Friday, April 3, 2015

Week 10: Holy Week in the Holy Land

As a Throwback Thursday/Flashback Friday of sorts, I have decided to complete a blog post about my Holy Week in the Holy Land while I studied abroad in Jerusalem in the spring of 2013. Everything until Wednesday was written in 2013. I will try to finish up the week using my memory and pictures from that time.

As I was apparently sorry for the delay in 2013, I still apologize for being absent for a while. I promise a lot has been happening, and I will try to write an update on my year in the Philippines soon!

Spring 2013:

Sorry it has taken me such an obnoxiously long time to finish this post. I started it during Pesach Break (so approximately the first week of April).

I last left you at the end of my Yam le Yam (Sea to Sea) hiking trip that ended on Palm Sunday. Unfortunately, I was not able to attend a Palm Sunday service, but I was able to fully experience the rest of Holy Week where it all went down over 2,000 years ago.

Monday was the first day of Pesach (Passover). Through the Office of Student Activities at Hebrew U, I was able to find a family in Jerusalem that wanted to host students for a Seder meal. Jeremy and Carmi are a wonderful young couple living right outside of the Kfar. Jeremy is English, and Carmi is South African. Carmi's parents also live in Jerusalem, and her dad, Sali, helped to lead our Seder. Jeremy also invited his Christian friends, Andre and Marie, who are in the tour guide business together. We ended up having a full table with my roommate Sarah, friends Evan and Amanda, Carmi's parents, Marie and Andre, Jeremy and Carmi, and myself.

I have done three Seder meals before. Two were through Hillel at W&L, and one was with OAPC. I have never had a Seder with an actual family before, nor have I ever had a Seder in Jerusalem. I was interested by the amount of discussion and dialogue that occurred throughout the Seder. Sali would always pause and explain to the non-Jews, who made up half the table, the significance and background to whatever it was that we were doing. Most of it was in English, but the songs were mainly in Hebrew.

Sali began the Seder by explaining the purpose of Passover and the Seder meal. Each year, Jews around the world remember and live out the Hebrew exodus from Egypt (Mitzrayim, מצר'ם). Sali explained to us that Mitzrayim and Jerusalem (from "Next year in Jerusalem!" that is at the end of the Seder) were metaphors for a state of mind, in addition to geographic locations. The foundation of the Jewish faith lies on constant questioning and examination, both internally and institutionally. That was a new idea to me, but I'm surprised I didn't come to the same conclusion earlier. Passover is a time to examine yourself and to bring yourself out of Mitzrayim and into a healthier, more improved Jerusalem state. It is something that you must do each year. I definitely agree with the idea of self-examination and self-improvement each year so that you don't find yourself stuck in a rut, simply going through the motions rather than fully living life.

When we got to the part of the Haggadah about the four sons (wise, evil, simple, and one who doesn't know how to ask), Jeremy showed us different artistic portrayals of the four sons from different places at different points in history. In each depiction, the one who doesn't know how to ask is the most Orthodox or whose life revolves around studying and learning. It was interesting to see that throughout history and around the world, mainstream Judaism sees the Ultra-Orthodox as doing something wrong. However, the Ultra-Orthodox see themselves as living out the Torah and all other teachings better than any other group of Jews.

We also learned why the meal is called a Seder (סדר) and along with that, the origin of one of the most common phrases in Hebrew, beseder (בסדר). Seder means order, so throughout the Seder meal, family's go through the order of the Haggadah. Beseder means alright or ok. Literally, it means in order. So when someone asks how you are and you answer with beseder, you are really saying that everything is in order.

Our Seder lasted a total of five hours. It may have been the longest dinner I've ever had, but it was worth every second. I really enjoyed having the opportunity to experience Southern hospitality from an English and South African couple in Jerusalem.

Tuesday, I went to the Old City with my friends Austin and Evan. The goal of this outing was to go to the Temple Mount to see the Dome of the Rock because I hadn't yet been after living here for two months. When we got there, we had some time to kill before the Temple Mount was open to tourists.

We wandered around for a while and found ourselves at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. We wandered into the Coptic Monastery and Church, which is located on the roof of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Past one of the Coptic chapels is a small hallway leading downstairs to what is called Queen Helena's Cistern. It is a cistern under the church that has the most amazing acoustics. Tourists spend 5 shekels to see it. Most sing their favorite hymns and enjoy the natural acoustics. The cistern is advertised as a natural development that Queen Helena discovered when she was searching for the true place of Jesus' Death and Resurrection. However, my archaeology teacher later told me that this cistern was one of many in the city that Herod the Great (king during Jesus' birth, yup, the one that wanted to kill baby Jesus) dug in order to provide more water to the growing city. It's really funny how historical facts/probable facts seem to get twisted in this lovely Holy City.

Stairs leading to Queen Helena's Cistern

After we left the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, our little outing became a mission to see all three of the major religious sites in the Old City in one day. We ventured to the Kotel on our way to the Temple Mount. While we were there, I noticed that the wall that separates the women's side from the men's had moved. The permanent looking fence was taken down in sections, and a plastic covered fence was a few feet away, giving more space to the women's side. I still don't know if anything is changing in terms of giving more equal religious rights at the Kotel.

The brown fence is the normal fence. The white fence is new, which increases the size of the women's side of the Kotel.

The Temple Mount and the Dome of the Rock were absolutely beautiful. Only Muslims are allowed in the two mosques so we were only able to admire the beauty of the exterior. Many women and children were waiting outside of the Dome of the Rock. Children were playing with balls on the open area of the Temple Mount. I thought about bringing my homework and studying in the sun sometime, but then I remembered that tourists are only allowed in the Temple Mount at very specific times and only for a short amount of time.

The Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount (the third most important Muslim Holy Site)

On Wednesday, Evan and I wandered to the Mount of Olives, which is actually just a second peak beside Har Hatsofim (Mount Scopus), where we live and go to school. Our wanderings took us to Augusta Victoria, the Lutheran hospital, which is a part of the Church of the Ascension. We wandered to an outdoor chapel that is similar to what I have experienced at both Bethelwoods and Camp Shawnee, except this one looks over the West Bank. Mount of Olives is like Church Central in Jerusalem. Just about any Orthodox denomination you could ever want has a church somewhere on the Mount. Unfortunately, many of the churches have very specific visiting hours (like Tuesday and Thursday 12-2, only). Despite that fact, we were still able to visit the Church of All Nations, (written 4/3/15) which houses the Rock of Agony, where Jesus supposedly prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane before Judas betrayed him and handed him over to the Pharisees.

The Rock of Agony inside the Church of All Nations

Just outside of the Church of All Nations is a shrine dedicated to Mary, which is marked as the place where Jesus began his Passion and sweated blood. We continued out and took a walk through the Jewish cemetery in the Kidron Valley right outside the walls of the Old City. The hills are simply covered with tombs. From what I know, you have to be pretty important or wealthy to get buried near the Mount of Olives. The grandfather of one of my roommates is buried there because of his service to the Israeli Army. Along the trail through the tombs are a few archaeological sites of interest that we visited with my Archaeology in Jerusalem class. The monuments were built to be family burial sites. Now, there are gates preventing visitors from entering the tombs...but if it's unlocked, who's to say we can't go in and check it out?

Absalom's Tomb
One of the tombs inside the Cave of Jehoshaphat beside Absalom's Tomb
For Maundy Thursday, I joined the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer community for a moving ecumenical service. We started in the Old City, walking through the narrow streets, carrying crosses and candles, and singing hymns in many languages as the sun set beyond the walls. We ventured toward the Lion's Gate and walked up to the Mount of Olives to one of the many churches. Inside the gates, we gathered in a circle and had our Maundy Thursday service, very near to where Jesus held the Last Supper, washed the feet of his disciples, and went to pray before his betrayal. The service was multilingual and represented most, if not all, of the national, cultural, and ethnic voices present in our community.

Following the Way of the Cross through the Old City of Jerusalem

Good Friday began at sunrise, as we joined the Catholic Fathers on the Via Dolorosa that they normally do at 5 am every Friday. This again was a more ecumenical service, with clergy representing many different sects, denominations, and churches found in Jerusalem. We walked through the Old City stopping for scripture reading and prayer at each of the Stations of the Cross. Our portion ended in the main sanctuary of the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer. I normally do not consider the Stations of the Cross to be central to my spiritual practices, but it was definitely a surreal experience walking with so many people from so many different backgrounds in what could be way that Jesus walked to his death. Even if we weren't perfectly on target, being pretty close was an experience I will never forget.

Clergy from many Christian traditions presiding over the Stations of the Cross

I honestly don't remember what I did on Saturday, as it isn't typically a holiday with special services or traditions for me. However, I just happened to stumble upon the Holy Saturday celebration in Bethlehem on May 4, 2013, when the Orthodox Tradition celebrates Holy Week. As we approached the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem in the West Bank, I heard shouts and sounds of celebration. We arrived at the church just as the parade was coming through the main street. Because most Christians in the Holy Land are Palestinian, the chants and celebrations were in Arabic. There was an infectious energy around. You couldn't help but get excited. And what exactly was everyone excited about? Not about wanting to wipe Israel off the map. Not revenge against other religions. Not even about ending the occupation. They were yelling about the good news of the resurrection of Jesus! It was truly a celebration full of dancing, singing, chanting, sitting on shoulders, and fire. Sounds almost like a music festival. The shouts in Arabic can be translated to "Hallelujah! Jesus is alive!" Palestinian Christians were gathering to celebrate the man who dared to disrupt the Empire, who came to turn the systems of injustice upside down, who was such a threat to those in power that he was tortured and crucified, who still managed to win by defeating that death and continuing to spread a message of love, hope, and peace. We can extract so much more about the meaning of Holy Week in this time and place with these people, but I will leave that for another time.

The actual ritual celebrated during the Orthodox Holy Saturday is the Miracle of the Holy Fire, which  spontaneously originates at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. The Holy Fire spreads to other Orthodox churches around the world, including the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. So the parade we stumbled upon was bringing the Holy Fire from Jerusalem, the place of Jesus's death to Bethlehem, the place of Jesus's birth. Apparently the Holy Fire does not burn anyone, so everyone in attendance was not afraid of swinging around giant torches while sitting on someone else's shoulders. Meanwhile, I was terrified someone was going to get third degree burns. Here's to the power of the Holy Spirit.

Palestinian Christians celebrating the spread of the Holy Fire on the Orthodox Holy Saturday with shouts of "Hallelujah! Jesus is alive!"
Now let's go back to March 31, 2013, when the Protestant and Catholic traditions celebrated Easter. I woke up early for the Church of the Redeemer sunrise service at their Mount of Olives campus. As I mentioned earlier, they have an outdoor worship space with an altar that overlooks the West Bank. The service was amazing and gave much to meditate on as we looked onto the view below. In front of our eyes were homes of people who still live oppressed, seeking consistent access to water and economic opportunities, fearing they may wake up to the olive tress, a source of livelihood, may be burned or torn from the ground.

The view of the West Bank from the Mount of Olives campus of the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer
After the service, we had an amazing Easter brunch, which included ham, and some good fellowship. We had pita, hummus, falafel, and breakfast casserole, but the ham is the most important part. Just as I miss cheese in the Philippines, I missed the never Kosher pork, ham, bacon, and any pig products in Israel.

Not too bad of a breakfast for my first Easter away from my family

I hope you've enjoyed this trip down memory lane for me and first opportunity to share these reflections. I'll try not to take another two years before I reflect on and post about this Holy Week in the Philippines.

Happy Easter, y'all!

1 comment:

  1. Great memories and such a unique way to live Holy Week. This will give you some awesome stories for your sermons!!