Sunday, 17 January. Jerusalem.
The itinerary said, “Visit a local Protestant church.” I asked the tour guide if, instead, we could visit Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum. We only had a little over an hour but we were all grateful for the experience. It’s a stunning museum in every way. It was also an overwhelming way to start our day.
From there we were dropped off at the Old City of Jerusalem. Here our guide is giving us some information before we walk in through one of the many gates. I asked him to point out the direction Jesus walked on Palm Sunday. He came in from the east. He would have walked right in front of what is now a Muslim cemetery (center photo).
Our first stop was St. Anne’s church, which commemorates the site of Mary’s birth. The priest there talked to us about the history of this statue, which depicts Mary’s mother reading to her from Deuteronomy (“love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength”), passing the faith from generation to generation.
The church was beautiful, with amazing acoustics. We sang verses of two hymns here.
The gardens and courtyard surrounding the church were gorgeous – as opposed to the marketplace atmosphere not many feet away, the grounds were peaceful and we could hear birds singing. This spot is also the site of the pool at Bethesda (or Bethsaida) where Jesus healed a man who had been ill 38 years (this story is told in John 5.) Here is a picture of the deep pool:
We walked the Via Dolorosa, beginning with the place where Jesus was put on trial, and ending at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the site of the crucifixion. It’s an odd experience, as the walk is now part of the Muslim Quarter of the old city. It’s an active marketplace.
I think it’s fair to say that we were all disappointed by the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. This extremely ornate worship space is shared by six (SIX) different religious bodies! Even during low tourist season, there are lines to see a piece of the tomb and the stone; it was very hard (at least for us Protestants) to feel a sense of spirituality there.
After lunch we were in the Jewish Quarter, making our way to the Western Wall. Now that was an experience! We all knew about putting our prayers in the wall and the separation between men and women, but we were surprised by the chairs and desks that are in the area. It reminded me of a study carrel in a library – people bring their books and come for some serious study and prayer.
Last stop of the day was Bethany, home of Lazarus, Mary and Martha. It’s a simpler church…none of us were tempted by this particular shopping opportunity (the Martha and Maria Souvenirs Shop):
I’ve heard that many Protestants prefer the Garden of Gethsemane environment and find it a much more evocative site. I’m looking forward to seeing it tomorrow.