Every day is full of amazing experiences. Today was no exception.
Our guide, the amazing Rueven, planned just right. We left early for the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built over the most preferred site of both Calvary and the tomb. I will wait for you to google it……
We entered the Old City part of Jerusalem through the Jaffa Gate and proceeded to the church. We went straight to get in line for the tomb, which is inside an edicule within the large rotunda. This area is controlled by the Greek Orthodox. Six churches have authority of various parts of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The Greek Orthodox, Armenians, and Roman Catholics have the largest, and the Coptic, Syrian Orthodox and Ethiopian also are there. Read up on the Status Quo agreement and then the pictures of a ladder by a window will make sense. Too much to type for now!
The first time Jennifer and I came to the Holy Land the line was too long for us to see the tomb. I was so excited to get to this time. By being early our wait was only half an hour. You duck down into the actual room where you can touch a marble slab which is on top of the place in the tomb where the body would have laid. Opposite the slab is a window into the rock itself so you can see this was not always a church! The rock is limestone and obviously part of a cave. It was a very very spiritual moment, thinking here Jesus laid dead until the 3rd day.
From there you go upstairs to two chapels, one depicts Jesus being nailed to the cross while the next is the actual spot of Calvary and the crucifixion. Wow. You can crawl under the altar where you can see thru a small window the rock of the hill. Again a powerful moment.
Back downstairs there is a slab of rock where Jesus was laid after he died. Many people place objects on there for blessing.
Leaving the church we walked the stations of the cross, the Via Dolorossa, through the old city. We walked backwards from stations 10 to 1, as 11-14 are inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The power and awe of waking and saying the stations in the very place where Jesus walked from where Pilate sentenced him all the way outside the original walls of Jerusalem to Calvary, albeit backwards, is something we won’t forget. Due to the crowds and narrow way, our guide would point out the stations and every 2 or 3 find us a quiet place off the path to pray and say the words and prayers for the ones we had just passed.
We ended at the Pool of Bethesda where Jesus healed a crippled man who had waited by the pool for 38 years to be healed and then were able to pray in the gorgeous Church of St. Ann, Mary’s mother. We are blessed to have some excellent singers including several from our choir and our choir director with us, and they led us in Glorify Thy Name, with the sounds echoing throughout the church. So moving! Again Jennifer’s Facebook tells the tale in words and images as well.
We left the old city through the Lion’s Gate, also known as St. Stephen’s Gate as this is the gate the mob carried him through before stoning him (Acts 7).
We rode to a beautiful monastery dedicated to the prophet Elijah and had lunch. Love this place and the amazing church there.
Next was the Shrine of the Rock museum which has this incredible model of Jerusalem during Jesus’ time.
It also tells the story of the Dead Sea scrolls and the saving of our best text of the Old Testament, the Aleppo Codex. The architecture is stunning.
Last stop of the day was the village “in the hills of Judea ” of John the Baptist. We walked up the VERY steep and long steps to the Chapel of the Visitation where Mary visited her cousin Elizabeth and uttered the beautiful words of the Magnificat. These words are on the wall in 65 different languages. The chapel is very pretty and the church around the corner also, we walked in to it as a worship service was ending. As a group we decided to say Compline together in the courtyard there as the sun was setting, ending with another beautiful song!
By the way our group gathers every evening to “debrief” and talk about the day and about what the next day will bring. This has become holy time. Last night they recognized Jennifer for all the behind the scenes work she does for all of us (especially me, duh), and then surprised me with an amazing gift of a beautiful red chasuble and stole, handmade in Bethlehem!