Our last day of touring began with a trip to the Mount of Olives for an incredible view of Jerusalem. Hundreds, maybe thousands of tour buses are there every day, and I was wondering if it would be difficult to get a shot. Not a problem – the view is incredible. We got a group shot with most of our tour group, a group shot of our 7 together with our tour guide and bus driver, and, yes, much to my chagrin, an O-H-I-O shot (see the pictures through the link at the end of this post).
When done there, we drove to the Garden of Gethsemane, and were guided to a private part of the garden, where we were given time to pray among the old olive trees and flowers. It was very moving to be in that place. In the midst of the garden, Lisa found a turtle rustling in the leaves. Of course, I got pictures of that as well. On the grounds of the Garden is a beautiful church called the Church of All Nations or the Church of the Agony. Inside are domes dedicated by different countries, including the United States. In front of the altar is a rock believed to be where Jesus prayed for the cup of suffering to pass from him, but not HIS will, but His Father’s will be done. There are three paintings that adorn the front of the church, depicting the night of Jesus’ betrayal.
Out to the bus again to travel to the Archeological Park at the southwestern corner of the Temple in Jesus’ day. The time spent walking on the ground around the Temple where Jesus and the disciples walked was very cool. The museum had a video that depicted a pilgrim coming to the Temple, paying the taxes, buying the animal for sacrifice, washing in the purifying baths, and coming to worship at the Temple Mount. I really enjoyed this visit at the Temple – at this point of the trip, all the pieces of the city came together for me.
A few things of note that I learned today (maybe I should have paid closer attention in Seminary):
- The ritual baths were located outside the walls of the city – a ritual cleansing/bath – you go down one side of the steps into the bath, and up the other side, so as to remain pure for worship in the Temple.
- The steps outside the Temple varied in depth, so some steps you had to take one step, others you had to take two steps – the reasoning behind this was to make sure you didn’t rush up the steps, but instead focused on the reverence of entering the holy place.
- To enter the Temple area, one gate would be for entering and another for exiting. If you were mourning the loss of a loved one, you would go through the opposite gate, so that fellow worshipers would be mindful of you and bless you.
Throughout the trip, I was aware of the fact that excavation and discovery continue throughout the city of Jerusalem and across the country. Some of the museums are very new, and some have expansion efforts going on. I am sure that the next time we come, there will be even more to see.
We went to the Ramat Rachel Kibbutz for lunch (a kibbutz is a collective farm or settlement owned by its members in modern Israel. There are schools and markets and centers for the people). It was a beautiful setting, and we ate our final lunch outside enjoying the lovely weather.
After lunch, we drove by some of the government buildings, including the Israel version of the IRS – our guide said, “We call this the Wailing Wall!” We drove on to the Israel Museum, away from the Old City, to see a scale model of the Second Temple as it looked before it was destroyed in 70 AD. This model is on a scale being 50 times smaller than the actual city. It is an incredible model, and helped us visualize so much of what the past 4 days have been all about. We were even quizzed by our tour guide to see how much we caught (we passed!). The Temple, the buildings, the gates, the spaces outside the Temple – all of it crafted with great detail.
Inside the museum is a fascinating display of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The top of the building looks like the top of the jars in which the scrolls were found. The hallway that leads to the main display includes findings of artifacts from the village of Qumran. The scrolls found in the caves have writings of the Old Testament books, the Apocrypha and other writings for the spiritual life of the community. Qumran was a very zealous community, focusing on worship, study of the Word, and the copying of these words on scrolls. The findings were so complete and in good condition; it is an amazing discovery. Found in 1947, these documents have been studied and written down. It is amazing that these papers hold very close to the documents some 1000 years later used as documents as sources for the Bible today.
Back on the bus and once again toward the Old City to the Garden Tomb. Here is a location that MIGHT be the place of Jesus’ burial. One of the convincing arguments for that place is a rock face that looks like a skull, and Golgatha means “the place of the skull.” The British own this garden, and have kept it very beautifully decorated, with places for worship and communion. They have kept the place for this focus, and have been clear that a church will not be built on that property. We got to see the rock face, then went to the Garden Tomb, that likely is NOT the grave, but is very similar to what it looked like. We all got a chance to go inside. The guide reminded us often that we do not worship a grave, but a Risen Lord. I am glad that he made that clear.
We then divided up into church groups and had a worship and communion service in the garden. We sang songs, prayed together, lifted up our families and church community in our prayers, and we shared the gift of Jesus’ body and blood, given and shed for us. What a perfect way to end a great week.
We came back to the hotel, driving through Arab and Jewish neighborhoods, and it is easy to tell when you go from one to another – very distinct dress for both. We gathered as the group of seven and had a final drink and dinner together. Tomorrow’s wake-up call is 4:45 am (which is 10:45 PM your time Tuesday). We carry with us many wonderful stories, memories, laughs and tears. We carry with us a deeper understanding of what Jesus endured. We carry with us a bit more knowledge of the places mentioned in the Bible. We carry with us a greater appreciation for the conflict of the Palestinians and the Israelis. We carry with us a desire to be back home with our loved ones, as well as a desire to come back here once again to this very special place. We hope and pray you will consider coming along next time.
THANK YOU to all of you for your prayers, your comments, and your well wishes along the way. We look forward to joyous homecomings tomorrow! Tentative plans have us sharing with you all on April 11 following the late service with a potluck dinner and sharing of our trip.
Pastor Charlie, Lisa, Cheryl, Janice, Sheila, Bruce and Tom