One evening recently as the Sun was setting over the holy city Jerusalem I was sitting on the Mount of Olives near the Church of All Nations, below the Russian Orthodox Church of Saint Mary Magdalene. The rays of the setting sun bounded off the golden roof of the Dome of the Rock opposite. The deep shadows threw out in relief as the longÂ since walled-Âup Golden Gate and the countless tombs of long departed Moslems and Jews seemed resigned to yet another night of endless sleep.
As darkness fell I saw in my mind's eye a curious band wend its way down the slope upon which Jerusalem is built, stride across the Kidron Valley with torches flaming as they made their way to where I was sitting. I stood up and looked behind me. And I thought as I imagined Judas among that crowd, how easy, how very easy it would have been for Jesus to do as I was about to do -- walk slowly up the Mount of Olives across the ridge into the safety and security of the Judean wilderness. How easy it would have been for Him to have made His escape.
But He did not. He stood there among the olive trees in Gethsemane -- the garden of the oil press, the place where olive oil was pressed for the anointing of the ancient kings -- and hands clasped in front of him silently prayed, "Father not my will, but yours."
Judas comes, embraces him. Peter draws his sword and strikes off the ear of Malchus servant of the high priest. (Funny being remembered by all Christians for all time as the man who had his ear cut off). The other disciples melt into the shadows, the brook of Kidron twists like a ribbon of moonlight and the Master says: "Judas do you betray the Son of man with a kiss?"
The terror of his prayerful agony lingers as the soldiers bind him. This is the end -- He has failed. To all worldly appearances He has failed.
In my mind's eye I watch as the soldiers and the Temple guards march Him down the hill, over the brook and up the hill to His Via Dolorosa, His way of sorrows. He could have avoided all of this. He could simply have walked over the hill and into the desert and like many before Him enjoyed the hospitality of the desert, its refuge and its restorative powers.
Jerusalem sits just below Mount Scopus the mountain of the watch keeper in a forty-two inch per annum rainfall. The Judean wilderness to the east sits in a four inch per annum rainfall area. Between these two areas and in the evangelical triangle in Galilee bounded by Capernaum, Bethsaida and Chorazin, Jesus acted out his whole ministry moving comfortably from the side of the range to the other and from the extremes of heat and cold one experiences in the desert and the lakeside.
Until I went to live there I had no idea at all that Jesus most probably went to His crucifixion in the bitter cold of the end of winter. St. John reflects on the Jerusalem winter in 10 V. 22 and in Mark Gospel we read of Peter warming himself by the fire as he waits for his own egotistical denial of his Lord.
The way of the cross at the end of winter! In all of my life no one had ever told me that Jesus may have gone to His way of sorrows in driving cold rain. My vision of the crucifixion was always blazing sun, scorching heat and flies, the hill of Calvary in summer.
I have walked his way of the cross many times. For centuries pilgrims have followed one way or another in devotion remembering on the way the various incidents recorded in the Bible of His trial before Pilate, His flagellation, His trial before Annas and Caiaphas, His falling under the weight of the cross, His meeting with His mother, His compassion for the women of Jerusalem; the impress into service of Simon of Cyrene; His stripping, nailing to the cross and His seven great words from the cross as He hands over His spirit to the Father, "Into your hands O Lord I commend my spirit," His death and the Deposition and burial.
I have walked the way on my own; and in company with students from St. George's College, in bitter cold and rain, in glorious Spring sunshine and in the searing heat of Jerusalem Summer. I have jostled by anxious crowds, I have had to dodge out of the way of donkeys and little tractors dragging their produce through the streets, avoiding stepping in wastes and often appalled by the trash, the garbage carelessly thrown down. Once, and this was on Good Friday last year, I was spat upon by a man and often I have observed the sign of the evil eye by people so insecure in their own faith they need to demonstrate against the faith of others.
Often I have asked myself "why? ?Why did the people of Jesus one day reject him and treat him so badly?"
I walk the Via Dolorosa and see young soldiers with automatic and semiÂautomatic weapons hassling people who just happened to be different. I know that Jesus Christ is still despised and rejected by others; He is still betrayed, still beaten, bruised, broken, humiliated in His own land by His own people.
Again and again as I witness injustice and talk with people who have lost home, land, inheritance and some even loved ones, and I say to myself, "I must never add to the violence of the world by thought or word or deed."
The Middle East has always been a violent place. Here the Bible begins with a murder as Cain kills his brother Abel. Here we have some of the most frightful deeds in the history of the world -- Genocide, rape, mass murder, incest, voyeurism, swindling, white collar crime, brutality of every kind. The Old Testament records humanity's unredeemed nature, our darkest side. Yet between these things are extraordinary loving lives lived out in the dangerous ecstasy of freeÂwill; lives such as lived out by the prophets and the holy men and women who have been ruled by wisdom and the love of God.
St. John tells us "Jesus knew what was in man." He knew the desperate need for salvation. He came that we might be forgiven. There was no other good enough to pay the price of sin. He only could unlock the gate of heaven and let us in. And because of this knowledge He came from the Father to save from ourselves. "Unless you deny your self," He said, "you cannot be disciples." The self we may deny is that egoÂconsciousness which is the dark and opposite side of our goodness and, by prayer, fasting, meditating on the scriptures and a life of charity integrate that darkness with the light of Christ within, that live given to us in baptism wherein we are buried with Christ and raised with Him to new and eternal life.
To walk the way of the cross in Jerusalem is to share something of His passion and to reflect on those issues in our contemporary world that crucify the Son of God over and over again -- injustice, poverty, profligacy, inhumanity, greed, selfishness. The opposite of Sin is Sacrifice ? self-emptying, denial of self.
In our world at the end of modernity those of us who are called by Christ into His way of sorrows simply must witness to reality of Christ's victory over evil, sin and death.
Every day somewhere in the world is a band of men with torches and weapons come to steal life from the innocent, the good and righteous. We must never forget that fact in the face of ever increasing violence.
We Christians in the beginning of the new Millennium need to recover a vision of community. We do that by living selfÂless, selfÂ-emptying lives. We cannot live for ourselves. Our daily living must include a charitable attitude to people of all races, colors and creeds.
If you live alone, whose feet will you wash? You cannot wash people's feet as Jesus did at the Great Supper, unless you live in community. I know there are many lovely people in the world, many friendless people living alone in tenements, apartments and on the streets. They are our opportunity to wash feet. Far too many people are led into sin by evil others.
There is nothing wrong with being tempted. Abbot Anthony in the fourth century said: "Without temptation no one is saved." Without temptation there is no virtue in honesty.
Jesus sits solitary in the Garden of Gethsemane, the loneliest man in history and his chosen three, Peter, James and John sleep on. He wakes them. "Watch and Pray," He says "lest you enter into temptation."
He knows what is to come. He knows that he is to suffer and to die. He also knows that even now He has opportunity to escape over the hill into the virtually impenetrable wilderness. He has been tempted to do this.
"Father if there is any other way. Nevertheless not my will but yours." The end is to be ritual assassination.
Jerusalem sits there in the full light of the Paschal moon two thousand years ago. On the one hand the safety of the desert. On the other hand the bustling busyÂness of the city.
Jerusalem sits there yet as I have seen it bathed in the same serene light. Jerusalem then was an occupied territory. There is still an unlawfully occupied territory there. Israel and the West Bank with all its injustice, dispossession and hopelessness. It is difficult sometimes not to react.
We are not called by God to reactionary lives but to a reflective lifeÂstyle, a life of peace never adding to the spiral of violence, no eye for eye, tooth for tooth, no payÂback.
If Jerusalem is to be truly the city of peace for all people we owe it to those who live there; Israeli, Jews, Palestinian, Arab, Moslem, Christian to commit ourselves to endless prayer.
We really have no right to drive our motor cars to well endowed Sunday Churches while our brothers and sisters are not free to enter the city of their birth.
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.
They shall prosper who love her.