You place each foot in a worn down footprint valley in the step and wait your turn to move up the staircase. You dare not stop because there are people in back of you. However this time I went slowly and prayerful. I wanted to be somewhere in the church and not just in this luminal space of neither here nor there. I made the climb with both intimidation and determination because I was unsure of my decision to face the night but resolved to push beyond my comfort level and go for it.
As I reached the top of the staircase I heard a familiar sound, one that I came to know and love and long for as I moved back home but it seemed a little out of place hearing it while I was in the Holy Sepulchre. It was the muezzin calling Muslims to prayer. I went to a small window in the Chapel of the Nailing of the Cross to listen to the call that was wafting in from The Mosque of Omar. The mosque sits across from the Exterior Courtyard and from the doors of the Holy Sepulchre. Funny, I’ve never noticed that little window before. But then again, I’ve never had 8 hours to be alone in the Holy Sepulchre and although during the day inside of the Church it was never noisy, in the shear silence now I could hear the sounds from the outside.
I sat down on a stone bench in the first Chapel. Tradition says that it is here Jesus was nailed to the cross. I examined the altar and then the mosaic above the altar. While I’ve stood in line in front of the altar many times and the mosaic to get to the rock of Golgotha, I had never took the time to really look at the mosaic. Jesus is nailed to and laying on the cross which has not yet been raised. Mary is standing over him and another woman is bending down next to him in tears. The women at the cross is not an unusual depiction, for it was the women who stood by and watched and it was the women who took Jesus’ body off of the cross and anointed him with oil after he had died.
However there was another person in the mosaic that I had never really paid much attention to. Maybe I had never even looked at or noticed him. It was that of a man scantily clothed with a turban scarf on his head. Sitting down on a rock at the head of Jesus was one of Herod’s executioners, the crucifier – the one who hammered the nails into Jesus’ feet and hands. He holds nails in one of his hands and the mallet is in the other. He looked outwards with a sad and distant look. For the next hour I read the accounts of Jesus’ crucifixion from the Gospels glancing at the crucifier. What could have been in his mind at that moment? Was his heart so hardened that he could actually and intentionally pierce flesh and bones with a hammer and a few nails?
So often on Good Friday we are asked to think about the times in our lives when we drove the nails in Jesus’ hands. How have our sins and shortcomings, our denial and betrayal contributed to the crucifixion? Tough questions. I sat in the Chapel of the Nailing of the Cross for an hour or so thinking crying and praying.
I’m not sure what begged me onward but I moved to Golgotha from the Chapel of the Nails stopping at a small altar with a life size statue of Mary; aptly named Our Lady of Sorrow because she looked as if she were crying. She is inside of glass casing but somehow people have left jewelry for her. Golden rings and necklaces, watches and bracelets are around the base, a few necklaces were placed on her praying hands.
This year I have come to understand more fully the devotion of the Orthodox and Latin churches and for the adoration of Mary. I think the Protestant church has lost out by not revering her more and incorporating her into the narrative. The look on her face was indeed sorrowful; her eyes were glassy and underneath her eyes appeared damp. To me she looked as if she was crying. I don’t know what it’s like to lose a child but her face gave me a good indication of the indescribable pain. I rested my elbows upon the altar and watched her for a good long time.