We began our journey on the day of our visit at 5:30 in the morning as we walked/prayed through the Via Dolorosa (the actual stations of the cross.) It was early dawn, before the markets were open. We were there during the Muslim holiday of Ramadan, so in old Jerusalem, we walked underneath lights strung for the holiday. The cobblestone streets were quiet and it was quite beautiful as we walked Jesus’ last steps. Here is the place where Jesus was scourged. Here is the place he fell under the weight of the cross. In the early morning hours as we prayed the stations of the cross, it was chilling to hear a cock crow.
As the sun rose, the streets came to life and we approached Golgotha. Throngs of people from all over the world are here at any time. As you walk through the doors of the church of the Holy Sepulcher the first thing you notice is the strong aroma of incense. The first thing you see is a stone, The Anointing Stone, where His body was laid and prepared for burial by Mary and the other women. There is a space in the floor where His cross once stood,an altar has been built over the spot. You can kneel and touch the mountain beneath the altar. And inside this church is His tomb.
We line up to have our turn kneeling at the spot where our Saviour died for our sins. In our little group, we stand respectfully back and give each other time. Soon other groups arrive and crowd in front of us, pushing to get ahead and kneel at the altar. It is my turn, Don and I go up together. We kneel and pray, and are interrupted by a priest yelling “Move on, you can’t take that long.” It seemed like only seconds.
It is time for Mass and we are to worship in the Holy Sepulcher. To the right of the altar where His cross stood, there are pews and an altar for Mass. As I wait to move into the space, a nun preparing the altar literally pushes me and says, “Make Way.” After I am out of her way, she apologizes. I move into the small space and there are not enough pews, so I am sitting on the floor. As we worship, the crowd gets louder and louder. It is difficult to hear Father, even though we are only 10-15 feet from him. Every once in a while, you hear the priest in the next room shout, “Move On.” The local clergy has placed ropes around our worship space, but some in the crowds break through anyway. I see Father breaking the hosts into small pieces to accommodate all.
As I sit in prayer after communion, it is anything but silent. It is striking to me that I have been to the Vatican and to many churches, some even on this trip, where they stress silence and reverence, as you are in a Holy place. At the Vatican, they had several folks who stood guard and constantly “shhhsd” the crowd. Yet here, in this most Holy spot, it is noise, chaos and confusion. All my senses are overwhelmed, I hear much noise in many languages, the clothing of all the people is so varied. I want to be frustrated, to yell “Be Quiet, Be Prayerful.” But I am here, called to this Holy place and I find myself not frustrated, but filled with gratitude. I am grateful that so many are here. That so many made the trip to find the place where our Saviour lived and died and rose for us. I am grateful to see Russians, Italians, French and others from all over our world gathered here. Grateful that the Lord came for our world!
As I continue to pray, I realize that it is fitting that here in this Holy Place, as we try to worship, as I try to be alone with my Lord, that I am surrounded by noise, chaos and confusion. After all, isn’t that the way of our world? There is so much noise, so much to distract us. It isn’t easy to enter into a one-on-one relationship with the Lord, you have to work at it. You have to be willing to find the silence in the crowded chaos of our world. I realize it is up to me to learn to listen to His voice, because the world will drown it out, even those well-intentioned souls seeking Him.
My prayer for you is that you find some silence and hear His voice.