Holy Ground

On our first full day in Jerusalem (Monday, November 3rd), we boarded our buses punctually at 7:30 am, knowing very well that Lon had no problem leaving us behind if we weren’t ready to go on time. “The early bird gets the schnitzel,” he would say. He was right. Countless times we were the first tour group to many sites, and as we left other groups arrived. I didn’t mind the brief moments of crowdedness as we waved good-bye to the several groups that poured in to small spaces. For this convenience, I willingly shifted from night owl to early bird on this trip.

I hadn’t had a chance to read over the itinerary for the day. We were going in to Jerusalem, of course, but I didn’t know what sites were ahead of us. Our bus ride from hotel to Old City Jerusalem was short. Ezer announced over the bus PA that our first stop was Lithostrotos, and he explained that this translated to “paved road.” I was half listening.

As we filed off the bus and through the bumpy, cobbly streets of Old City, I hoped my camera battery would make it through the day. I wondered how my outfit looked on me. I hoped lunch wasn’t too late on the schedule because I skipped the free hotel breakfast that morning. Don’t slip on these uneven steps and have a (second) embarrassing fall. How did I let so many people get in front of me? Where are we going anyway and why is it taking so long to get there?

We eventually entered this tiny little church-like thing that was built in to a wall. I usually take a picture of the outside sign of the sites that we see, but too many people were in the way this time and frankly, I didn’t understand the importance of this Lithostrotos thing. I knew that every site we had seen so far had been astonishing, so it’s not that I was cynical about this one. I just didn’t catch the significance of this place, and I couldn’t imagine how it would be able to impress me more than other places we had already seen.

Low ceilings, narrow walkways, dark. As we wound our way passed another group, through hallways, and down stairwells, I had to remind myself out loud that I am not claustrophobic. Finally, all 83 of us plus guides stacked in to small, dim quarters. Once we settled, Lon turned to those on his left and said to them that they were standing/sitting on the floor of the original Antonio Fortress. We were below the city of today, standing in the city of two thousand years ago. Antonio Fortress is where Pontius Pilate tried Jesus. Pilate found no basis to convict Jesus of any crime, but the Jews insisted that he be crucified. Here on this floor Pilate had Jesus flogged but declared again that he had no basis for a charge against him. The Jews shouted, “Crucify, crucify!” As Lon retold the events, he had my closest attention.

Lon turned to his right, where Brian and I stood, and he said, “And you, you all are standing on the very street – the Stone Pavement – where Pilate gave Jesus over to the Jews to do with him what they wanted. Here Jesus carried his cross on the way to Calvary. You are standing where Jesus walked with the cross. You are standing on holy ground.”

Lon went on to give more details about the area and their historical relevance – the Romanesque grooves in the stone pavement, and so on – but he didn’t say as much as he had at other sites. He didn’t need to. My heart swelled and my eyes filled. I was so humbled by and grateful for and overwhelmed at the events that took place here. Right here. I heard one man saying after we left the site that this was the most important moment of his life. Another woman said how emotional she had become here. Biblical knowledge and emotional sensation collided with a spiritual presence. There was not a soul in the group that was not feeling the power of the moment, the power of this holy ground.

It is hard to vocalize when you have been silenced, nevertheless we mustered our voices together and sang:

We are standing on holy ground
And I know that there are angels all around
Let us praise, praise God now, praise him anyhow
For we are standing in his sweet presence
On holy ground

And then we sang it again:

We are standing on holy ground
And I know that there are angels all around
Let us praise, praise God now, praise him anyhow
For we are standing in his sweet presence
On holy ground

Thank God for the undeserved sacrifice that took place on this holy ground.

(John 18, 19)

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