Friday, April 9, 2004

Good Friday was really quite awful! It was good for us but bad for Jesus. We relived the Passion today as we followed the Via Dolorosa – the Way of Sorrows – through the crowded streets of Jerusalem from the site of Pilate’s Praetorium to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre built over Golgotha.

But Jesus did not view the cross as a horror to shun as I would have. Rather he viewed it as a weapon to fight evil and to win eternal life for his fallen and sinful creation. While teaching at the Kadina Airforce Base in Okinawa a few weeks ago I told the pilots and Airforce personnel that to Jesus the cross was like an F-16 fighter jet – it was the weapon to defeat the enemy and secure freedom and liberty.

Remember in the movie “The Passion” when Jesus clutches the cross and the bad thief says, “You fool, why do you embrace your cross?” Later Jesus says to his mother as he falls to the limestone pavement “See, I make all things new!” The cross was not an enemy but the weapon to defeat sin, Satan and death. Jesus embraced it willingly and suffered in the short term to bring about salvation and freedom and joy for eternity. Now we must take up our cross (ouch!) and follow him – OR we are not worthy of him,as he said “If you deny me before men, I will deny you before my Father in heaven” (ouch again!).

Today the streets and the Holy Sepulchre were packed with pilgrims from every conceivable corner of the earth. As we prayed at each Station along the way we talked with others also adoring the Lord. How truly marvelous is our universal Catholic Church. Actually that is a redundancy because Catholic means “universal”. It is made up of every tribe, color, nation, and tongue in the world. As the book of Revelation (7:9) says,

“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no man could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands.”

We met Greeks, Russians, Serbs, Brits, French, Americans, Filipinos, Egyptians, Armenians, Ethiopians, Nigerians and many other nations of Africa, Palestinians, Christian Jews, Canadians, Mexicans, Irish, Indians, Koreans, and many others. What a beautiful thing to pray along with them all “We adore you O Lord and bless you, for by your Holy Cross you have redeemed the world.”

Hebrews – Jews – were the first to hear the Gospel and the first to believe in the Messiah. What a joy for Janet and I to celebrate the Good Friday service with a Hebrew congregation with the service said in Hebrew with Hebrew Catholics. How can you go up and kiss the cross in Jerusalem with Hebrew Catholics on Good Friday and not be overwhelmed with joy, gratitude, a sense of history, a love for the Jews and for their God. I can never understand anti-Jewish sentiment. It always reminds me of the little ditty that goes:

“How odd of God to choose the Jew, but odder still are those who love the Jewish God and hate the Jew.”

Again I am remember my great love and debt to the Jewish people and see they still have a great part to play in the story of salvation.

Happy Easter everyone! From Jerusalem, Steve Ray, 4/9/04

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My right foot is clean, but first the beginning of the story. We had a bomb scare at the border between Jordan and Israel but after a 1/2 hour wait it turned out to be a false alarm. Kinda exciting though! It took four hours to get from Amman to Jerusalem which included the hell of going through Israeli security at the border – but better safe than sorry I always say. And they sure know what they are doing!

We pulled into Jerusalem in the middle of the Jewish Passover and the beginning of the Christian Easter week. Imagine rams horns and song from Jews, Islamic Imams calling out prayers from the mosque minarets, and Christian bells ringing in all the churches. What a marvelous place – like nowhere else in the world.

Today is Thursday and the Papal Nuncio (the Pope’s ambassador to the Middle East) washed my feet in the Holy Thursday Mass. It was very humbling. But before that I went to the Western Wall and joined in the festivities there. The priests were blessing the 30,000 Jews in all their finest dress – prayer shawls, fur hats, curled hair above their temples and mostly black and white dress. I wore my Tilley hat, vest and travel gear. They were very welcoming and accepting. A week ago Palestinians were throwing rocks down on worshippers but not today. Security was extremely tight.

After the Western Wall blessing I went to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and saw some friends including the bishop of Jerusalem and the bishop of Nazareth. Lots of pilgrims, more than I have seen here in over two years. Tomorrow we will live out the Passion. We will walk the Stations of the Cross along the Via Dolorosa to the cross. After watching Mel’s movie it will be much more real. Thanks Mel!

Getting a lot of work done for the David and Elijah documentarys. Yesterday we spend half a day searching for the Cave of Adullam where David hid from Samuel and found it in dangerous territory behind barbed wire. We will explore it but will need military assistance. But, the show must go on!!  We also found the cave David hid in En Gedi and the Valley of Goats mentioned in 1 Samuel. We're off to discover more. I will update again soon.

Steve Ray   4/8/04

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Discoveries in Jordan

by Steve Ray on April 9, 2004

Jordan is a wonderful country to explore. I love it because of the friendly people and the many biblical sites. Since we had already explored the south and middle of Jordan, we spent two days in the northern area. While our daughter Emily was in a Jordanian school with her friends, Janet and I took off with cameras, maps, and books.

Our first stop with the River Jabbok where Jacob wrestled with the angel (Gen 32). I was going to get a bottle of water from the river for my “water collection” but it was full of sewage and smelled too bad. Rats! On my shelves at home I have water from many biblical sites but this water was just too nasty. Next we went to the site of Elijah’s birth – Tishbe, which we found by asking many of the locals. It is a small hilltop in ancient Gilead and there archaeologists have discovered the remains of a huge church which was in honor of Elijah. And down below is the Brook Cherith where Elijah hid out and was fed by ravens. And it was on the Jordan side of the Jordan River that Elijah was assumed into heaven in a whirlwind. Today it is called the Hill of Elijah.

Catholic schools in Jordan? Yup, my friend Fr. Imad Twal runs a school with over 800 kids and we had a great time there helping them make Easter eggs and talking with all the kids. We were besieged by excited kids asking questions and shouting greetings.

There is more to tell than I can possibly relay, but it is safe, exciting, and very friendly. And, what is the most enjoyable thing in the world? Discovering all this wonderful history of the Bible. More later about our crossing into Israel and the bomb scare.

Steve Ray  4/8/04

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