I went to a very small church as a kid. So small, one year during Vacation Bible School, I was the only child in the class for my age group.
I was taught one-on-one that summer by Ms. Linda, a genuinely kind, warm, loving woman who was extremely strong in her Christian faith.
The Bible stories she taught me came to life on my second day in Jerusalem, the ancient setting for so many of them.
I thought about Ms. Linda, who passed away in 2015, more than once on this day. Next to my grandmother, she was the most spiritual woman I knew growing up.
Our tour group’s visit to important Christian sites started with The Way of the Cross, or The Via Dolorosa (Latin for the way of grief/sorrow/suffering.) It is considered by many as the path that Jesus of Nazareth walked, carrying the cross some 2,000 feet through Jerusalem, to the site of the crucifixion.
There are nine stations marked along the path. Several of the stops are where Jesus is believed to have fallen with the cross. One spot is held as the location where Roman soldiers ordered a bystander, Simon of Cyrene, to carry the cross — giving Jesus a momentary break.
There, an ancient stone is said to hold the hand print of Jesus after he put his hand on the wall to support himself under the weight of the cross.
The path eventually ends at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where more than 300 years after Christ, the first Christian emperor, Constantine the Great, ordered a church be built over the holy site to mark the location of crucifixion and burial.
An alter inside marks where it is believed the cross stood.
Some people even climb under the alter to pray at what’s considered the foot of the cross.
No matter what you believe, it’s an incredibly heavy story. For me, the story of his mother, Mary, is most moving. The deep sadness she had to feel losing her son in such a barbaric way, and mourning him at the foot of the cross, is palpable. A mosaic inside depicts that moment.
A special stone in the church, the Stone of the Anointing, is a slab of rock where many believe his body was prepared for burial after crucifixion.
The church also marks the burial site. No photos are allowed inside this spot, but from the outside, you can see a skylight in the dome directly over the burial site — a symbolical path to Heaven.
You can also light candles in the church for loved ones.
On this day, we also joined hundreds of other Cincinnatians for a demonstration back at the Western Wall. There, we held services in a multinational, multi-denominational effort to ensure the establishment of an egalitarian prayer space at the wall.
Currently, because of Orthodox tradition, men pray on one end of the wall, and women pray at the other end, separated by a partition. (The large space below on the left is for men, the small space to the right is for women.)
Our mixed gender prayer service on the Western Wall plaza, just before the separated entrances, was the largest show of solidarity by North Americans since the Israeli government recently delayed plans for the creation of egalitarian prayer space without interference by the Orthodox.
We were warned ahead of time the ultra Orthodox may shove, spit, and yell at us since they don’t believe in this kind of mixed prayer. There was indeed lots of yelling, but nothing out of control.
Since it was on Saturday (still the Jewish Sabbath) photography is discouraged at the wall. I didn’t record the demonstration, but I did find someone on Facebook who posted this image.
If I had learned anything so far, it was the fact Israel is special. And something that special shouldn’t be kept from anyone.