Day 09 - Last Day in Israel
Our final day in Israel has arrived. The air is bittersweet as we get on the bus, but it doesn't last long as there is still so much to see. We begin the day at the Mount of Olives overlooking the city of Jerusalem. Brad leads our morning devotion in relative peace in a place that is usually crammed with other tourists. Our view of the Temple Mount, Kidron Valley, and Mount Zion bring to life the text as we read the Triumphal Entry. "I tell you, if these [crowds] were silent, the very stones would cry out." Could Jesus be referencing the stones on the white tombs that were at his very feet? The ones beneath our feet now?
We walk a steep and winding road to the Garden of Gethsemane. Anger and sadness swell within us as we climb across mounds of broken glass and trash to enter the terraced dirt lot. The surrounding neighborhood does not revere this place. Despite our shattered expectations, the sparse olive orchard has something for us. Following Christ's example, we spread out and spend time with God in what feels like the first pause in our nonstop trip.
At our next location, Brad has an odd request. Sing with 'chutzpah.' We enter the curated grounds of St. Anne's Church and file into the basilica. Lined up like a church choir, we sing Amazing Grace and The Doxology as our voices reverberate high into the domes. A joyful sound. We exit the basilica and take the courtyard staircase down to the original Pool of Bethesda. In the place of pagan worship to the god of healing, it was here that Jesus healed a paralyzed man. Ka'eo taught us that Jesus was intentional with his actions, choosing to heal this man without the aid of water, authenticating his superiority to any pagan water god.
Meir busses us to our next stop- another garden. In contrast to this morning, this garden is teeming with life and beauty. Ironically, we have entered the Garden Tomb. The docent Peter, a nearly blind British ex-pat, introduces us to this place and shares why he believes it is the site of Jesus' crucifixion and burial, as well as sharing a bit of his own testimony. His peaceful nature and satisfaction in Christ fit perfectly here. We take turns entering the smaller than expected tomb, each of us finding nothing. "Why do you look for the living among the dead?" We gather in a small chapel to take communion together, but just as Brad is about to speak, the Islamic call to prayer blasts throughout the city. The mood dramatically shifts as we anticipate its end. A somber sound. We are reminded yet again that the surrounding neighborhoods do not revere these places. But the gospel does not stop here, nor will our day stop here. "He is not here, He is risen!" In response to the prayer call, a tour group in the garden begins worshipping God in Spanish, refreshing the mood with a glimpse of heaven's diversity. We partake in communion, remembering Jesus' sacrifice, and are thankful for his ultimate victory.
For lunch, we eat deliciously spiced musakahn chicken wraps beneath the Damascus Gate as kittens encircle us, yowling for scraps from the shade. To finish it off, we try a new Israeli chocolate wafer treat.
Through the Damascus Gate, we walk further into the Muslim quarter and enter the Christian quarter at the turn of a staircase. We follow the Via Dolorosa up another staircase to the Ethiopian entrance of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Here we explore the other place thought to be the site of Jesus' crucifixion and burial. However, this place does not exude peace and satisfaction in Christ. We are affronted with gold shrines and ornate jewelry that seem to defile the grounds more than honor them. It has been a day of stark contrasts.
We traverse one more time through the Old City, this time to the Jaffa Gate. Here we climb a fortress onto the top of the city walls. Brad reads Psalm 48:12-14, and we set out in single file to do exactly what that scripture says. We walk Zion's ramparts and citadels, and we pass through its towers in silence. We pray for the shalom of the city as we stroll above its different quadrants. We pray for the gospel to reach this next generation as the Armenian, Muslim, and Jewish children play beneath our feet.
Our final stop is the Israel Museum. Although there are hundreds of exhibits to explore, we stop at only two. We walk to a huge model of Jerusalem as archaeologists imagined it to be in the days of Jesus. All the sites we have been learning about for the past nine days come together as we pinpoint exactly where we have been on the model. What we have imagined through the rubble and beneath our feet becomes crystal clear. On our way to the exit, we pass through the Dead Sea Scrolls. We see the importance of learning this history and preserving it.
At our farewell dinner, this sentiment is shared as we discuss our favorite moments from the past few days over Arab dishes and mint lemonade. Our restaurant overlooks Jerusalem as the city glitters in the dark. The sun may have set on our time here, but the adventure of sharing how Israel changed us has just begun.