Last weekend was the first since my return from a pilgrimage to Israel. In addition to the “welcome back” greetings, there were lots of questions in the category of “what was it like?” That encompasses questions of weather, geography, culture, cuisine, accommodations, crowds, places, history, and a myriad of other inquiries. Perhaps the inquiry that was most common was something akin to, “What did you find most surprising?” And there are several responses to that question. But let me share one with you.
On Palm Sundays and Good Fridays stretching over 60 years, I have heard the Passion narrative. I have been teaching Bible study classes for more than 30 years – and in the course of that endeavor have covered the Passion narrative more than a few times. And now I have, in some small part, retraced the footsteps of Our Savior over the last days of his earthly life: his triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the upper room where the Passover was celebrated and the Eucharist instituted, Gethsemane where he prayed and was betrayed, the house of Caiaphas the high priest where he was tried, the courtyard of Pilate where he was condemned and scourged, the way to Calvary, the place he died on the cross, and the tomb from which he was raised from the dead on Easter morning. It is a narrative that is familiar to all the faithful.
And then there are the simple questions, such as, “If Jesus was tried by Caiaphas sometime near midnight and was only taken to Pilate in the morning – where was Jesus in between?” To be clear, Scripture is silent on the matter, but nonetheless the question lingers.
One of the holy sites in Jerusalem is the Church of Saint Peter in Gallicantu, a Roman Catholic church located on the eastern slope of Mount Zion, just outside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem. The church takes its name from the Latin word “Gallicantu,” meaning cock’s-crow. The current church was built/restored in 1931.
This spot is believed to be the location of the High Priest Caiaphas’ palace. According to the fourth century Pilgrim of Bordeaux in his Itinerarium Burdigalense, “…going up from the Pool of Siloe to Mount Zion one would come across the House of the Priest Caiaphas” the place where Peter denied Jesus three times (Mark 14:30).
Archeological research revealed a first century structure, just up from the Pool of Siloe, which was of proportions and scope to likely be Caiaphas’ palace. It was the location where local Christian memory venerated the events of the Passion. Research has also shown that the same location had a facility to hold prisoners, something consistent with other known practices of the day…
“If Jesus was tried by Caiaphas sometime near midnight and was only taken to Pilate in the morning – so where was Jesus that night?”
Local Christian tradition has long held that Jesus was kept in the adjoining lockup facility. That was a nice description. It is a pit, well underground, with no natural light. One has to be lowered into the pit, into the darkness. It is feasible that Jesus spent hours in the darkness, alone, knowing the coming wrath of the Passion, cut off from friends who now deny him, wondering what is all this that the Father asks of him. Alone.
At the bottom of this pit, one of the pilgrims was asked to read Psalm 88: “You plunge me into the bottom of the pit, into the darkness of the abyss. Your wrath lies heavy upon me; all your waves crash over me.”
That was perhaps the most powerful moment of the pilgrimage. Powerful in that it is a moment stemming from a simple question asking about Jesus between the lines of Scripture. Powerful in that it was a Spirit-filled moment of that place. Powerful in that it is a very human moment – alone, in the dark with terrors aplenty in the surrounds and in the day to come. Powerful in that, even after 30 years of Scripture study, there is still more that God would reveal to us in his most Sacred Word.
Maybe we all can’t journey to Jerusalem and the Holy Land, but we can all journey into the life of Christ in the pages of Scripture. Take the journey and in study, prayer, and reflection, come to more deeply know Jesus Christ.