Thursday, last night in Old Town Jerusalem. Sorry this is so long, but the connection is spotty and it takes time. There are pictures on the church's Facebook. I'll keep posting as I can.
One thing we must understand about the Holy Land is that because of the ancient nature of the area, and the fact that Islam, Judaism, and Christianity all lay claim to it, our traditions play an overwhelming role in how we feel about it. And it's very personal. It's between each of us and God and it touches the core of our faith--which is highly individual and impacted "according to our tradition."
So, all that to help answer questions like, "Where did Solomon build the temple? Did Abraham sacrifice Isaac on the Temple Mount? Where was Jesus arrested, tried, crucified? How far did Jesus carry his cross? Where was his tomb?"
The answer to all of these questions begins with "According to tradition..."
Jerusalem has been completely destroyed 13 times in its history and siege has been laid upon it many, many more times. The old city of today is absolutely not the old city of Abraham, King David, Solomon, or Jesus. It's been built and rebuilt so many times on top of the rubble before it. It is a living, breathing archeological dig. They are tunneling underneath as I write this to get to artifacts--even something as relatively simple as mapping the old walls (which is anything but simple). Never mind that modern Israel, the territorial wars, and the Palestinian conflict all impact Jerusalem directly.
Yesterday, we walked all over the Old City. You can't imagine the slick nature of the floor of the thin little alleyways that make up the streets. Worn slick by centuries of foot travel on them, carts from the vendors, chariots, horses, and they run uphill and downhill and twist and turn. It's easy to get lost and turned around and Google maps GPS does a pretty good job.
We went to the Temple Mount early yesterday because our guide knows the deal. They shoo you away during Muslim prayer times several times a day. They literally clear the whole Temple Mount, an area as big as several football fields, several times a day. The lines are always long.
The Temple Mount is where Christians and Jews believe that Abraham sacrificed Isaac and the Muslims believe that Abraham sacrificed Ishmael here in place of Isaac. Jews and Christians believe our ancient temples were built and stood here and all of the beliefs that surround the Temple developed according to our traditions. The Dome of the Rock shrine and the El-Aqsa Mosque are here now. The Dome is octagonal and is a place for individual prayer and meditation. The Mosque is rectangular and for corporate prayers.
Jesus turned over the tables of the money changers on the Temple Mount, and you can see the Mount of Olives from there and the inner side of the Golden Gate where Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. This gate is now sealed awaiting the return of the Messiah. All this according to our tradition.
Down below and not far from the Lion's Gate of the old city is St. Anne's Church to honor Anne, the mother of Mary. Some traditions hold that Anne immaculately conceived Mary, the mother of the Son of God. This church is also the site of the pools of Bethesda where Jesus healed the crippled man on the Sabbath and the Jewish leaders began plotting against him.
St. Anne's is very unadorned and beautiful in its simplicity. The acoustics are awesome because it's all stone. Encouraged by one of the brothers of the order who maintain the church, our group sang our traditional "Doxology" and the reverb was awesome! We totally rocked that place! The sound was amazing!
From here we walked the Via Dolorosa, "The Way of Sorrow." These are the 14 Stations of the Cross tracing the route Jesus may have taken from his trial and beating to the crucifixion. The sculptures and chapels at each station are incredible! This route ends at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher--some now call it "The Church of the Resurrection." Jesus symbolic tomb is here, though Golgotha (the site of the crucifixion) and his tomb would have been well outside the walls of the city according to tradition.
I made another trip, this time with the group, to the Western Wall. After the 1967 War, the Israelis destroyed 68 Palestinian homes in front of the Wall to create a plaza to accommodate crowds of Jews and tourists. It is considered a 24 hour open air Temple. The men and women are separated and pray in their own sections of the wall. The women must walk backwards away from the wall in reverence after their prayers, but the men are not required to.
During the afternoon we had a couple of conversations regarding the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians. The first one was with a couple of rabbis, Zionist Jews associated with Rabbis for Human Rights. They are actively engaging in interfaith dialogue to influence the greater society for peace and a resolution to this decades-long fight.
Our second conversation was with Robert and Carrie Smith, both Lutheran pastors in Jerusalem. She serves as the English Pastor of the Lutheran Church and Assistant to the Bishop of Holy Lands and Jordan. They gave us a great deal of insight into the dynamics at play in Palestine-Israel politically, socially, historically and religiously. The complexity of the issue cannot be understated, nor can the involvement of the US government.
We started today at the Albright Archeological Institute whose property is an actual dig in the new city of Jerusalem. Albright sits directly over a section of one of the old walls. It's been around for about a hundred years. Google Albright if you're interested in their work. We spent some time in their labs looking at how they put the puzzle pieces together of old pots and urns and other artifacts. One of Albright's claims to fame is their basement library was where the Dead Sea Scrolls were first unrolled and photographed as they authenticated them. Very cool!
Next, was a trip up the Mount of Olives where Jesus ascended to heaven. There is an incredible panoramic view of the Old City from Gethsemane below, where Jesus was arrested--the High Priest Ciaphas' house where he appeared before the Sanhedrin--and the locations of Pilates's and Herod's courts where he was tried. Again, according to our tradition.
We walked down the west side of the mountain to the site of the church of Pater Noster (Our Father) which may have been where Jesus taught the disciples The Lord's Prayer. We prayed the prayer there together and then walked past the gardens of the Church of Mary Magdalene to Gethsemane.
The Garden of Gethsemane is so named because it's a grove of olive trees and "Gethsemane" means "olive press." Of course! This garden was a flourishing olive oil business and Jesus liked to pray there. We suppose that he took the disciples there often to reflect on the day's work and teach them. It was a favorite place to hang out.
They say that olive trees never die, but continue to produce new shoots. Today's Gethsemane isn't the exact same trees, but they are absolutely the progeny of the originals. How cool is that? We lucked out in that they had just pruned the trees so I was able to snag several small branches to bring home.
Our day ended with two more conversations about the conflict. The first was with Rev. Kate Tabor, a mission co-worker of the PC(USA) Mission Agency. She is at the end of her service time here, just had a baby, and is ready to come back to the USA before Summer. She is involved in truly ecumenical conversations because PC(USA) by agreement with the Lutherans, Anglicans, and Orthodox churches planted its middle eastern churches and missions in Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq. So Kate spends her time working with these other denominations in cooperative ministries including support for a hospital and medical missions in the Gaga Strip, the hottest area for conflict.
Finally, we met with a couple former Israeli special force soldiers who helped found a group called Breaking the Silence. They are affecting the conflict resolution by telling their stories of following orders to intentionally mistreat Palestinians in deliberate campaigns to intimidate, incite fear and paranoia, and psychologically harass Palestinian neighborhoods. The Israeli government is working to pass laws now to silence them as traitors to the state. Their stories were heartbreaking and captivating.
Tomorrow we leave Jerusalem for Galilee, the Jordan Valley, Jericho, the Dead Sea and Qumran. We'll spend the weekend in Tiberius. My heart is so full!
It is an absolute mind-blowing thing to know that Jesus, the disciples, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, King David, Solomon, were here. We walk in the same places and see the same light and vistas that we have only read and prayed about. I don't care whether I can pinpoint them on a map exactly, factually, historically, and I never have. Never let the facts get in the way of a good story! Faith is knowing these stories are true and right in what they teach us about God and ourselves according to our traditions.
Grace and Peace,
Please excuse the typos
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