We walked up the hill, the famed one, or should it be called the infamous one?, the hill whose name had whipped by my ears since childhood, and over whose thought I had cried, and I had colored little pictures in Sunday school classes, and cut yellow paper crosses and made scenes with stones and twigs, and jelly beans lay about. Earlier we had passed the sign, and almost by the minute I lifted my camera and snapped the shutter, as though if I weren’t eager enough or ready enough the moment would pass . . . and I would not get it all. . . and I would be left empty.
It is not a hill far away as the hymns of earlier day had told me, so without too much effort, and without trudging very far, I climbed the last little bit, mounted a cement patio area, and when the leader of the group ahead of me was finished, we finally stood to face Golgotha. The skull was there.
Nearby a woman hung laundry on a line. Below tour buses were lined in an orderly way.
And in the garden among ancient olive trees we stood and looked across the Kidron Valley just as Jesus had done, and one day He had wept over the city and said He wanted to take care of the people, wanted to protect them as a mama does her babies, but you don’t seem to want me to do that, He lamented. And soon they ordered Him from their cities, and called Him a devil . . .and He ached for them. And wept.
It is such an ordinary place. It is not heavenly. It is not mystic. And in such an atmosphere Jesus prayed that night in the garden, and blood ran, and His disciples fled.
And when I looked at Golgotha that morning a few weeks ago I thought of my dear friend Johnny Hodges who clinched his ancient watery eyes and threw his head back when he told me that he wept when he first saw the hallowed spot, and he had said to his wife, “Elaine, this is the place. This is where Jesus bought my salvation.” I did not have that response. I looked at the old wall and understood when our guide said that Golgotha is just outside the gates and thus the location would agree with scripture, that this surely is close to the very spot of the crucifixion, but there were lines of tour buses and vendors waiting to press their gadgets into our hot hands and “buy your tickets” and “take a number for your turn” . . .and so I looked, but I did not see.
I have seen before. I see now, though a vast body of water and land separate me from the Holy spot, for I see with my soul and with my spirit. Carved into my being that day was a fresh understanding that Jesus endured the garden and the cross and the scourging and the thorny crown in all its ugliness and it was such an ordinary day, ordinary lives, dust on the roads, thirst in parched throats. It was not glorious. No tensil, nor flicker lights, nor cute nativity sets, nor glittering pendants about one’s neck. And yet . . . in the garden angels tended that Holy Man, a cloak of black snuffed out the brilliant sky, that thick curtain in the temple ripped in half, and beneath it all the earth wrenched and cracked in agony.
And then we gathered and Brother Walls served us, and I kept my cup and Jerry’s.
We sang great hymns of the church. We sang of the blood, the running great stream of blood.
And with my family and friends, I cried . . . and remembered . . . and felt.
We saw tombs and entered them and studied their style.
And at the tomb on that Easter morning as women went to minister to the body of their friend, they “found the stone rolled away from the sepulchre. And they entered in, and found not the body of the Lord Jesus. And it came to pass, as they were much perplexed there about, behold two men stood by them in shining garments: And as they were afraid, and bowed down their faces to the earth, they said unto them, Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen . . .”