A Living Icon of War and Salvation

by Michael Healy

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From the Mount of Olives and to the west, the Old City of Jerusalem strikes a majestic pose. This view of the “Holy City” is a favorite of tourists and pilgrims. For them and for hundreds of millions of people throughout the world, Jerusalem is sacred because its history touches the hearts of three kindred yet distinct sacred traditions.

Above the Kidron stream and acres of graveyards lies the crucible of history, where Jews, Christians, and Muslims faithfully remember places where the divine and the human meet, where heaven comes down to earth, where people reach for salvation. Within its ancient walls, domes and spires mark shrines, churches, mosques, synagogues. This place of prayer by definition is a place of hope, of longing for salvation, for deliverance from life’s oppression, for redemption. So, this view of Jerusalem has become an incomparable icon of humanity’s search for its spiritual life.

It also encapsules the most tragic of human follies: searching for salvation while blind to spiritual kinship yet open to power’s allure.

The golden Dome of the Rock dominates the view. Third holiest shrine of Islam, this mosque covers the earth from which Mohammed ascended on his “night journey” to Paradise and to which he returned to share his vision with all humanity. A few hundred yards behind it are the twin domes of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, marking Christendom’s holiest shrine. There Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection triumphed absolutely over temporal powers and their faith in death. His empty tomb testifies to the ultimate revelation and established a new covenant with all humanity.

The Dome of the Rock sits atop Mount Moriah, where Abraham almost sacrificed Isaac, who fathered Jacob, whose descendents are called the children of Israel. Their descendant David brought the Hebrew’s Ark of the Covenant into this city. On this site Solomon and, later, Herod built their magnificent temples to the one God, Yahweh, “I AM WHO AM.”

All that remains of those holy temples lies on the far, western base of the Temple Mount. This remaining 3000-year-old lower wall of Solomon’s Temple tangibly links the Jewish faithful to that destroyed testament of their special covenant with their living God. To this place they come to pray while they await the Messiah and remember both the divine promise and the suffering that their hope enabled them to endure.

Today the panorama of the larger city also includes modern structures – hospitals, schools, hotels, government buildings, business offices – suggesting other hopes. Even television antennae reach up above the walled Old City from the homes of Jerusalemites wanting modern communication’s messages. Nonetheless, the past and its religious traditions dominate a person’s view of the Old City from this distance on the Mount of Olives. As scripture reveals, behind this picture lie many layers of history and profound depths of spiritual heritage.

Between the walls of the Old City and the Mount of Olives are the graves. Tens of thousands of faith-filled Jews and Muslims from dozens of centuries have chosen a final resting place where they believed history’s final judgment would come. This unremarkable ravine is their valley of decision:

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Tags: Christianity Unity Jerusalem Muslim Jews