It was a Friday morning, the 14th of April 2017, where a few friends and I joined the immense crowds of Christians from all around the world in waiting for the famed Good Friday Processions within the Old City of Jerusalem, conducted in remembrance of the passion, suffering and crucifixion of Jesus Christ more than 2000 years ago. The route Jesus walked when he carried the cross to Calvary was again retraced by the various Christian sects along the 14 Stations of the Cross: from the Coptic Christian Church, to the Russian Orthodox Church, to the Catholic Church, all waited their turn to carry their own crosses while making their way to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where Jesus Christ was believed to have been buried.
We queued for a long time, waiting behind a barricade and tolerating the squeezing and shoving by the hundreds of passionate pilgrims from a myriad of countries swirling about us. We were thoroughly filled with uncertainty because we did not know what to anticipate even though we were waiting, or if there was a procession that was going to happen at all! When the solemn services actually started, they were conducted in languages we did not understand, and included many rituals (imagine an elaborately-dressed priest swinging this metal bell ball and walking in circles) that I, as a Protestant Christian, was not familiar with; I felt, as a result, incredibly displaced, confused and therefore disconnected throughout the entire day, and I found myself wishing to be in a quiet space rather than enveloped by the oppressive atmosphere of the stifling crowds.
It was during one of the processions in the Holy Sepulchre that same night that I received the news that a classmate from the Hebrew University (that I’m currently doing my exchange with) was stabbed to death on the light rail in Jerusalem earlier that afternoon. It was a senseless act of violence carried out by a man who had a background of mental illness. A surreal mix of emotions gripped my heart: from grief for a friend who had to go through the process of a painful death alone, to anger towards the injustice in an innocent life being lost… The last place I wanted to be was right there in the midst of the noise and the crowds.
Somehow, though, I found myself drawing parallels between the death of my friend and the death of Jesus Christ, the reason for which I was standing right there in the crowds in the first place. He suffered his death – one of the world’s most cruel execution methods at that time – all alone as well. His disciples fled from and denied Him. After being put on trial and painfully examined by Pontius Pilate, Jesus was also found to be guiltless – he died an innocent man.
These parallels helped me reflect upon the life Jesus lived, and I am simply blown away by the humility He possessed. This humility addressed Man’s susceptibility to and propensity for pride, where we think the work of our own hands can bring us salvation, where the creation thinks it knows better than its Creator. But as Jesus said in the Gospel of Mark, “if anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.” Jesus, the Servant King, exemplified this command perfectly.
Although I didn’t enjoy jostling with and being jostled by the pressing crowds, and in fact desired to be somewhere else entirely, I realised that the physical aspect of this discomfort pales in comparison with the spiritual significance of that Friday 2000 years ago.
The Book of Philippians summarises:
“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
Next week: Isabel in Israel, Part 2!
Isabel shot all the images above with the OOWA 15 mm lenses.