This entire trip has been illustration after illustration of juxtaposition. For instance, today, day eight, ended with a visit to the Israel Museum and its Dead Sea Scroll exhibit. We entered through a narrow cave-like passageway, as though walking into the caves in which the scrolls were found – the very ones that we visited under a week ago. The passageway took us to a large exhibit which displays tools that the Essenes would have used both in their daily life and in the production of the scrolls. It has case after case of artifacts including replicas of the scrolls themselves and the very jars in which the scrolls were found. Our group spent about thirty minutes in this exhibit examining the artifacts and the pages and pages of copied text. We exited the room that housed the ancient and entered a very small exhibit that housed the modern – the NanoBible. This silicon chip, really not much larger than a grain of sand or two, has printed (yes, actually etched on it) the entire Bible – Old and New Testaments. Two Scriptures. Ancient and Modern. Massive and miniscule. Juxtaposition.
On our drive to the museum, we passed a monastery near Jerusalem that houses a sect of monks who don’t speak. They take a vow of silence. Not too surprising, right? But how about the fact that the monastery houses a concert hall where many famous performances are given every year – including Handel’s Messiah? The silent is home to the celebrant. Juxtaposition.
Earlier today, we visited a 750 square acre city built within caves that had been carved out of enormous hills of chalk. For 1400 years, Sidonians lived and worked in these caves, mining the chalk and worshiping idols. The caves were several stories tall in some sections, and our guide, having witnessed our group singing inside many churches and synagogues over the last few days, asked us to sing inside one of the larger caves. Indeed, the acoustics were phenomenal and the sound reverberated beautifully. However, it felt a little strange bringing our sacred music into a place formerly used for idolatry. The contrast, the mismatch, is tangible.
We’ve gone from mountaintops to valley floors. We’ve, within the space of hours gone from wearing multiple layers with hats and gloves, to shedding it all, donning swimsuits, and getting sunburned.
Last night, the Sabbath, we wanted to witness the observant, or religious, Jews at sundown at the Western Wall. Our trip leader had done so on a previous trip and said it was not to be missed. So, we walked from our hotel through streets crowded with Jews, Muslims, and a mixture of tourists. Vendors lined the streets offering everything from baby clothes to pomegranates to olive wood nativity sets to beautiful scarves. The colors are indescribably vibrant. And right beside us, in the narrow space between us and the vendors, traveled single-minded Jews clad in black and white from their hats to their shoes. They traveled with purpose to the Western Wall. There, hundreds of them crowded into the courtyard right in front of the wall where they prayed, sang, and danced to celebrate the Sabbath.
Today, we were leaving the old city one more time. We are quite obviously American tourists. We travel in our group of thirty-three, led by our guide who carries the flag of Texas high in the air for us to follow. We snake through the narrow streets with purpose; we know we are on a schedule. We glance side to side at the gaudy and the beautiful, the ornate and the plain. We move between Jews, Muslims, and Christians of all denominations and all nationalities. We approached the Jaffa Gate a few minutes before our bus arrived to gather us. There, just outside the wall, was a Hassidic Jew, in traditional garb, playing an electric violin, his case open beside him to gather tips. If that isn’t a picture of juxtaposition, I don’t know what one is.
It is not lost on me that Jesus himself is the ultimate juxtaposition. He is at once Lion and Lamb, King and Servant, Mighty and Humble. He is God and Man. I’ve seen his place of birth and his place of death. He reigns with God in heaven while
residing within us. It’s unfathomable, isn’t it? Yet, I didn’t come here to see so that I could believe. Instead, because I believe, I came so that I could see.
“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard,
which we have seen with our eyes,
which we looked upon and have touched with our hands…”
I John 1:1