Religion is common to all mankind. Since people are created in the image of God, they have eternity placed in their hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:11). This causes people everywhere to (at the very least) have a divine curiosity. Sin, however, causes our interest in God to be expressed in bizarre ways. False religions, odd practices, and just plain old selfishness are common in virtually all expressions of religious worship in the world.
Even among Christians, weird religious practices can develop over time. One such example of this is found at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. This church was created by the Roman Emperor Constantine’s mother (Helena) during the fourth century AD. It was built to commemorate the site where Jesus was crucified and buried. There are good reasons to believe that this was NOT in fact the location of the crucifixion, but the site has endured for 1,700 years nonetheless. Because of the traditional ties to its location, many different Christian religious traditions want to have a presence at the site. The Roman Catholics, Coptic Orthodox, Armenians Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, and Syrian Orthodox all manage sections of this church. For good measure, the Lutherans have a place just across the street. Given its diverse blend of traditions, you might think that the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is a picture of Christian unity around the cross. There is evidence, however, that not all things are ecumenical.
Right above the church’s main entrance there is a ladder that sits on the balcony resting against a window sill. This ladder (made of cedar wood) is a simple maintenance ladder. It is not original to the church’s design and currently serves no purpose. However, no one wants to move the ladder. It has been standing at its current location for around 300 years. It shows up in artwork done of the church dating back at least that far. Given the ornate splendor of the inside of the church, you think someone would just remove the ladder to clean up the church’s appearance . . . but the various ecclesiastical leaders who oversee the church cannot agree on what to do with it. No one is definite on who put the ladder there or for what purpose, but the different denominational leaders cannot agree on who should take it down. Church politics and a general lack of unity and trust have kept that meager ladder front and center for nearly half a millennia.
Seeing that ladder made me laugh. Not just because it looked so out of place in Jerusalem, but because I know a few “ladders” like that in churches found all over the world. Sometimes we Christians don’t get along the way Jesus intends. We fail to communicate about programs that no longer serve their purpose or styles that no longer relate. Rather than talk about it and make the necessary changes, we simply leave the ladder leaning against the wall.
Isn’t it interesting how easy it is to see those things in someone else’s house?