Unfortunately this post was delayed and I don’t have pictures to add. You will see why if you read to the end….
After our free day, our final day in the Holy Land was packed (as usual). We began the day on the Mt. of Olives where we visited the place where Jesus ascended to heaven 40 days after he was resurrected. On this site is also a church dedicated to where Jesus taught the disciples the Lord’s Prayer. On the walls all around the church are beautiful renditions of the prayer in over 100 languages.
From the Mt. of Olives you get a spectacular view of the Old City of Jerusalem, the walls, the Temple Mount, the Dome of the Rock and many of the places we had already visited. There is also an ancient and huge Jewish cemetery and our guide gave us a lot of information on how Jewish burials had been done over the centuries. We actually saw some stone workers creating a new grave tomb for someone.
From there we walked to the Garden of Gethsemane and the Church of All Nations. This is holy ground, folks. In the garden are olive trees which are older than 2000 years, “if these trees could talk”. We do know this is the actual spot of the garden where Jesus prayed “not my will but thine be done”. The Church of all Nations is beautiful and a very spiritual place. Inside you can pray and touch a slab of rock, purported to be the very spot where Jesus had knelt in the garden while the disciples could not stay awake “one hour”. It was here of course where our Lord was arrested after Judas betrayed him.
We then walked the path down from the garden along the way Jesus would have ridden the donkey from the Mt. of Olives into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. WAY COOL. We met our bus at the bottom of the road and drove into the Old City, entering Mt Zion. There we were able to see the place believed to be the Upper Room where the Last Supper took place and perhaps Pentecost happened as well. There is not a lot to it, it has been a variety of things over the years, including a mosque. Under it is the Tomb of King David, a large rock with an ancient tombstone attributed to David, but no bones were ever found there. The space is divided between men and women and there are Orthodox Jews (both genders) praying there around the clock.
We walked through both the Armenian Quarter and the Jewish Quarter of the Old City. These are still residential areas with a lot of shops and people traffic. You can see where the have excavated the Roman Cardo, a wide boulevard which was a major market place in the Old City centuries ago.
We eventually came to the Western, or Wailing, Wall. You must go through a security checkpoint to reach the plaza where the wall is. This wall is not a part of the ancient temple, but rather what remains of a retaining wall built by Solomon as he built up the space the temple would be built upon on Mt. Moriah (where Abraham had gone to sacrifice Isaac). Still it is one of the holiest places for Jewish people (Christians too). The wall is separated into space for men and women with a fence between. Men must cover their heads at the wall. You have probably seen pictures and videos of people praying there and the custom is to write your own prayer requests on pieces of paper which you can leave in crevices in the wall. I did so, although my pictures of those prayers are gone now. Just know if I told you I would write a prayer for someone, I did. And of course most of mine were about my own family and Jennifer’s. It was quite a holy moment, I felt I was in a “thin place” as I prayed and felt the presence of God in a place where millions have come and offered prayers for centuries!
There were several Bar Mitzvahs taking place right at the wall and alas my videos of them (it was ok to video) are now gone, but how cool to have that ceremony in that place! The families and friends of the young boys were having a blast!
Next to the wall is an archeological park where we watched a film depicting what the temple area was like in Jesus’ time. They have done some very impressive excavation work there, you can see the remnants of an arch where the men could enter into the area of the temple where they could hand over the animals they were giving the priests for sacrifice. You can see steps, some of them ancient and some not as old (having been rebuilt over time but still centuries old) which led to the area the money changers would have been when Jesus turned their tables over and drove them and those selling animals out of the temple area. And there is now remnants of the ancient road Jesus definitely would have walked on as he was led to Pilate’s fortress on Good Friday.
We then had lunch at a beautiful spot overlooking the city on Mt. Scopus. From there we traveled to the Garden Tomb. The Garden Tomb is an alternative site which could possibly be where Calvary and Jesus’ tomb were. On a cliff overlooking the area, which the British still have authority over, you can see what definitely looks like a skull. It is also outside the old wall of the city (as Scripture says about Calvary). Unfortunately since my last trip, the huge skull face in the cliff wall has deteriorated a lot and doesn’t quite look as “face like” as it used to, but they have pictures dating back to 1900 where it clearly looks like a skull and you could see how the name “place of the skull” makes perfect sense. The Garden Tomb is in a garden of course, and evidence shows the are has been a garden since before Jesus’ time. A wonderful British guide taught us all this and showed us around, he was a retired British army chaplain who worked there a week a year, giving his time in service to the Garden Tomb. They have a tomb which, if this is the place, would have been pretty much how a tomb a rich man like Joseph of Arimathea would have had. There is a trough in front of the opening for a stone to be rolled in front of the entrance and they have such a stone near by. Inside is a large chamber where mourners could gather and to the right are two places where bodies would have been laid. It fits the Biblical description pretty well.
The Garden Tomb folks allowed us a private space for us to have Eucharist. This was a beautiful time as we sang, read the Gospel from when Jesus appeared in the garden to Mary Magdalene who thought at first he was a gardener, and shared Christ’s body and blood. Near us another group was doing the same and we joined in their singing during communion. Groups from all over the world were in their various places doing the same, all singing and praising God, it was quite moving. I blessed all the articles people had bought while on the trip as well as a beautiful new chalice and paten given to me by our guide which we used for communion of course. A very moving time, weeping was certainly involved!
Leaving the Garden Tomb we browsed in the gift shop then headed for the bus, which had to be moved a few blocks up the street. Like at most places in Jerusalem you are constantly hounded by street vendors selling their wares, they are very loud and persistent to the point of annoyance. This whole trip I have stayed in the back of our group making sure know one gets separated or has any trouble. I constantly urge folks to keep up, pay attention, stay together, etc. The crowds at many of those holy sites are huge and it is very easy to get separated from your group but we managed well. Jennifer had setup a buddy system so no one was ever supposed to be alone and also helped us make sure we all got on the bus together. As we left the tomb, one of our group was missing her buddy so walked back up to the gift shop to look for him. As we all headed up the hill to the bus someone else reported she had returned to the group but when I got on the bus she was not there. Her buddy was. So I headed the several blocks back to the tomb area and found her, a little frazzled because she had no idea where the bus was. I was able to get her moving in the right direction and offer some comfort (it can be really scary to be all alone on a street corner in that city, with no idea where your group is!). I had my phone out along the way in case she had shown up on the bus and someone could notify me to come back. As we turned to walk up the hill we were confronted by a vendor, who acted VERY aggressively, shouting in my face, and I mean inches from my face, to buy his post cards. I was not in the mood for this and had to physically move him away from us. After taking about five more steps I reached in my jacket pocket for my phone and discovered it was gone! This is the only time the whole trip I had not zipped my jacket pocket up with the phone in it, and it was most likely due to the distraction of dealing with this guy. I told the person with me he took my phone and turned to chase after him and he was no where in site! I mean long gone. I believe he had an accomplice he reached into my jacket when the other guy confronted me. There was nothing to do but return to the bus. I was able to use Find my iPhone and you could see the last location was at a bus station around the corner as you return to the old city, in other words were thousands of people would be. I did all the things you do when this happens, including shutting the phone down. I discovered when we got back to Miami that my Apple Care plan does not cover “lost or stolen”, so a very expensive lesson learned the hard way! I am more upset about the last photos and videos (since we had very limited WiFi the whole trip, things were not uploaded to the cloud on a consistent basis, the last photos that were saved were from two days before). Once in Miami I was able to get a new phone, reluctantly having to pay off the stolen one first! UGH! Kind of ironic it would happen to me and very frustrating of course.
But this experience does not put a damper on this amazing, spiritual, miraculous time we all had! I will reflect more once back home on the whole trip, and of course all you poor St. Simon’s folks will be inundated with sermon stories about our adventure! Stay tuned for much more, and if you have been following along, thank you and God bless. Your prayers have meant so much to us all.