In, around, and under Jerusalem
Today was a long day full of special sightseeing in and around the old city of Jerusalem. Our first stop was the Mount of Olives, which overlooks the Temple Mount and old city, with the Kidron Valley in between. At the base of the Mount of Olives is a Jewish cemetery and off to the side were excavated burial caves and vessels. We then walked into the Garden of Gethsemane, also on the Mount of Olives and saw olive trees, some of which were enormous; through scientific dating processes, at least one is strongly believed to have been there when Jesus and the disciples were there. Unbelievable!
Pastor Terry read from Zechariah 14, which references the Mount of Olives as where Jesus will return at the end times. He also read from Matthew 26 where Jesus went to pray with the disciples before Judas came with the soldiers and betrayed Jesus and He was arrested. We had about 15 minutes to simply wander, reflect, and pray. This area is beautiful and filled with olive, almond, and Cypress trees, and bushes and bushes of fragrant rosemary.
Mount of Olives
Separated from the Eastern Hill (the Temple Mount and the City of David) by the Kidron Valley, the Mt. of Olives has always been an important feature in Jerusalem’s landscape. From the 3rd millennium B.C. until the present, this 2900-foot hill has served as one of the main burial grounds for the city. The two-mile long ridge has three summits each of which has a tower built on it.
Then we headed across the short valley (there are streets here now) and walked over to the old city of Jerusalem. The Temple Mount and this entire area is built on Mt Moriah, which is where Abraham was told to bring and sacrifice his son, Isaac. When Abraham obeyed, at the very last moment, God saw his obedience and stopped Abraham from killing his son. In contrast, this is the very mountain where God sacrificed His only son, Jesus, and because He loved us so much, He did not let this cup pass from Jesus, who was crucified for us.
Our first significant stop in the old city was the pool of Bethseda. Terry read from John 5 about the story of the man who was paralyzed for 38 years and thought if he could just get into the pool first somehow when the waters were stirred he would be healed. But he never had anyone to help him in first. Jesus asked him if he wanted to be healed and the man said 'yes'. So Jesus told him to get up, pick up his bed, and walk. And he did and went into the temple rejoicing. Our lesson today was to think about how many times we ask for healing about 'something' and we are healed, but just go about our business and never take the time to say 'thank you' and rejoice in the blessing.
We walked into St Ann's church that was built with incredible acoustics and arranged ourselves in choir formation and sang 'Amazing Grace' and the 'Doxology'. Laura conducted our 24 member choir and it sounded beautiful. The lovely echoes when we ended a verse were stunning.
As I mentioned in yesterday's blog, because the Christians were persecuted from the time of Jesus' death until the mid 300s AD, there is no way to know exactly which rock or section of ground marked the place of certain events, like the exact spot of the arrest (only that it was on the Mt of Olives) or the actual route Jesus walked carrying the cross, or the actual spot of the crucifixion and burial. Several churches have designated certain spots for these events and massive churches have been erected. These are considered to be the 'traditional' spots.
This leads me to our walk down the Via Dolorosa, which is the traditional walk of Christ when He carried the cross. This journey ends at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which is what certain churches believe is the traditional spot of the crucifixion and burial. Our guide told us that there is no way to know for sure.
We then headed to the Western Wall, which is commonly referred to as the Wailing Wall. We were required to go through security as this is a most holy place, especially for the Orthodox Jews. The right end of the Wailing Wall is for women and the left end is for the men. So we separated into groups by gender and were able to go up to the wall to pray or simply view up close. On the men's side, there was a 13 year old boy who was celebrating his Bar Mitzvah, and that was a very happy, festive occasion and a treat for our group to witness.
The Western Wall is the most holy place accessible to the Jewish people because of Muslim control of the Temple Mount. Known in recent centuries as the “Wailing Wall,” this was built by Herod the Great as the retaining wall of the Temple Mount complex. The plaza was created as an area for prayer when Israel captured the Old City in 1967. At times tens of thousands of people gather here for prayer.
We finally stopped for lunch and were treated to the best kabobs in the city! Delicious!!
Our last official visit with through the excavated Rabbinic tunnels which are underground and go along the Western Walls. It was a narrow passage and Yehuda gave us much history about the rocks used by the various conquering dynasties. There we did walk on routes that were in fact there during the time of Jesus, so walking here was very, very special.
The tour of the western wall tunnels is one of the most popular tourist sites in Jerusalem. These underground tunnels connect the western wall prayer area to the north-west side of the temple mount, passing along the side of the temple mount and under the present day houses in the Old City. Along its path are remains from the second temple period, as well as structures from later periods.
We then stopped for a refreshing glass of mint lemonade and walked to the Christian sector for about 45 minutes of shopping and/or rest before heading back to the hotel. It was a long day, with lots and lots of walking. Our Fitbit step count averaged approximately 15,000. Tomorrow is going to be another long day with about as many steps (stairs are very much included in our travels in and around the old city). We'll begin extra early tomorrow at the Temple Mount. We better eat good and get lots of rest tonight to be ready for our last day in Israel! Shalom!!