Pray for the peace of Jerusalem. Psalm 122:6
I just returned from a trip to Isreal with some friends and one of the sites we visited was the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City of Jerusalem. Under the front facade of this beautiful building is a wooden ladder that has been in the same place since the 18th century. It is not a part of the decor, but it is a stark reminder of how petty we can be as church leaders.
The story of the ladder dates back to 1757 when some work had to be done on the building, which is operated jointly by six different Christian denominations. That is when the trouble started, because due to an understanding, no cleric of the six ecumenical Christian orders may move, rearrange, or alter any property without the consent of all six orders. So, the ladder was readied for the repairs, but the leaders could not agree about who was really responsible for the work.
After a heated dispute that almost ended in violence, the ladder was abandoned by the mason who just wanted to repair the building and go home. The arguments became so intense in the years ahead that even Pope Paul VI tried to intervene. He became so disgusted with the petty squabbling that he appointed two different Muslim families to open and close the church each morning and afternoon. But even taking the keys to the church away did not bring peace. Today, each of the six denominations has someone sleep inside the church while it is locked to make sure someone from one of the other sects does not rearrange or change anything in their areas.
The irony of this entire story is the church is built over the traditional site where many church scholars believe Jesus was crucified, buried and was resurrected. Millions of pilgrims journey here each year to see this sacred place, which should represent ultimate joy and celebration, but his followers are still fighting over a ladder.
I left there this week with a new understanding of how to pray for the peace of Jerusalem, but I also realized we aren’t much better here in the US. We, too, have a lot to learn as leaders in the local church about competition and cooperation. We can do better than we are doing. If none of us cared who got the credit, we could work alongside one another and get some great things done.
May the peace of our Christ move mightily in the leaders of our churches and denominations, so that humility can define us. May we forgive those who have spoken or acted against us. May we leave the petty for the beautiful and abandon ambition for the sake of only His renown. May we learn to move ladders together in peace, so we can eventually move mountains.