If you were asked to clean the windows of a church, how long would it take to accomplish the task? A few hours, days, weeks, months? How about nearly 300 years. And the ladder is still there waiting for the window cleaner to ascend. (See "Jerusalem: Battlegrounds of Memory" by Amos Elon, especially Chapter 7, “God and Man in Jerusalem Today.")
I first noticed the ladder while leading tour groups to Jerusalem.
What if I were to tell you that the windows needing cleaning and repair are at what is considered by many in the Christian world to be the holiest spot on earth — the Church of the Holy Sepulchre within the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem?
Though no one is entirely certain of the exact spot where Jesus was crucified and buried, for centuries most Christians have revered the area that is now encompassed by the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is a fascinating place. This one building is actually a series of many buildings administered by six separate Christian groups — Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox, Copti, and Ethiopian. Within the church there are separate alcoves, altars, caves and grottos that honor different events in the last days of Jesus’ life.
The different Christian communities have control over different areas of the church. Apparently, generations ago an enterprising priest from one of the Christian communities moved his ladder into the area of another Christian community in order to clean the windows. He didn’t have permission to be there and was summarily asked to leave. He did so, without his ladder. The other Christian group did not have authority to touch his ladder. He did not have authority to return to the other Christian group’s area. And so the ladder has sat there collecting dust.
I find it instructive that because of conflict within one of the most holy sites in all of Christianity, it has taken nearly 300 years to resolve a dispute about who will clean and repair the windows of the church. Indeed, conflict at the church continues to erupt from time to time. In 2008, there were fisticuffs when one priest was in the territory (within the church) of another priest from a different Christian tradition.
For a place that is traditionally considered the spot of Jesus’ crucifixion and burial, it causes me pause that the primary image and memory that some may take away from that place is the ladder, prominently displayed above the front door of the church where everyone must enter (Christian and non-Christian alike). There it has been since the 18th century, waiting for someone to repair the breakdown of Christian brotherhood. What a metaphor.
What windows are we waiting to clean in our lives?
What permissions are we waiting for?
What relationships need to be healed first before we can finish our task?
When we let the light of Christ shine through the windows of our lives, we focus on what matters most: loving others.