Via Dolorosa

Literally “the way of the sorrows”, this is undoubtedly the most famous street name in the Old City.  While portions of the path could be easily debated for historical accuracy or validity, it cannot be denied that this route of walking and meditation has been profound to Christian pilgrims for way over thirteen hundred years.

The true pilgrim would slowly and thoughtfully proceed along the way, stopping at each station, some very briefly and others for lengthy periods.  All sorts of devotional materials exist to lead one through the Stations of the Cross, the cheapest of which is a booklet that any guy on the street will sell you for $1.00.

Our walk was not that of the pilgrims. It was that of the time-pressed, we-can’t-dare-miss-our-bus tourists.  Hannah, our guide, simply said that she would inform and educate us on the move.  If we desired a more reflective experience, we would now know what we needed to know to schedule such a time ourselves.  Sounded fair to us.

At the second station, we sat and sang our devotional group prayer in the Chapel of Flagellation, which one student pointed out is not likely a name to be used by any church plant groups any time soon.

The sixth station has always intrigued me.  It marks the spot where Veronica is believed to have wiped Jesus’ face with a cloth.  You know… Veronica.  Check your Bible.  Check it twice.  Turn it upside-down and squint your eyes to read between the lines.  See her?  She’s there… beside Archie and Reggie and Jughead.

Or more likely, she’s from the realm of church tradition.  But here’s where the tradition gets noteworthy.  It’s said that a ruling emperor, suffering from leprosy, sent a servant to find Jesus.  But the servant arrived in Jerusalem very shortly after Jesus’ death.  Instead, Veronica’s cloth, which had touched Jesus, was sent.  The story goes that the emperor was healed, along with many others who came into contact with the cloth.  What’s more, Veronica’s name is debated as authentic or symbolic, based on it as a merging of a Latin word with a Hebrew word, literally meaning “true image”—she was the one on whose cloth “the true image” of Jesus transferred itself and its healing power.

Weird story?  Unbelievable?  Historical?  I don’t know what to tell you.  But Charles loves to leave things like that hanging, and right when he sees the doubt in our eyes, he says, “Hey, it’s our own Bible that talks about shadows and handkerchiefs.”  And by that he means, “Go look up Acts 5:15 and Acts 19:11-12.”

And when you know what to do with those, give me a call!

Stations eight and nine took us past what are now a Coptic Church (from Egypt) and an Ethiopian Church, where Hannah and Charles both shared some fascinating stories about Christian and Muslim relations in those two nations.  Both are tense, and in need of prayers.

The remaining five stations are in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, considered by many to be “Christianity’s most holy site”.  For a conservative Protestant from the prairies, it can seem about as alien as anything you’ve ever seen.  However, if you peel away those layers, you get intrigued by the fact that this is the likely venue for the crucifixion and burial of Jesus.  If not here, close.  And if you can calm your soul and block out the gaudy gold and the unusual icons and the relic-kissing pilgrims, then you CAN enter a mind-blowing moment: The greatest display of love in all of history happened here.  And it was meant to impact the lives of everyone who ever lived, including myself.  And that is worth a pause.

And I got my pause.  But only after the tour ended and we were “on our own time”.

We also got to see one “hidden feature” of the church.  Beneath the floor, in a tucked away corner, behind a locked door, Charles had a dream.  He had heard twenty years ago of a “piece of graffiti” carved in an old chapel underneath the church.  Between his and Hannah’s influence, we were granted a key for that locked door.  With flashlights, we found it.

It was simple image of a boat with an inscription beneath that apparently translates into “Thank God, we made it.”  This piece is thought to date to around 400 AD and to be the work of early pilgrims who made the very dangerous journey to the Holy Land, driven by a desire to taste and touch this place.  Upon arrival, they gave thanks.  And so did Charles—just SEEING this thing was a dream for him, and few kids on Christmas morning could find more satisfaction in their gifts than he did in that underground cavern!

And that ended the tour.  Some went home.  Some wandered the Old City.  I relived good memories in a favourite restaurant from our last visit here and simply further enjoyed the alleys and atmosphere of Old City Jerusalem.

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