How wonderful and pleasant it is when brothers live together in harmony! For harmony is as precious as the anointing oil that was poured over Aaron’s head, that ran down his beard and onto the border of his robe. — Psalm 133:1-2
In 2006, my wife and I had the opportunity to visit the Holy Land for the first time. It was an experience we will never forget in more ways than one. Israel is a beautiful country, and coupled with its religious roots, biblical history, and of course, being the birthplace of our Lord and Christianity, we found our spirits deeply touched. This expression is true, “Once you’ve been to Israel you will never be the same.”
Israel also has a very dark side, and I’m not speaking of the danger of terrorism. I’m also not speaking of an apostate nation for whom the prophets have wept. I’m talking about a group of Christians from several denominations, who for centuries have shared and managed one of Israel’s most famous holy sites, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The problem: those who manage it can’t get along!
Venerated as the site of the crucifixion, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is perhaps the world’s most sacred Christian pilgrimage site. It is also the location of a 165-year-old argument over a ladder. That’s right, a ladder!
In 1852, a ladder first appeared in a photograph on a ledge above the church’s entrance leading to a window. Obviously a worker, perhaps a stone mason, finished his task and left it there. Today, the ladder is still in the same place, despite attempts over the years to move it.
Why doesn’t someone just take it down? Well, because everyone who has a stake in the management of the church (Greek Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic, Roman Catholic, Coptic, Ethiopian, and Syriac Orthodox ) would have to unanimously agree with the move. You see, the window is located in a designated common area covered by an age-old document called the “Status Quo.” For anything to be altered in an area defined in the “Status Quo,” requires everyone to consent. And that’s the problem.
These churches can’t agree on how, when or where to move it. Due to the fear of inciting violence, no one has dared touch it since. That is, with the exception of a mischievous tourist named Andy, who plucked it from the ledge in 1997 and hid it behind an altar, where it remained undiscovered for weeks. The ladder has since been put back into its “appropriate” spot.
But that’s not all. The root of this problem goes back even farther than that. In the 12th century, the Muslim leader, Saladin, who gained control of Jerusalem after centuries of Crusader control, allowed the Christian pilgrimage sites to remain open and under control of the Christians, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre being one. However, because he couldn’t put an end to the constant bickering of the different groups who managed the site at that time, he had to ask neighboring Muslim families to lock and unlock the church doors each day. This practice continues to this very day! Muslims hold the entrance key to the most revered historical site in all of Christianity!
Well, I’ll leave the application of this story to your personal experiences with other churches and believers in your area. Do you think we as the body of Christ can do better than that? In other words, “Can’t we all just get along?”
Does this short movie clip from the Jack Nicholson movie, “Mars Attacks,” have the ultimate answer?
Oh, Lord, I hope not. Maranatha!