The picture above may look vaguely familiar. Do you recognize it? Although it looks like just about any street in a typical city or town in the USA it is anything but typical. Is it familiar yet? When you look at it your eye may be be drawn down the roadway, towards the open space and the overpass in the distance. But bring your eye back…just behind that white truck…to that black car. It is driving down Elm Street. I know, there are about a million Elm Streets across America but this is a really significant Elm Street. It is Elm Street on the outskirts of Dallas. Do you know what you are looking at now? Right there in front of that grassy knoll that black car is at just about the exact location where the car that was carrying President John F. Kennedy was when he was assassinated on November 22, 1963.
Last week Susan and I went to visit our son James at Texas Christian University. The first day we were there we decided to go to Dallas which is about 45 minutes from the school. We had planned on going to Dealey Plaza where we knew that JFK was shot. We didn’t have plans to do anything more than to see the spot and then move on to get lunch and some coffee. But once we got there we felt that there was something more…something bigger than just “seeing it”. This is a historic place…a tragic place where something overwhelmingly sad and depressing occurred. I was only two years old and too young to know or remember anything of that day almost 53 years ago. Like him or dislike him; agree with his politics or disagree; judge his morality or choose to ignore it but he was the president of the greatest country in the world. He was the leader of our country, the one the nation voted for and turned to and he was taken from us much too soon in such an awful, horrible way. Murdered. The country mourned and the world looked on in shock.
I could still feel that sadness in the air. We went to the book depository where Lee Harvey Oswald worked and allegedly shot his rifle from. We went to the sixth floor and toured the exhibits and watched the film footage. We saw the window where Oswald set his perch, the boxes still arranged in the order in which they were found that fateful day. It was eerie…almost surreal. I felt like I was on hallowed ground; the streets seemed to cry out, still carrying the seething pain, shock and disbelief of Jacquelin, the secret service agents and the crowd of well wishers. Just a few blocks away a young police officer, J.D. Tippit, was gunned down by Oswald after the killing of Kennedy. Being there reminded me that this was no ordinary place and that was no ordinary day. I was awestruck by what happened there and I felt a profound sense of respect and melancholic wonder that I could hardly put into words. It is one of those things that I think has to be experienced.
I have felt that way a few times before: Walking the fields of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, where 51,000 soldiers were casualties in one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War; Touching the Vietnam Memorial in Washington D.C and seeing the names of the 53,286 soldiers.; Reading the personal histories, hearing the stories and looking at the artifacts at the 911 Memorial in lower Manhattan. I have no words, at least no good words to describe the deep feelings I experienced at these places. But I knew that in each case lives had been tragically lost, families were torn apart and the nation changed forever. Hallowed ground indeed.
This Sunday is Palm Sunday. It is the beginning of Passion Week. Every day will bring us closer to the the cross and to Good Friday. Each year at our Good Friday service we journey to the cross. At some point in the service we walk out to the big wooden cross, take a hammer, and “nail our sins to the cross.” The hammering of the nails, the sound of the metal pounding into the wood reminds us that this is no ordinary day and this is no ordinary ritual. At the cross we stand on hallowed ground. We are not in Jerusalem; We are not standing on Golgotha but we don’t have to be. We are in a sacred place because we know that Jesus gave Himself, poured out his life, both figuratively and literally, for us. A holy God giving Himself for unholy man. The Jewish people rejected Him. The Romans nailed Him to the cross. It was our sin that put Him there. It was His love that kept Him there. The righteousness for the unrighteousness. The Sinless One for the sinful ones. Unjustly accused and undeserving of death Jesus bore our sin. The blood stained ground is holy ground indeed.
I can’t articulate it; I can’t describe it. I can only be thankful and realize that on Calvary’s hill 2,000 years ago something deeply mysterious, indescribable, awe inspiring, supremely grievous occurred. Something so profoundly meaningful that it altered the course of history. At the foot of the cross we stand on holy ground.
What do you think?
How does this make you feel?