t trust one another. Each day, hoards of pilgrims and tourists crowd around points in the church associated with Jesus’ crucifixion, anointing and burial, waiting in jostling lines sometimes for hours to touch something holy.
Between the tombs, we went to the Western Wall — the so-called “Wailing Wall,” though the Jews for whom it is the most holy place do not prefer that name. This Wall, like so many walls, is a place of great yearning. Thousands come each day, 24 hours a day, to touch something holy — to pray, to place a hand on the Wall, to leave a written prayer in its cracks. I do not know, but I suspect that most of them are personal pleas. I saw this kind of yearning scrawled in pencil on the wood staves protecting ancient pillars in Bethlehem’s Church of Nativity during renovation — “Lord Jesus, protect my son…”. There was a single scrap of paper in the cracked, 1,500 year-old wall of synagogue ruins in Capernaum. I didn’t read it, but I wouldn’t have been surprised if it were a desperate prayer for a wayward child.
It was hard to find an available crevice, but I left a note of mine own at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. And even should my hopeful scrap simply wither and die in that fractured place, there is nonetheless, at this site or another, somewhere known to God, a emptied tomb to assuage my yearning and fulfill my every hope. (To God be the glory!)