Cobblestone over cobblestone. Pacing steadily over the settled dirt of a thousand, maybe a million other sandals. Cracks filled up by particles of beach, mountain and desert, pressed deep into wrinkles the of this ancient street. My own black shoe powdered with the remnants of another world, stirred for a moment by every step I take. Smoky ashy remnants of a sudden volcanic eruption, withering olive leaves rotting in a quiet garden, pulverized rubble of a temple where God once dwelt. Dull, chalky, dirty history walking along the path with me, on me, part of me during my short morning walk.
Brick upon brick. Peeking its deformed primitive shape from under the untended weeds. Clawing out from a forgotten grave beneath the more impressive ruins. Someone once slept there, comfortable and quiet. Relaxed in her own cozy bed dreaming about the world outside her own familiar window. Building temple upon sanctuary the bricks grow stronger and larger, stacked on top like an archaic Jenga match. Imagining here where the important people gathered, the shops and the shouts and the community that crowed this modern void of space. Crumbling structures of the past linking a ghostly puzzle of a world before me. Decaying, sinking, shrouded cities create the long-lost story on my short afternoon experience.
Person after person. Shuffling though the church doors chasing the muggy stale air. Pressing too close squeezing shoulder to shoulder. A bead from the old man’s brow drips on a blue paisley shawl wrapped loosely around the woman in front of him. The dull roar of the crowd is like the white noise of a blender as the drop of sweat melts into the fabric on her shoulder. A boy suddenly stops in the river of humanity to take a picture. Not for long, because he is herded along the corridor in the same direction as the rest of the horde. Unforgiving, smelly, distracted mass of humans pressed towards the same goal, willingly or unwillingly. Caught up in the arbitrary heap of pilgrimages, I was compelled forward to touch a place that all of creation is drawn in. Anti-praise hymns filled my heart and my spirit as I gathered with sinners in the most holy of places on my short evening visit.
Day after day, site after site, I was disappointed. Place after place, church after church, I was emboldened. Thousands of years, modern churches and ancient ruins, one thing remains. We expect something more than the dirt. “You are dust, and to dust you shall return,” proclaimed the dust Maker. The dust of corpses and kingdoms has no power to breathe life into our weary walk. The dirt which is our wicked selfish soul is not able to change itself into something better. The dust has been there from the beginning. Yet we yearn for more.
Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1Co 15:49, 54-57)