Today, as we set off to enter the Old City and begin the journey of the stations of the cross walking the Via Dolorosa, we entered the old city by a different gate. Walking past the gate that we usually use we headed to St Stephen’s Gate, which has a new walkway to the pool of Bethesda and St Anne’s church. The route in is a good one giving us a real sense of the size of the walls and how important they are for everyone. But the route is not yet really finished and it did at times feel as if we were walking through a building site. Some of our Pilgrims have been finding the walking a little difficult and so they went to the Gate by taxi and miraculously arrived at almost exactly the same time as those of us who had walked. The two coach loads of people did not get into the coaches at all today but we walked around the Old City and outside the walls in our groups. Arriving at St Anne’s Church we once again sang during Morning Prayer. This beautiful church has such extraordinary acoustics. After the service we had a bit of time looking at and hearing explanations about the remains of what would have been the Pool of Bethesda and then had a bit of free time to explore.
St Anne’s church is such a wonderful space and the Pool of Bethesda brings to life so well the miracle that Jesus performed. In his address to his group Andrew Nunn drew on one phrase from the gospel story found in John 5: 1-15.
5 Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals. 2 Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda[a] and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. 3 Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed.  [b] 5 One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”
7 “Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”
8 Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” 9 At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.
The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, 10 and so the Jewish leaders said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.”
11 But he replied, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’ ”
12 So they asked him, “Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?”
13 The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there.
14 Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” 15 The man went away and told the Jewish leaders that it was Jesus who had made him well.
He pointed out the line where Jesus asks the man ‘do you want to get well?’. Andrew noted that this might seem an odd question but it made sense as the man had been there for 38 years and must have been well settled in his portico. If he was healed his life would be changed and Jesus was asking if he was prepared for this. Andrew asked us all if we were prepared to change or if maybe we wanted to remain as we were. Were we open to what God had in store for us?
From the Pool of Bethesda each group moves down into the Souk and to the beginning of the Way of the Cross, which starts at Monastery of the Flagellation. We move through each station and, as we move through, the Pilgrims take it in turn to carry the cross. Many of the Pilgrims find this to be a very moving experience as they walk through the twisty tight little streets in the souk filled with overflowing shops and people and little carts and buggies bringing stock to them. Here it is especially obvious that the bedrock and birthplace of the three great Abrahamic religions grew up in this place and here their lives intermingle with people who spend their time eating sleeping and shopping here in the Old City and it’s environs.
It is quite incredible to stop and observe the stations on the stairs in a little back street with people from the other faiths streaming by as they go about their daily business. It makes Jesus’ journey with the cross seem so much more real as he too would have been walking through people’s everyday lives as he made his way to the cross and to his death.
After the Way of the Cross we move quickly to the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer for our Eucharist. So many pilgrim groups want to use the church that we have to make sure that we are there on time and do not take too long. Somehow we have plenty of time as we begin our service by singing ‘There is a green hill far away’. Here we are in Lent anticipating what is to come because we have just journeyed the Way of the Cross. Bishop Christopher presides at the service and Bishop Paul preaches. Once again the singing is wonderful and we very much enjoy the acoustic of the beautiful church.
When the service has finished we set off to the Holy Sepulchre Church in order to see the church built over the place of the crucifixion, We also see the place where the anointing of Jesus is commemorated and the tomb. The queues to go into the tomb are huge and so we do not go in, rather people will go back later in the day or the next day to try to see more.
We leave the Holy Sepulchre and head into the Armenian Quarter where we have lunch.