One enduring memory of my first trip to the Holy Land
many years ago
is a small chapel
half-way down the western slope of the Mount of Olives--
a place called Dominus Flevit.
Translated, The Lord Wept.
Dominus Flevit is not old;
it was built in 1955 on a site that once held
an ancient burial ground,
a 5th century monastery,
and later, a crusader era church.
It is not large; with a shoehorn,
you might wedge 25 very friendly people inside.
It does not have a souvenir shop,
a snack bar
or tour guides in search of a tip.
It is a tiny, pocket-sized gem
designed to evoke a teardrop,
with 4 spires in the shape of ancient tear vials
at each corner of the domed grey roof.
The architecture recalls Psalm 56:
You keep track of all my sorrows,
you have collected all my tears in your bottle;
you have recorded each one in your scroll.
It commemorates that moment when Jesus,
riding triumphantly into Jerusalem,
accompanied by adoring crowds
waving palm branches and shouting “hosanna”,
looked out across the city
as he reflected on its people and its fate.
Unlike most Catholic churches it faces west, not east,
so that you too, must stop
and look out across the city.
Behind the altar is a large window
focusing your gaze through the valley
onto the Temple Mount,
the old city
and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.
I quite simply, and very unexpectedly
fell head over heels in love with Dominus Flevit
on that college trip so long ago.
It was not a planned visit--
my friends and I stopped there,
as tourists often do,
on the way to someplace else,
I lingered in the sunlight courtyard,
filled with ancient mosaics left from a previous building.
I looked across the valley to the Temple mount,
I traced my finger across the altar stone,
and imagined how this view must have looked to Jesus’s eyes,
2000 years before.
I sat in the stillness of the bare, tiny chapel,
as long as my impatient friends would allow.
In the decades since,
I dreamed of returning,
and often pondered the question:
why this particular place
this particular view,
Why did Dominus Flevit
retain such a hold on my imagination?
I was never sure why the memory of this chapel
when memories of other,
perhaps more important
–more famous locations--
become faded and frayed around the edges.
I didn’t understand it,
But over the years, every detail remained clear,
as if suspended in crystal,
down to the particular shade of gray on the roof,
the steeply pitched road,
the warmth of the ancient mosaic beneath my feet
looking out over the valley.
Preparing for a return trip to the Holy Land 5 years ago,
“Would the little chapel on the hillside
have the same impact?
Hold the same appeal?
Would it remain on my list of cherished memories
or would it,
like so many re-runs,
prove to be disappointing, anti-climactic,
or even worse—
the second time around?”
Stepping into the chapel the second time,
separated by decades,
was a remarkable experience.
I felt its embrace, as if the chapel missed me, too,
and was welcoming me home
from across the years and miles.
And this time,
perhaps due to age,
or my own travels into the wilderness
of sorrow and loss and pain,
I began to understand this truth:
Dominus Flevit is a place that passed through me,
shaping and forming me in the process
and teaching me something vital about faith,
and about the way I am called to see the world.
It angled a lens,
allowing me to adopt a new perspective.
I left part of myself there on that hillside, and in turn,
carried Dominus Flevit with me into the future.
Over time and without conscious knowledge,
the chapel shaped like a teardrop,
and shining in the sun,
became one of my most honored and important teachers—
a small but mighty witness
offering up a powerful testimony.
Dominus Flevit reminds us that we must see the world
through the eyes of Christ.
It invites us to retain our ability—
and our willingness—
to weep with Christ for humanity--
to bless the poor, the hungry, the wounded,
and see the world through his tears.
The Lord wept.
And so must we, if we want to follow him.
And paradoxically, so must we
if we want to embrace the hope of new life.
In front of a great crowd of people,
gathered from all Judea and Jerusalem;
from the coastal region of Tyre and Sidon,
and invited the crowd to open their eyes--
to see what he saw and feel what he felt.
He invited them into a vision of the Kingdom,
where expectations will be turned upside down,
where the last will be first,
the empty will be filled,
the hungry will be fed,
the hurting will be comforted,
the persecuted will find joy.
Blessed are those who sorrow and mourn, Jesus preached.
Blessed are the poor.
Blessed are those who hunger.
Blessed are those who feel the weight of brokenness in the world.
Blessed are the lonely, the tired, the frightened.
Blessed are those who lament.
Blessed are those who weep with me for humanity.
Blessed are those who are brave enough,
to walk with me into hard places,
and see the world through my eyes.