One of the most powerful experiences of my spiritual life was spending a month in Jerusalem and the Holy Land in 1993 undertaking a course, “The Bible and the Holy Land,” at St George’s College in Jerusalem. During that time, we visited many ancient sites throughout the region. But at its heart were the holy sites in Jerusalem itself associated with the events of Holy Week. As a modern pilgrim visiting ancient sites which have often been built over again and again you have to use your imagination while noting the archeological clues. But for me the most memorable experience of the course was walking the Via Dolorosa, the Way of the Cross, with 25 members of the class, carrying a large wooden cross. We walked in silence the whole way with the cross being carried out front by each one of us in turn. Just walking through a busy city with a large cross was a unique experience. It is not often that we declare our faith in Jesus Christ Crucified so publicly. We stopped at each traditional station (Mother Susan wrote about Egeria’s famous description of this walk) for readings and prayers. Some of these stations are actual churches dedicated to the subject; others are simply crosses on the side of a building. But then the moment came for me to carry the large cross. The sheer physicality of the experience was so powerful. The cross was really heavy; its weight brought to my mind my own sins and shortcomings. Who was I to carry the cross of Jesus? I felt a deep sense of my own unworthiness. But that experience was taken over by another experience. As we walked through the narrow, crowded streets of Old City of Jerusalem, passersby would reach out to touch the cross or make the sign of the cross as we passed. I realized that I was carrying the holy cross on which Jesus died which has become for us the sign of our salvation. This cross, this instrument of cruel death had become paradoxically the sign of healing, of reconciliation between God and humankind, a sign of new life and hope. From feeling unworthy to carry the cross, I felt humbled and then deeply honored to carry the cross of Jesus. After walking for over an hour and a half we wended out way up the Via Dolorosa to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher where we completed our walk and our devotions. We walked back to the College in silence, deep in our own thoughts.
On this Good Friday we give thanks for the Cross of Jesus which is for us the sign of reconciliation, life and hope.
So we sing: “Lift high the cross, the love of Christ proclaim till all the world adore his sacred Name.”