We arrived safely in Tel Aviv, and our friend and tour leader, Ji Yun, picked us up at the airport.
There was no time for sleeping, desperate though we were for it, because we wanted to see the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is the place Christians most want to see when they come to Israel; for us it was the most disappointing. Ji had warned us.
The church sits on what many believe is the site of Jesus’ crucifixion. That spot is under the dome you see in the picture. The church also includes the stone on which Jesus was supposedly laid when He was taken off the cross, the supposed tomb from which He was resurrected, and a chapel where Constantine’s mother, Helena, supposedly discovered the True Cross.
The problem is not whether these things are authentic; they may or may not be. The problem is how people responded to them. People were laying their jewelry, clothing and towels on the stone where Jesus was supposedly laid and they kissed it and rubbed it like it was a bottle with a genie.
It was even worse in the tomb. People went in and out on their knees. The Orthodox priest was barking at women who were taking too much time in the tomb kissing the stone. (Another priest went in dispersing incense, I surmised. to smoke them out). People were kissing other places in the church as well. I’ve never seen so much rock kissing.
I understand better now the impulse of Martin Luther and the Reformers in response to this sort of thing. I understand why they destroyed religious statues and works of art. It was not because they hated art but because they hated any cheap substitute for a relationship with Jesus.
I was reminded of Jesus’ transfiguration. Peter, James and John were in awe over what they had seen. They didn’t know what to do, so Peter suggested they build a memorial. God responded by affirming His love for Jesus and said, “Listen to Him.” (Mark 9:2-7). The disciples wanted to respond to God religiously, but God insisted they respond relationally.
I would have shared this story with some of the rock-kissers, but what with the language barrier, the priest barking at us and spraying incense, it didn’t seem like the right time.
Ji told us the local Jews’ impression of Christianity is based largely on this kind of religious conduct at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, as well as the denominational squabbles that take place over the use and management of the church. It is unfortunate.
After we left the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Ji humored us with a trip to the famed King David Hotel. This was not part of the tour, but we had bugged Ji about wanting to go there since the first time we came to Israel. There, in the lounge, we had drinks and olives, talked about Jesus, rock-kissing and our anticipation of the rest of the tour. GS