The Ladder

Many visitors to Jerusalem will be familiar with the strange story of the five-rung ladder standing on a ledge above the entrance to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Perhaps someone cleaning the windows forgot to bring it back in?

Actually its been there for nearly three hundred years. An engraving from 1728 shows it in the same place. The trouble is, no-one knows who it belongs to and because there’s no agreement between the different denominations inhabiting the church, it stays there. Only once was it moved, by a rather arrogant tourist making a point about how ridiculous the whole thing was, but the ladder was found and returned to its long-favoured place.

Of course, at one level it is indeed ridiculous, but as a symbol of the divisions even among the tiny Christian population of the Holy Land, it serves to depict our fallen nature, able to distort and wound even the most sacred of places. It demonstrates this is a place for people – earnest, damaged, well-meaning, wrong-headed people. Us.

It’s also for me a symbol of something else. Ladders are used mainly for ascent and humanity seems universally addicted to the goal of ascent – achieving goals, competing to get to the top, growing our GDP, building bigger barns. The ego is in command. We want the world to recognise our gifts and achievements. Ideally we want the world to reward us and be organised around our desires. We want applause. We want to ascend the ladder.

But we follow a Saviour who was going in the other direction. From the incarnation onwards Jesus was making his way down the ladder. He committed himself to the poor and marginalised; he gave his time, his skills, his healing to those the powerful ignored; he consistently gave his attention to those falling off the ladder.

Eventually Jesus gave everything away – his dignity, his awareness of his Father, his very life. He couldn’t go any further down. He fell right off the ladder into the abyss of Holy Saturday. And we waited.

We know the story. An empty tomb, death defeated, love vindicated, a new creation. Our hearts are full.

But still that ladder perches on the front of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. There’s so much still to be done.

+ John Pritchard

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