The First Day:Tuesday,1stApril,1986
A 4.30 am landing! It was dark blue dawn when we set off on our steady drive uphill from Ben Gurion airport to the Holy City, the sky brightening around and over us. We swayed and nodded, heavy in the body and light in the head. Oh, but we were really here! Soon we stood,drowsy sheep lacking direction,guarding our luggage at the New Gate; and finally, porterless, staggered along the cobbles to the Casa Nova, arriving at 6.30.
So to our rooms: breakfast,briefing, a mini-rest and we were off into the old city- amazing! Crowded alleyways,steps and ancient arches,tiny shops like Aladdins' caves, donkeys,mounds of oranges and strawberries,hanging robes and baskets, hollering boys zooming downhill with tyre-braked carts(the tyre bouncing along on a rope: jump on the tyre and it stops the cart!) We glimpsed treasure-trove:olive-wood carvings,blue and rose-pink goblets,ivory, pearl and gold- and just within each doorway, the proprietor, a trap-door spider, waiting with a smile to pounce, drag in his prey, & devour it!
Next, Communion,in the Chapel of the Flagellation- serious, rather hesitant,feeling our way,aware of the Place:at least one of us unsure of belonging. Outside the chapel, orange- trees,lilies and the first photographs:inside,the real business of our long journey. And I was to be part of it all.... The Antonia Fortress was the last scene of the life of Jesus: within its precincts Our Lord was mocked, scourged crowned with thorns and condemned to death. Here we saw the Pavement(John 19:13) with its channels to collect rainwater in the great cavernous cisterns beneath: and traces of games played by the Roman soldiers: one, played with dice,could have been used with Jesus as subject- ' the King's Game'....
Israel having been 30 days without rain,the prayers of the people were answered after lunch- it poured! The ancient paving-stones, washed clean,showed their true colours- pink and gold: the gutters gurgled, the farmers no doubt rejoiced. We simply got wet! So to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. A strange place! Dark, divided,full of sombre feelings. Each branch of the church has its own territory: each candle, every lamp is jealously preserved, fiercely defended. At first, I was simply horrified:yet this is a powerful Shrine, albeit speaking perhaps more of death and suffering than of Resurrection. It was difficult to think of the dawn in the Garden: the scaffolding, the oppression of conflicting groups, the mournful pilgrims, all add to the atmosphere of darkness and despair. Jesus wept over the city: what pain do we cause Him by our pride and possessiveness, even here, where He died to make us free?
Slept immediately,at 10.00pm.