Biblical mystery tour

August 15, 2011
A crack supposedly created by the earthquake following the crucifixion of Jesus. Chapel of Adam, Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem.  Some rights reserved by hoyasmeg.

The first time I visited Jerusalem, Saddam Hus­sein was invading Kuwait. My stay at Saint George's College began with a safety drill that included some mention of gas masks, which made me a light sleeper for the rest of my stay. During the 20 years since, I've wondered how much I missed while straining to hear the whine of SCUD missiles overhead.

In June I returned to find that much had changed. The last time I entered the Old City through Damascus Gate, soldiers patrolled the parapet above my head. This time the ramparts were empty. Last time I had a month to explore the city; this time I was on a day tour. Last time I had working scholars for guides; this time I had an affable Brit who looked older than the picture on his ID.

What had not changed were the questions people asked. Is this the real Upper Room? Are we on the Via Dolorosa yet? How long do olive trees live? Could Jesus have prayed under one of these? Questions like these have brought pilgrims to the Old City for centuries, regardless of whose missiles might be flying overhead. They want to know where the treasure is hid.

Hearing them again after 20 years, I listened more for intent than content. Some people in my group focused on the details of their fundamental narratives, working hard to square truth with fact, while others picked at any loose joints they could find. My guide was such a pro that he found ways to make sure they all won something without ever revealing his own hand.

So many tour groups stood pressed together that I could hear other guides' answers too. Some practiced historical tact ("Olive trees live a long time, so it is possible that Jesus prayed under one of them"), while others used scripture to authenticate sites ("See that flaw in the stone? Now will someone please read Matthew 21:42 out loud?").

Listening to the guides, I decided there was a niche market going to waste. Surely there were ten or 12 people a day who would sign up for a Mystery Tour of Jerusalem, designed to deepen their questions instead of answering them.

Are we on the Via Dolorosa yet? We might be. Since the street Jesus walked on was at least 20 feet below this one, "close" is as close as we can get. Even if you dug straight down, you could not find his footprints. His followers covered those right up.

Was Jesus really crucified here, just feet away from his tomb? No one knows for sure. Constantine's mother thought so, which is why a church was built here. But there is another site outside the city walls, behind an old bus station, that might have been the place. Both of the rock formations look like skulls. Both have their advocates, but if you had to choose between a bus station and a church . . .?

Did Mary really die in Jerusalem? She could have. Visit the Abbey of the Dormition and you can say a prayer at a tomb with her likeness on it, but another tradition puts her in Ephesus. Her house there is so green and breezy that it can change your whole idea of her. After all that death, she lived by a spring with a view of the sea. After all that shouting, she woke to birds. At least maybe she did.

Surely there are a few believers willing to surrender their grip on one story in order to have two or more—with arrows pointing in different directions and endings that can never be reconciled—because they are convinced there is more truth in the mystery held open by the corners of the stories than in the certainty of just one.

Jesus told a very short story about a man who finds a treasure and hides it in a field. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. The end.

But why does the man assume that he cannot have the treasure without buying the whole field? I have no idea. All I know is how quickly the treasure takes over the story—the finding of it, the hiding of it, the joy of knowing where it is, the digging up of it in the end. Where is the treasure hid? That is what most of us want to know.

The man in the story does not care. Once he buys the field, the story ends—or at least this one does. Soon there will be more stories sprouting up all over, for once the treasure is in the field, the whole field becomes the treasure. It could be here. Then again, it might be over there.

Maybe digging it up again was never the man's plan. Maybe the plan was to leave it right where it was, so that no matter where people walked in that field, they could imagine the treasure right under their feet.


Holy Ground Memories

Thanks Barbara! I've been very fortunate to travel to Jerusalem twice with the same excellent Jewish guide each time. I cannot wait to go back, so if you are thinking about that niche, sign me up!

biblical mystery tour

When I went to Jerusalem -- I went there three times over several years-- I went to The Dominus Flevit site where Jesus supposedly prayed for the peace Jerusalem because having traveled and wlked where he once walked, there is still no peace now. I prayed and pray for peace now, for an end to the occupation, dismantling of the barriers between Israelis and Palestinians, the apartheid wall. I pray that the work and ministry of reconciliation that Jesus wrought contuse to be incarnated to become real in our time because noe more than ever, peace through strength and might, domination and occupation does not lead to peace. Peace is the only way.
Max B Surjadinata
Bali, Indonesia

Praying for peace at Biblical site

having been blessed visiting Jerusalem and the Biblical sites,walking where Jesus once walked, I always stop at the Dominus Flevit site to sit, to meditate,and par. In silence I try to meditate on the agony as Jesus wept over the city that doesn't realize the things that make for peace. I pray for Israelis and Palestinians, for the breaking down of continuing present barriers, the separation wall, and for peace. I pray that the ongoing ministry of Jesus in us and all others may be truly incarnated and actualized in our time, now more urgently than ever.I pray that peace through justice and rightful deeds may transform and overcome domination and occupation through might and military superiority so Aston reveal that justice, only justice, brings peace.
The Rev max B Surjadinata
A UcC pastor in Bali, Indonesia

Mystery Tour Registrations Being Received

One of my favorite sites is Mary's Well, located in the Greek Orthodox Church in Nazareth.  Though there are other natural springs in Nazareth, I imagine that when Jesus and his playmates got thirsty this is where they ran for a drink.  Thanks to the hospitality of the congregation, thirsty pilgrims can still draw a cup of water there.  Regarding the mystery and complexity of the Holy Land, as another pilgrim has written, "You spend a week in the Holy Land, you want to write a book.  You spend a month, you think you could write an essay.  You spend a year, you're not sure what to write."  My wife and I, short-term mission volunteers with the Disciples and
UCCs, offer alternative tours that explore the "holy stones" and meet the "Living Stones"--Jews, Muslims and Christians who live in the
land (