Mass at Holy Sepulcher & Temple MountMay 26, 2015 in Israel ⋅ ☀️ 18 °C
Today we had a day off class, and we were free to do as we pleased. A few of us decided to wake up early, drive the sleep from our eyes and attend a pre-dawn Latin mass at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. The empty streets (see photo) were such a different experience than the chaos of the days before. When we got to the church, we could hear the music before we walked in. Gregorian chanting, done in the great room of that cathedral was certainly something to behold (photo). It is (if you’ll remember) the likely place of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection. There isn’t much to compare to a high mass in that kind of setting. It was something that I will not soon forget.
After the mass, we made our way down to see if we could get up onto the Temple Mount. This is the structure that used to be the foundation for God’s Holy Temple, but now is the site of a mosque called the Dome of the Rock (gold-domed structure in photos). The Dome of the Rock is a magnificent piece of architecture that was completed in the 1300’s. The mosaics (see photos) are absolutely stunning.
For Muslims, this place on the Temple Mount is considered the third most holy place on the planet (after Medina and Mecca). Of course, the Jews consider the Temple Mount their most holy place and as Christians, we make our own claim on the place, alongside the Jews.
The temple mount is not always open to foreigners, but right now, there is enough peace between the Palestinians and Jews that we were granted access. As we made our way up the steep ramp from the site of the Western Wailing Wall to the top of the Temple Mount, a Jewish man below shouted “Remember, it is not the Muslims who are discriminated against, it is the Jews!” For the time being, I could make nothing of that comment, but that would change soon.
As we walked through the archway onto the Temple Mount, we were greeted with very contrasting impressions. We were surrounded by lush gardens, beautiful fountains and breathtaking architecture. But the tranquility was broken by large groups of old men in traditional Muslim garb chanting to Allah, heavily armed soldiers shouting various things at various people, and Muslim women chanting loud prayers in high-pitched voices.
We weren’t quite sure what to think. Or how to feel.
We made our way around the mount, ourselves being shouted at a few times for stepping where we were not supposed to step or trying to go where we were not supposed to go. It was very tense, and this feeling was exacerbated when a group of Jews came onto the Temple Mount and all eyes turned to them. Most Jews are forbidden on the Temple Mount (and I suspect many would not be caught dead there), but some choose to go anyway to get that much closer to the Holy of Holies.
As they entered the courtyards, the chanting Muslim women started yelling at the Jews in screams of anger, running over and shaking fists. This caught everyone’s attention and suddenly, a group of men reading from the Koran abandoned their studies and started to close in as well. Shouts of “Allahu Akbar” (Allah is greater) filled the air from both men and women. The Jews were immediately surrounded by security police who escorted them to a corner of the Temple Mount where they could worship, unmolested by the Muslims. The fray died down and we scurried down to the safety of less tense places.
As I watched this unfold the man’s words echoed in my ears, “It is not the Muslims who are discriminated against, it is the Jews!” and I had new insight. This hatred has existed for a long time and there is nothing easy about the answer. Both faith traditions lay some valid claim to this area. But, as we walked away, it was so obvious that all was not right with the world. Shalom was not here.
There was once another ancient conflict between the Jews and a group of people called the Samaritans. Jesus addressed it in John 4 “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
And the heaviness of the day was lifted as our team broke bread together over dinner. Although it isn’t always obvious, things are going according to plan.
I won't be posting for the next few days. We take a field trip to the south and the Negev, a stark desert regions. Temperatures of 110+ to be expected. I'll keep good notes though and post when I return to Jerusalem.
In the mean time, Shalom!Read more