When you begin to ponder the events associated with the Easter story, your mind may easily slip away to the land of Israel. You might consider the location of Christ’s birth, Bethlehem. You might remember the stories associated with the cities nestled around the Sea of Galilee. And as Passion Week begins, you will no doubt focus your thoughts on Jerusalem.
If you were actually visiting Israel, you might go to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Tradition describes this location as the birth place of Jesus. Since 330 AD, Christians have visited this site and honored the birth of our Savior. Since it is such a significant site, you might assume that it is held in highest esteem by believers from around the world.
In reality the church is controlled by three different Christian denominations and they are constantly warring with each other. The Smithsonian magazine (March 2009) reported that each group of feuding monks actually stockpile rocks in anticipation of the next altercation with each other. Since they argue over each group’s claim of custody, no one is able to address the rotting roof, decaying structure and water damaged mosaics. Their constant bickering has left the church in serious state of disrepair.
And then there is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Tradition says that Jesus was buried at that location. But for centuries Christian groups have fought over their respective claims to the site. In 1757, the Ottomans established a “status quo” agreement that divided that claim among six different church communities. The decree was reaffirmed in 1852.
The practical affect is that the building itself is sub-divided. One group cannot touch the area controlled by the other group. Biblical Archaeology Review (January/February 2010 Issue) tells the story about a particular ladder that was placed about a 150 years ago on a window ledge above the church door. By some accounts the window belongs to the Armenians, but the cornice it rests on was assigned to the Greek Orthodox group. Because neither group can touch the other’s area, that same ladder has appeared in pictures of that church in that exact spot for centuries. No one can remove it. And as they bicker about the upkeep of the facility, it deteriorates.
There are a myriad of messages that we can glean this week as we meditate on the details surrounding Christ’s death burial and resurrection. And perhaps one of the most important applications we can make as we consider the eternal implications of Christ’s substitutionary death on our lives is the need to quite simply, GET ALONG.
The monks at these precious religious sites don’t seem to be very good at it and neither are we. Back in 1991, Rodney King asked that haunting question, “Can’t we all just get along?” In light of the cross, we ought to!
Perhaps it is time to take to heart the injunction expressed by Paul in Romans 12:17-18:
“Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace will all men.”