God Sightings: Ash Wednesday in Jerusalem

By: Kira Moolman ’14,  Chaplain Intern

It sounds like a song and very much
could be –
the rain-glazed stone of the streets
after the heady scent of red wine
wafer-thin flatbread
flecked with
seed and spice,
the tastes lingering,
an act of remembrance
after a long day and stair
after stair
after stair
and the steps that Jesus himself
would have stood on—
some take off shoes
strip off sweaty socks
to touch the stone with bare skin,
then pose smiling for
a photo to show back home.
Here am I in the Holy Land,
standing where the embodied Lord of heaven
once stood!
Barefoot and smiling where He
would have entered the temple –
sandaled and sombre?
angry and overturning tables?
Below us tour busses line up taking up the street
and the sky clears of its rain clouds above to bring
blue background for our photos. Birds nest in the crevices of
stone above the stones
on top of the stones
where Jesus stood
and we stand around to take photos so we do not forget.

A few years ago I went to Israel over Reading Break with my seminary. I was not prepared for how much the place itself would impact me, that I would begin to feel that this land was the Promised Land, that this earth and sea and sky had once hosted God on earth. The places I had memorized in Bible classes came to life here as I walked the streets and saw the remains of temples and palaces still teeming with people.

We were in Jerusalem on Ash Wednesday and went to a service in a church of cool grey stone that echoed our songs. Taking communion, we stood in a circle and felt the weight of what we were remembering.

Remembering that God Himself came down and stood in this very city to save us from ourselves, from our sin, our loneliness, our despair, our destructiveness. Confessing that we needed Him, and that no amount of confessing would save us. And also confessing how often we take ourselves out of those moments, like tourists taking photos of where Jesus once stood. We theorize our theology so that we do not have to live it, we make our faith in action mean more than the God in whom we believe and love. In Jerusalem that day I experienced the weight of a God-with-us, Emmanuel, and confessed in ashes that all I can do is raise empty hands. We need grace to wave those palm branches that celebrate His coming. We who are dust remember and believe that the God who fashioned us out of dust has come for us and for our salvation.

As we celebrate Ash Wednesday and mark the beginning of Lent, I invite you to reflect:
– How do we take ourselves out of our God-sightings?
– How can this season be a time of confession and reflection?