Thursday, April 08, 2004

Maundy Thursday

Jerusalem is surreal and particularly holy this week. It is more crowded than usual; in the streets you can hear Christian pilgrims speaking in all sorts of different languages: French, German, Italian, Korean, Swahili, Arabic, Syrian--just a few that I've heard. They walk in solemn groups, cameras flung over shoulders, yellow bandanas or green nametags differentiating one group from another. The Old City was crawling with them yesterday, and yet I didn't get the claustrophobic feeling I usually do when I'm in a place with a million other tourists.

Ksenia and I were in the Old City by two thirty, and our first stop was the Upper Room, or what is reported to be the Upper Room, where Jesus and his disciples had the Last Supper together the night before the crucifixion. There was a brief service in Italian, and then everyone just stood in silence, staring into this large empty room, most likely picturing the same thing I was: Jesus washing the disciples' feet, Jesus breaking the bread.

After that we went to the other supposed site of the Upper Room, and one of the first churches in Jerusalem, at the Syrian church deep in the winding streets of the Christian quarter. The service was long, in Syrian, and full of chanting and singing, and afterward there was a procession of priests to large drums and bagpipes.

By this time we were hungry, ao we ate at Papa Andrea's rooftop restaurant in the Christian Quarter before heading to the Anglican Church of St. George for a Maundy Thursday Service. It was quite beautiful, in Arabic and English, with a foot-washing ceremony and communion, which I took for the first time in a year and a half. I've been avoiding communion, not quite willing, I suppose, to submit to whatever God might tell me to do if I open myself up to him again, but I took it yesterday. A reaffirmation of something suffocating, I guess.

After the service we walked in silence to Gethsemane, where Jesus prayed in agony, knowing that he was soon to die on the cross. We prayed and sang some songs in the garden, then walked through the Olive Trees that have been there since the time of Jesus. In the Basilica of the Agony I prayed by the symbolic "Rock of the Agony," where Jesus is said to have prayed so hard that he sweat blood. In a strange moment completely uncharacteristic of me, I kissed it. Just in case. Just in case he really did touch this rock. Suddenly I was a true to form pilgrim. Something I guess I don't mind at all.

By this time it was almost midnight and my legs were aching, but we walked through the Kidron Valley on the route that the soldiers took the captured Jesus, and up to St. Peter's church, built on the site of Caiaphas' palace, where Jesus stood in a makeshift trial.

The stairs there are from the time of Christ, and he probably walked up them in chains. In the church we went all the way down to the pit where it is believed he was held. The whole night was unimagineable, really.

I finally made it home exceptionally late, and now I'm off to the Old City again.

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