Friday, January 02, 2009

Last Day in Jerusalem

Today was our last one in Jerusalem, and was a beautiful one. The weather was crisp, but not windy and perfect for all the walking we had to do.

We walked into the Old City through the Jaffa Gate and made our way through the Christian Quarter following the Via Dolorosa. Because of the political tension we could not enter through the Lions Gate near the Temple Mount and follow the path in order, so we did it out of order. Nevertheless we visited all the stations of the cross. We stood on pavement from the Fortress of Antonia, where Jesus was scourged. We walked through the Church of the Holy Sepulchre which covers the site of Golgotha and the Empty Tomb. We visited the excavations of the Pool of Bethesda, where Jesus healed the lame man (John 5). We sang in the Church of St. Anne there, a building erected in the 12th century.

After lunch we drove to the Yad Va Shem, Jerusalem's holocaust museum, and were reminded again of what human beings are capable of, both in terms of sheer evil and cruelty and in terms of endurance. We returned to the Old City, entering through the Zion Gate, into the Jewish Quarter where we walked to the Western Wall. Then on to one more church, St. Peter Gallicantu, built over the traditional site of Caiaphas' house where Jesus was interrogated and where Peter denied knowing him.

We are back at our hotel to pack up, enjoy the last supper, and head for Tel Aviv. It is 5:00 PM here, 9:00 AM back in Houston. We'll be home in about twenty-four hours.

This group of pilgrims has been a delightful one to travel with and we have learned and experienced things that will continue to shape our lives and friendships.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

New Year's Day in Jerusalem

We did the life of Jesus in reverse today. We began at the Mt. of Ascension and ended at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Sort of like The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. After the place of Ascension I walked with my friends down the road that Jesus walked into Jerusalem – down the Mount of Olives, past Gethsemane, toward the eastern entrance into Jerusalem.

We stopped at Gethsemane and read the story of Jesus’ praying and his arrest there. I was reminded there of his struggle to go ahead and do what he already knew the will of God to be for him. His “thy will be done” was not a prayerful “whatever.” It was a prayerful “yes” to his Father. What God wanted took precedence over what he wanted. We walked among the olive trees and remembered what went on there.

We entered the garden area around Gordon’s Calvary and the Garden Tomb. Although I have my doubts about the authenticity of the site, I was reminded again of the authenticity of the deed of God it represented – Jesus drank the cup. He took it and drank it to the dregs at Calvary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate. He died. He was buried. We read the story and drank the cup and ate bread and sang and prayed.

We rode past the huge grey wall surrounding the Palestinian-controlled Bethlehem, plastered with tourism posters on the outside and covered with painful graffiti on the inside. It was like crossing the Rio Grande into a Mexican border town. An ironic sadness hovers over the City of David, the Christmas town, the birthplace of the Prince of Peace, where angels announced to shepherds the coming of “peace on earth and goodwill to men.” Black flags fly over the Church of the Nativity, expressing a grief over the conditions in Gaza, as bombs continued to fall today.

We joined pilgrims from around the world crowding into the most ancient church in Israel to breathe the kerosene aroma from centuries of lamps that have illuminated its dark interior. We filed through a narrow passage, down worn stone steps, into the grotto tradition has identified as the place where Jesus took his first sip of the cup, where the Word became Flesh and began his dwelling among us.

We did other things as well today. We studied a huge scale model of Jerusalem in the first century. We gazed on the ancient Hebrew scrolls found at the Dead Sea. We ate falafel sandwiches and shopped in Bethlehem. We talked and laughed and worshiped.