[Episcopal News Service – Jerusalem] The cold early-morning rain that fell here on Good Friday seemed to blur the lines between Christian denominations and make clearer the united Christian witness in the Holy Land, as pilgrims huddled together in the wind to retrace Jesus’ road to Calvary along the Via Dolorosa.
Among them were Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and those traveling with him on a Holy Week pilgrimage. With the skies alternating between threatening and bright, the pilgrims walked gingerly along the rain-slicked limestone pavement that has been worn smooth by centuries of Christian devotion. Cassock hems sometimes dipped into the many puddles along the way, making for a cold and wet experience as the rainwater soaked in.
Every year, the Good Friday ritual is re-enacted in the midst of everyday life in the Old City in Jerusalem. Shopkeepers were slowly opening their sweet shops, bakeries and souvenir stores. Religious icons and jewelry and vestments were for sale next to butcher shops and hair salons. Feral cats scrounged for food. Trash collectors carefully drove their motorized carts down the narrow pilgrim-lined streets. A police officer joined the procession as a guide.
Members of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land join each year to walk the way of the cross.
At each stop, a pilgrim read from the Bible and others led prayers for themselves and others. The pilgrims sang hymns as they walked between each station. Curry and the Most Rev. Suheil Dawani, the Anglican archbishop in Jerusalem, were among those carrying the cross during the walk.
Among the many prayers for others were:
- For those who have power of life and death over others;
- For every occasion when human beings use their skill to hurt and kill;
- For those who live under military rule or occupation;
- For those facing failure;
- For those living on this side of the narrow curtain of death, and those who have died and are living beyond it;
- For those who mourn loved ones killed or wounded in violence not of their own making;
- For every time the powerful are given undue respect while the weak and the powerless, the poor and the dispossessed, are ignored and repressed;
- For those who experience moral weakness and failure; and
- For those who know what it is to lose their faith.
Among the prayers the pilgrims prayed for themselves were:
- When we judge others, and for those we condemn;
- When we mock, insult or hurt others;
- When we face sickness, physical weakness, tiredness and exhaustion;
- When we know moral failure;
- When everything and everyone seems to be against us and hope flees;
- When we are ashamed or abused; and
- Whenever we are called to account for our faith.
The Anglican and Lutheran pilgrims, along with representatives of other Christian faiths, then ate a simple breakfast at the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer near the end of the Via Dolorosa.
Newly installed Lutheran Bishop Ibrahim Azar had joined the walk and then welcomed the pilgrims to the church. “It is a delight to be together as the family of Christ,” he said. “We hope and we pray that our Lutheran and Anglican relationship will deepen through our love, our worship and our actions.”
Azar later preached in Arabic during the traditional Good Friday liturgy at the Anglican Cathedral Church of St. George the Martyr. The cathedral has many Arabic-speaking members and parts of the service were also conducted in Arabic.
Also on Good Friday, His Beatitude Theophilos III, patriarch of the Holy City of Jerusalem and All Palestine, welcomed Dawani, whom he called “our brother,” Curry and the group traveling with him to his offices in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
“Your visit is encouraging us to maintain the Christian character of Jerusalem,” Theophilos told Curry, describing the city as “multinational, multicultural and multireligious.”
The patriarch said he believes that those Christians who minister in Jerusalem “do not represent ourselves – we represent the whole world, and especially our Christian brothers and sisters. When you come here, you come home.”
Theophilos spoke of the difficulty in that representation. “Everybody loves Jerusalem, and everybody wants Jerusalem for his own,” he said. “It is very difficult to draw the lines here, so we have to be acrobats.”
However, he said, “Jerusalem has enough room to accommodate everybody.”
The patriarch said with a smile that he has a tradition of offering “spirituality” to his visitors. An assistant then offered small glasses of brandy to the guests.
Curry assured Theophilos that Episcopalians would continue to pray for him, for Dawani and the ministry of the diocese, and “always for the peace of Jerusalem.”
“You are not alone. We are the body of Christ, and we will always do that,” Curry said. “We will continue to carry the cross with you.”
Dawani invited Curry to make this Holy Week pilgrimage. Complete ENS coverage can be found here.
The presiding bishop was accompanied by the Rev. Charles Robertson, canon to the presiding bishop for ministry beyond the Episcopal Church; the Rev. Margaret Rose, Episcopal Church deputy for ecumenical and interfaith relations; the Rev. Robert Edmunds, Episcopal Church Middle East partnership officer; and Sharon Jones, Curry’s executive coordinator.
– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is interim managing editor of the Episcopal News Service.