As we journey with Christ to the cross this Holy Week, I think back to walking the Via Dolorosa the Way of the Cross in previous trips to the Holy Land. Making the Way of the Cross through the narrow streets of the old city of Jerusalem is a humbling, yet powerful experience.
The last five stations of the cross are inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which was built by the Crusaders in 1149 AD. After that, various Christian groups built small buildings about the site and eventually, it was decided to unite all the chapels and sanctuaries under one monumental cross.
There is division, however, in this church built over the site where many believe Jesus was crucified and buried. The distrust and antipathy among the Christian denominations is so profound that the key to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is entrusted to a Muslim family.
For the past eight centuries the 10-inch key is safeguarded in the house of the Joudeh family. Every morning at dawn, a family member climbs a short ladder to the keyhole, head-height off the ground, picks up the key and opens the massive wooden doors. Every night at 8 p.m., the person returns to shut and lock the door.
There is so much distrust among the Christian groups that today, conflict can develop over such issues as changing a light bulb, cleaning the doorstep, or moving a ladder.
On my Holy Land trip, as we left the Church, a woman in our group spoke out loud what many of us were thinking, “If we, as Christians, can’t get along, what are we saying to the rest of the world?”
Her words are worth wrestling with this week as we journey to the cross. Division is certainly apparent today countries at war, political leaders unable to compromise and work together for the good of the people, someone feeling disrespected and hanging on to the hurt, and even religious groups suspicious and at odds with each other. In the midst of these divisions, what message are we, as Christians, giving to the world?
If we can’t encourage, forgive, and support each other; pray and fellowship together; and walk together faithfully with our differences, what messages are we, as followers of Christ, giving to others?
Christ prayed that his followers would be one. This oneness doesn’t mean uniformity, but it does mean unity.
One of my favorite hours each month, is our Delano Clergy Association meeting. Our meeting agenda is small, but important. We gather to share about what God is doing in our personal lives and in the congregations we serve; we encourage and support each other; we talk about how we, as clergy, can better serve this community; and most importantly, we pray together.
I see this as one of the most important hours that I spend each month. I believe that our gathering is a witness to our congregations and to the people of this community that Christ is the core and not our understandings, differences, or issues.
May we, as a community, journey to the cross this week with hearts that are open to God and to each other.