No longer living for our business, but for the Lord's
Clear, fresh, and awake, we met up outside of the hotel today for our devotional. It felt like the warmest day so far, which put everyone in good spirits!
Our first stop was the Mount of Olives. On our way, we saw the hustle and bustle of the city - people going to work, kids going to school, and a whole bunch of traffic. We arrived at a spot where we could see a full view of the Temple Mount (where we visited yesterday). It was helpful to see the retaining walls and to actually realize how massive it is.
After some steep hills, we came upon a Jewish cemetery. One of the first things we noticed was that there were rocks on the graves. Yehuda told us that placing rocks was their way of paying their respects to loved ones that had passed, just like we do with flowers. They don’t allow flowers on the graves because of the mess it leaves behind when they die.
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.
The Garden of Gethsemane wasn’t far from the cemetery. Once we got there, Yehuda explained that a more accurate translation of the word “garden” is actually “grove”, which made way more sense from what we were seeing in front of our eyes. The place is full of beautiful olive trees. We continued walking along the grove to the place where Jesus may have been betrayed. We had the opportunity to sit, reflect, and pray for about 15 minutes. That time was really special.
Speaking of special, you know how we’ve had a time of worship each morning? We got to show off our skills at St. Anne’s Church! The natural acoustics in that room were pure magic.
Right outside the church, we got to see the pool of Bethesda where Jesus healed the paralytic in John 5. We got to hear from our trip leader, Laura Feix as she pointed out the fact that after the paralytic was healed, he went straight up to the temple. From that moment on, he was all about Jesus’ business. She made the connection to us today that as believers, once we become a Christian we are no longer living for our business but for the Lord’s. It was a poignant and convicting reminder in a place that we will likely never forget!
We hopped on the bus for a quick 10 minute drive. To prepare for what was ahead, we listened to Via Dolorosa by the one and only, Sandi Patty. Walking that street in the old city of Jerusalem was surreal, to say the least. Yehuda was leading us through and warned us it was going to get very crowded... he was not joking!! It was an introvert and germaphobe’s nightmare. For a group of 54, we did a pretty good job staying together as we made our way through tight squeezes of thousands of people walking around.
We had a little break from the congestion of the city and went to have lunch at a park. Finally, some space to spread out! We got to try Jerusalem bagels with various dipping choices: olive oil, goat cheese, hummus, and Nutella. There were 11 stations set up, so we got into groups of around 4-6 and dug in!! It was delicious. (Side note: if we could go back and add to our list of surprises on this trip, the amount of bread consumed would definitely be one of them!!)
After lunch, we were back to the challenge of the crowds as we re-entered the old city! The Holy Church of the Sepulchre is located in the Christian quarter of the city and is believed by many to be the site of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. Therefore, many come here to pray and perform other religious rituals. Once again, we were overwhelmed with thankfulness that we have the presence of Jesus with us all the time through the Holy Spirit - not only because of the craziness and chaos of all of the people inside, but of course because we have access to our gracious God at any moment.
Our last site and tour today was a very special one. We went to The Garden Tomb. This is also a place that is believed to be where Jesus died, was buried, and rose again. Terry and our Garden Tomb tour guide explained that there is a whole lot more archaeological and biblical backing to this being the actual place rather than the Holy Church of the Sepulchre. Every one got the chance to go inside of what is believed to be Jesus’ tomb. The atmosphere was somber and reverent. We ended our tour with a message from Terry, who then led us into taking communion together. This group has become close over the past 11 days. New friendships have been made and existing ones have been strengthened, so partaking in communion together was a very powerful moment.
We’ll wrap things up with a tour of the Holocaust Museum, a little shopping, and a final dinner as one big family before heading to the airport. We’re looking forward to sharing our final thoughts of the past 2 weeks of this life-changing experience in our next and final post! Until then, Yom tov!