Shabbat shalom! Whilst the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is the traditional site for the crucifixion and burial of Jesus, “Gordon’s Calvary” and “Garden Tomb” area is an alternative site very nearby, steeped in authenticity! This site was proposed as a possible site for the crucifixion because the outcrop resembles a skull. However others remind us that it could have been the product of erosion or quarrying since then. The interesting thing is, this crucifixion site would have been in a very public market-like place – full publicity, full shame. And now it is a bus park. Modern meets traditional! Many scholars still hold today that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre sits over the place where Jesus was crucified, buried and rose again. But for now, I am enjoying the authentic sites as they mould my imagination as I mull over the stories. (I’ll talk about the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in more detail in another blog)
At the Garden tomb area we had a leisurely walk around. What a beautiful peaceful place. There was lots of shade, beautiful tended gardens, lots of green, many beautiful birds, and a very present feeling of peace.
We went inside a first century tomb, very similar to the one that Jesus would have been in. It has since been dated around the 7th C BC. It was pretty much the right location, but of course no-one really knows exactly which tomb, and if the tomb exists today. But this one, we were able to go inside. It was a lot smaller than I had imagined, but once again the authenticity of the site was perfect.
We wandered from the tomb, to a little area in the shade with seats, surrounded by stunning gardens and had worship together. Through the garden were little pockets of seats, and people worshipping in their own way. We read out loud the account of the crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus. Wayne shared some reflections, we sang (it was amazing), and then shared in communion. It was profound taking part in communion in this place. Putting context to the story in the Bible made it all come alive. It was pretty emotional to be in the place where all this played out 2,000 years ago.
We drove to the Mount of Olives, and overlooked Jerusalem…what a breathtaking view of the the city (albeit smaller) than Jesus would have looked at, all those years ago, filled with tears and compassion. The golden dome striking in its glittering central position, the temple walls, and other domes galore. One thing I noticed is that there are so many religions packed into a small area. There are four quarters to the city, and the domes/churches of many can be seen from the Mount of Olives. The four quarters are: Christian, Jewish, Islam and Armenian. The Dome of the Rock (golden dome) is an Islamic shrine over the centre of what is believed to be the sites of the temple. Right next to it is a dark grey dome, and that is the Al Aqsa Mosque (Islam). On the other side of the dark grey dome, is the wailing wall (just to put things into context). The other thing that was striking to me, was how close everything is. In my mind, I had places like Bethany being quite a distance away. But in reality, Bethany was just ‘over the hill’. The Mount of Olives is only 60m taller that the temple, and so it appears more of a mound than a mount.
On the very top of the Mount of Olives is where scholars believe Jesus ascended to Heaven after he had risen again and appeared to many. (Acts 1:1-12). Scripture says that it was a ‘Sabbath’s day walk’ from the temple to the top, and in the 4th Century AD, this place was chosen to build a Byzantine Church (subsequently destroyed and built upon). With those two things matching, scholars agree that this is very likely to be where Jesus ascended to Heaven. The present chapel is called ‘The Chapel of the Ascension’. Other chapels in the area are the church of Pater Noster, and The Dominus Flevit Chapel (just above the Russian Church of St Mary Magdalene).
Between the Mount of Olives and ‘Old Jerusalem’ is the Kidron Valley – not huge. The Kidron Valley has significance because Jesus would have crossed the valley many times going from the temple to the Mount of Olives. In the Old Testament, it was known as the ‘Valley of Jehosaphat’ which means ‘Yahweh judges’. “With this is the belief that the dead would be raised from here on the Resurrection Day for the Day of Judgement. Hence it is covered with cemeteries of Jews and Christians as well as Muslims.” (Tour notes). The slopes of the Mount of Olives has so many little tombs. People would bury their dead in a tomb, then after some time would take the bones and put them in little boxes on or near the Mount of Olives. Each time a tomb was visited, a little rock was put on the tomb. Some had few rocks, others had lots of rocks piled on them.
Jerusalem…the city that was, and is, so central and important to the Jewish tradition. Jerusalem…the city that Jesus came to set free…Jerusalem the city that has struggled to let go of pre-messianic ways. Jerusalem…where modern meets old in a dramatic way. Jerusalem…the city that was at the very middle of the unfolding drama of Jesus’ death and resurrection, the crossroads where the gospel to the Jews met face to face, the unfolding reality that the gospel was now open to the Gentiles, and in fact the whole world.
The Golden Gate (or Mercy Gate) in the picture above is one of seven entrances to ‘Old Jerusalem’ – reputed to be the closest gate to the original site of the temple. The gate was sealed in 810AD and again in the 1500’s, as Jews believe that when the Messiah comes, he will walk through that gate. Different groups through history have wanted to stop any possible return of the Messiah, and so blocked the gate. Muslims believe this gate is where the final judgement will take place (the ‘just’ will walk through it), and Christians believe this is the site of the gate that Jesus came through on a donkey in the ‘Triumphal Procession’ (actual gate is underground). There is magnificent symbolism with the ‘Lamb of God’ entering through the gate that once had priests entering and exiting with sacrificial lambs on the Day of Atonement. This is an important gate as it holds significance for many religions! I’ll talk about the gates in a future post. Old Jerusalem was so very fascinating to wander around! (For more information, this site was helpful – http://www.magdalenepublishing.org/blog/jerusalems-golden-gate-history-prophecy/)
We walked the Via Dolorosa backwards – from top to bottom. I was very excited to be experiencing this day, as the Via Dolorosa has been high on my list of places to visit ever since I was young. We were walking down the path from the Mt of Olives to Gethsemene, hearing an Islamic call to prayer. The Via Dolorosa runs right through the Muslim quarter of Jerusalem. It was interesting walking this route, while hearing the call the prayer! It tore at my mind, it didn’t make sense that I was in this place where Jesus Christ lived, died and rose again, hearing a call to prayer of another religion so opposite to mine and the history I was re-living. It was profound to be reminded of the four quarters of Jerusalem, in a place so steeped in Biblical history. That even in the place where the historical account of Jesus is so ‘in your face’, there is massive competing of ideologies.
We made our way down to Gethsemene (in Aramaic means ‘oil press’), and of course found a church – The Church of all Nations. 16 nations contributed to the building of this church in the early 1900’s. In the church is a rock platform which they believe is the one that Jesus prayed on – whether it is or isn’t, it was still breathtaking to take a minute to reflect on the anguish Jesus felt in that garden. It was a beautiful church full of gorgeous mosaics.
Then there was the olive tree garden, with one tree in particular they reason is around 1000 years old. Not quite as old as Jesus’ time, but very old! The trunks of these trees were thick and knotted. Very beautiful. Reading the scriptural account of the Garden of Gethsemene story was very moving.
Caiaphis’ house was next. Underneath, was a dungeon which was exciting to climb down into! We all went to the very bottom, and read a psalm about God hearing us from the depth. We (of course) sang another song, and it was amazing! Our group has a beautiful range of voices and harmony. Debbie up on the ground could hear us! The dungeon would have been a fairly accurate location as to where they put Jesus for the night, to await trial. I hadn’t considered before, that Jesus probably spent a few hours in the dungeon over night, and the thought was profound. My Lord in a dungeon, a dark, cold dungeon. Heaven forbid. But it didn’t – it was part of the plan, my Lord went through everything for me, for us.
There was a path from Caiaphis’ house down towards the temple, which is confirmed 1C path, that Jesus would have walked on. A truly amazing site to behold! There was also a statue of a rooster, and we were reminded of the story of Peter denying Jesus the evening he was arrested.
Lunch was at an Armenian restaurant – really delicious, then back to the hotel for an afternoon nap. This was so needed! After our rest, we had dinner then down to the wailing wall again (See my previous post). The night life is alive here in Jerusalem, with music in the streets, dancing, people eating and having fun. It ended up being only a handful of us who still wanted to wander around, so we went and had ice cream! It was a lovely cool evening, with lots of people to watch! A great end to a fab day. God is good, so very, very good!