And It Came to Paas: Peeps After Pilate

It’s hard to blame a cute little bunny rabbit, but he truly might be the lowest common denominator of dumbing down an observance: Peter Cotton tail hoping down a bunny trail. And honestly, as long as he’s bringing one of those decadent Cadbury caramel filled eggs or a bag of Brachs all black licorice jelly beans I’d be good with it. If you know me, then you know I’m all about capitalism, but I fail to see the connection with these things to Easter. At the very least the Christmas tree was Martin Luther’s attempt to memorialize the spirit of Christian belief in everlasting life. Santa Claus is somewhat loosely…and I use the term loosely very loosely based on the Turkish Saint Nicholas who folklore records as having spread Christian charity to the extremely poor during the 4th century. But that hippity hoppity rabbit is more reminiscent of a magic show or a “silly rabbit, Trix are for kids’” cereal commercial.

Today is Maundy Thursday. I dare to say even for people who care, most of us, myself included, have no clue what Maundy means. How many times in vernacular conversation do you use this word? Yeah, that’s what I thought. During this holiest of weeks on the Christian calendar it bears revisiting the sites of the last 3 days of Jesus’ earthly life. Having walked those steps and photographed the places from many angles I thought at least a few people would be interested to see, as a point of reference, where the events of Friday through Sunday during that particular Passover in Jerusalem transpired…at least as you can see them today (all the images are mine from 2016 & 2018 except the first).

I describe a day in Jerusalem akin to making the Gospel stories of these events as vivid as a child’s pop up book. The visual points of reference add an element of reality and dimension a simple reading cannot provide. Visit these places and rewalk the steps of Christ’s Via Dolorosa with me to recount the final earthly days of the peasant carpenter turned Rabbi on donkey back to the Messiah risen. It is the story of the ages; it is the story of God’s loving redemption of His people; it is – as they say – the greatest story ever told.

This is the Golden Gate, c. 15th century (Google image). The gate Jesus rode through on the donkey during Passover dates back to Nehemiah. It is underground–just under what we see now. This gate, as I understand, was used for a lot of ceremony, pomp & circumstance and dignitaries. For Christ to enter the City on a donkey was another symbolic slam to the powers of the day.

View of the Mt. Of Olive from Jerusalem. The Garden of Gethsemane is at the bottom of the mount. This is where Jewish people have believed for millennia their messiah would return. This is why there are thousands of graves here: souls waiting for redemption in the spot messiah (Jewish one) will return.

View of the Old City from where it is written “Jesus wept over Jerusalem”. The cross in the window lines up perfectly with the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the venerated and traditional site of Christ’s execution and burial (see below).

Entrance to the site referred to as The Upper Room atop Mt. Zion. This is representative site with no known evidence it was actually here.

Inside the Upper Room chamber. There is much doubt the place where Christ served His disciples their last Passover supper would have looked like this. This window below spills a spectrum of rich colored light on visitors.

One of the gates to the Garden of Gethsemane at the base of the Mt. Of Olives. This is known to be with definite accuracy the location of this garden for millennia. The Olive trees here date back as much as 1000’s of years (possible-?) with sprouts of new trees being rooted from older trees by generations of gardeners. Somewhere on this small plot the 12 slept as He prayed. Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus for 30 silver coins. From here Christ was arrested.

This is the magnificent Church of All Nations at the Garden of Gethsemane. It’s altar is built directly over a large piece of exposed white rock. Tradition records this as the place Christ prayed for God’s will to be done as the disciples slept just steps away. All the Holy sites have churches built atop them to protect them from desecration.

Back to Jerusalem the centurion guard led Him. Back and forth between Pilate, the Roman Governor, and Ciaiphas, the Jewish High Preist. The building below, St. Peter Gallinticu, is built directly over partial remains of the High Preist’s palatial home. Outside the courtyard to the ancient building Peter was recognized as being one of the men with Jesus. Peter told the girl she was wrong; she insisted; again he lied; she persisted; finally, Peter completely denied knowing Christ at all. At that moment the cock crowed.

Part of the foundation is the actual original stone and bedrock foundation of Ciaiphas’ home. The lowest level (pictures below) contains the excavated prison cell(s) where Christ spent his last night alive. It looks clean, Museum like and touristy now, but imagine: no light other than fire, no air, animal dung from upper level stables, and continuous beatings and humiliation.

On the day of execution He was led with the cross beam on His back toward Golgotha, the Place of the Skull. There are two places that may be the actual site: one is traditional and venerated; one is more recently discovered (in the 1800’s). The long, painful, humiliating road to the cross, The Via Dolorosa, is marked by 14 events along the way (9 are biblically recorded; 5 are “traditional” and not based on biblical events).

The place where Christ received His sentence is now actually occupied by a Greek School (who knew-?). Just a very few steps away is this chapel, The Chapel of Condemnation. The brick looking pavers below in the chapel are preserved from the time of Jesus. These are at station 1.

The next three images depict the Chapel of Flagellation at Station 2 where he was brutally beaten. He takes His cross at this point.

This marks the spot where Christ fell for the first time. I chose not to post it, but just behind this police barricade stand on guard daily two highly armed officers (automatic assault style rifle killing machine). Ironic, the deterrent on this corner used to be a cross; 2000 years later its guns and loads of ammo. I’m not certain that much has really changed.

This Chapel entry at Station 4 marks the spot where Jesus’ eye meet His mother’s eyes. I don’t really thing about Mary as being present

This stop, # 5, is where Simon of Cyrene, steps in to relieve Jesus and offer his help to carry the cross.

Although it is not recorded, at least prolifically, anywhere I’ve ever heard, station 6 is where Veronica wipes Jesus face. This is a traditional story. There is nothing to see here except this simple brick in a stone wall….that’s it.

Station 7 is marked by an old Franciscan church pillar just inside the chapel door here. It is significant because this is where Christ fell for the second time.

The site below, Station 8, marks another traditional, completely non-Biblical site (I think that’s fair to say) honoring the women of Jerusalem. It really has nothing to do with the Via Dolorosa … but it’s nice to think Christ may have remembered the discipleship of Mary Magdelene, Martha, Mary, his mother, and the woman at the well.

As you approach the back side of Christianity’s holiest site coming up a narrowing side alley, there is this tattered completely understated sign over a cruddy old arch noting what’s next. I love this.

This is the back of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Stations of the Cross 10 to 14 are inside this incredibly massive building. Take a look at the lower right hand corner of the photo. Note the round brown iron looking disc. It is stop number 9 marking where Christ fell for the 3rd time. He would have been outside of the Jerusalem City wall at this point and would have been in view of His execution site (now enshrined in the Church – see below).

Courtyard and main entry of the Church. It is controlled by six (I think) faith bodies. They can’t really agree on anything…so much so that the same Muslim family in Jerusalem has been the key holder to the place for six centuries.

Inside this door immediately to the right is a narrow, extremely steep and quite unassuming marble staircase. It leads you into a dark abysmal place. As you enter under the arch you can make out some Latin or Greek. The word all of us can read, however, is Golgotha. It takes your breath … because you realize you are there.

Stations 10 & 11 are inside the church and is the first place up the marble staircase. It is an area managed by the Greek Orthodox Church. Therefore, you can imagine the ornate, rich beauty: tapestry, mosaic, gold, silver, candles, arches. There is no way to describe or even to capture it in photographs. The room is on top of the property where Jesus was stripped of his clothingnailed to the cross. The image of the outside window shows the room’s exterior view from the courtyard; it is often seen in TV news stories.

Station 12 is on the Golgotha stone. The site of the cruxifiction of who knows how many people at the hands of the Roman authorities…but on this day because of the Jewish High Priests and His people who turned on Him became the place where Christ drew His last breath.

The image above shows the spot where pilgrims can kneel briefly reach down and touch the portion of the Golgotha stone known to be the site of public executions and believed to be the site of Jesus’ death. The image below shows a large portion of the stone (the whole Church is built on stone) where it is split from seismic activity….coincides with Biblical accounts. Spilts in the stone are visible at other places in the Church as well.

Just for argument’s sake here is a photo of the other “potential” execution site. It is at the Garden Tomb. Fantastic place to visit

The lanterns pictured above hang over the stone where bodies have been prepared for burial. There is little double Christ’s body could have been prepared on this stone. Interestingly, this area and the mosaic below are the first things one sees directly ahead upon entering Holy Sepulcher. This is station 13.

Prayer niche-chapel backing up to Christ’s tomb; cupola, extremely high, in the rotunda over the tomb.

The next few images are the outside of the tomb. It underwent a complete restoration for the first time in 250 years and was complete in 2017. From my first visit in February 2016 until February 2018 there is a noticeable improvement. Priests permit four people inside at a time where you can kneel and pray on the marble slab directly on top of the burial place….I’m talking a matter of inches.

So here we are at the end of the walk. Back on our side of the pond it’s the eve of Good Friday. Wal-Marts and Targets are filled with little kids eyes wide open and hopeful mom or dad will buy that deluxe Paas Egg Dye kit (some of them don’t even refer to Easter any longer—the egg dye kits and the people). Let there be sugar crusted marshmallow peeps, let there be Honey Baked Hams, but ask a teen who Pilate was and how Peter denied his Lord and….ouch! It would be like Jay Leno’s old segment “Jay Walking.” A lot of people wouldn’t have a clue.

To repeat Christ’s words from that old rugged cross on that hill far away wherever Golgotha was “Forgive them Father for they know not what they do.” Thought: how much better place would the world be if we all thought more like Christ and quoted Him more frequently? To recall His last words: “It is finished.” His work is done. Easter Sunday is just few days away. It is the story of the ages; it is the story of God’s loving redemption of His people; it is – as they say – the greatest story ever told.

May the promises of His resurrection be yours this Easter and every day.

QUICK & DIRTY NOTE ON HOLY SITE IDENTIFICATION: Here’s the Cliff’s Notes super simplified version about Holy Site location identification. After Rome began to recognize Christianity as it’s official religion The Council of Nicaea, organized. Under the Roman Emperor Constantine, the Council was responsible for assembling what we now substantively know as The Bible. The Emperor’s mama, Empress Helena, took tremendous interest in the Holy Land region. She traveled there researching “Christian” history. She recognized and observed where people gathered traditionally in home churches as places of worship for the proceeding few hundred years, the time between Christ’s death and her arrival. These home churches were established at the places the events where milestones in Christ’s life occurred. The worship and meetings at these sites had begun dating all the way back to Christ’s day. Among locals there was little, if any debate, concerning the authenticity of the religious sites (i.e., where Christ was born in Bethlehem, where Mary’s family lived; where the tomb existed; etc.). Therefore, the Empress declared them to be the Holy sites. These sites are said to be venerated. Alternatively, other sites, for example, where events could have occurred or where there is much higher speculation are called “traditional” sites. One such example is the precise location of the Sermon on the Mount on Mount of the Beatitudes.

She is directly responsible for the original construction of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and the Church of the Ascension in Jerusalem. I think about it this way: it is not hard for us to imagine declaring Independence Hall in Philadelphia the site of the Declaration of Independence or Monticello to be the home of Thomas Jefferson. With a few hundred years having passed and people preserving the history of these spots it is not much of a stretch for a Roman Queen to officially recognize places as Holy. During her journey legend also records her as having found the “true cross” upon which Christ was crucified. That’s a debate for another day.

Regardless of how you look at it, Old City Jerusalem is not a particularly large place to check out on foot. As our dinner mate and bus friend, Bishop Farley, from Kentucky stated so succinctly…no matter what…it was “somewhere not far from here.”

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