The morning began at the Garden Tomb (Gordon's Calvary). It's a site that was discovered only about 100 years ago, but has a rich history that was found with it. On a major road out of the Old City of Jerusalem sits a simple hill of rock, the face of it has the look of a skull. On top is a cemetery and below it was a garden with a single tomb carved in its side. While we have no record of the owner, it had to be a prominent and wealthy person, like Joseph of Arimethea, who gave up his new tomb to place Jesus in it. Even the biblical descriptions fit the location and the setting, including the place inside where he had once laid. A tour by Omer, our Scandavian guide, took us to both Calvary and into the tomb. Then we gathered in one of the beautiful worship settings, read the story, prayed together and shared in the Lord's Supper.
We then entered the city via the LIon's Gate (St. Stephens Gate) and began our journey through the streets of the Old City of Jerusalem. St. Ann's Church was our first stop. A beautiful Crusader Church still standing and still holding its charm and acoustics. We sounded like a great choir as we sang in front of the altar. A Japanese group entered while we sang, just to listen, and then quietly exited. Around the corner we read the story of Jesus healing the man at the pools of Bethesda. Those pools are right outside the church. It's a simple story with a simple, yet provocative question, "do you want to get well?" Some went deep into the pools cistern (an ancient quarry for the stones of the temple and the rest of the city.).
The Via Dolorosa begins just a few feet from here. It's where the Antonia Fortress once stood, where Jesus was beaten, tried, and convicted for crimes he did not commit, but for a purpose that goes well beyond our understanding. It's the path for the stations of the cross that end at Jesus' tomb. We stood on the "stone pavement" or the Lithostrotos; we walked under the Ecco Homo arch, we walked humbly by each of the stations where the cross fell, Jesus fell, Veronica wiped his brow, and others until we stepped into the church of the Holy Sepulchure, climbed the steps to Calvary, touched the stone where the cross was placed and then entered the tomb where his body was laid.
The church is massive with chapels of prayer carved in little corners of the building. The lower levels contain ancient mosaics, wall art, and thousands of carved crosses right into the walls. The deepest part of the church is a grotto where we see an early church, or at least a place of worship where faithful people still find a moving place to pray.
After leaving the church we stopped for Lunch in the square right outside the courtyard. Fresh falafel or shawarma were on the menu .(except for one who had to have a pizza!) Then we entered the Jewish Quarter on our way to the Western Wall., On the way we passed the Cardo, a part of the first century city marketplace, and a massive wall built by Hezekiah in the 8th C BCE.
We gathered at the Western Wall to offer our own prayers. Some offered their own, others prayed for the peace of this city. I was privileged to carry the prayers from Newburgh UMC and place them in the wall as I prayed over each one of them. If you handed me a prayer, it went into the wall, where it will be prayed over for many days!
Just south of this wall which stands from the time Herod built the second temple is an archeological park called the Southern Wall Excavations. It reveals many of the lowest foundation stones of the Temple Mount, the teaching steps at the entrance to the Temple, and the first century Main Street where many shops and activities took place during the time of Jesus. We stopped on the teaching steps for a time of listening to the words of Christ, just like many did in his day.
Out the Dung Gate we climbed the hill towards the church built where Caiphas house once stood. It is the place where Jesus was held after his arrest, and where Peter denied him. The stone stairs that lead to the temple are still there to this day. Called St. Peter Gallicantu, the church reminds us to be true to Christ, even when it's difficult.
Returning to the Olive Tree Hotel, we said good bye to our guide, Shraga Bin Joseph. He has been a friend for nearly 10 years and he led us very well. Seeing his passion for his people and his nation, hearing his own story, how the holocaust affected his family directly and tragically, how his experience in the liberation of this nation from their neighboring enemies (6 day war) left impressions on all of us. He has been an excellent protector, teacher, and guide...and he will always be my friend.
After a quick dinner, we said good bye to our fellow Travelers on their way back home. As they left for the airport, the rest of us boarded a bus to Israel Museum with our old friend and guide Mike Tahan. He took us around to see the 1st C model of Jerusalem and explained how the city was built. Then we toured the Dead Sea Scrolls, some key biblical artifacts from several periods, and then a new exhibit,
Herod's Tomb (Sarcophagus & facade pieces). We were at the Herodian just a few months after Herod's burial site was found several years ago. It was a privilege to glimpse what they discovered.
At the end of the day, we fell in to bed exhausted and ready for our journey on the Jesus Trail.