We departed at 8:30am to travel by bus to The Mount of Olives area, where our first stop was at the location revered as the site of the Chapel of the Ascension, as described in Acts 1: 1-11. It is a Christian and Muslim holy site now believed to mark the place where Jesus ascended into heaven. In the small round church/mosque is a stone imprinted with what some claim to be the very footprints of Jesus. (Gail Drane did not start dating Telly Savalas on this pilgrimage, but our guide Rimon took her by the arm to help her sore knees find stability as we walked this morning.) Following this, we made a short walk to Pater Noster Church (Latin for “Our Father”), that has contains ceramic artwork with the Lord’s Prayer printed in 180 different languages. (While the Gospels are clear that Jesus’ teaching of the prayer took place in Galilee, nevertheless this is the site dedicated to the prayer itself.) We gathered in a prayer circle here, and together sang Malotte’s version of the Lord’s Prayer together. (David Clyle Morse would be proud…) We then continued our walk down the valley towards the church of Dominus Flevit (Latin for “the Lord wept”). The church itself is made in the shape of a teardrop because here, Jesus, while walking toward the city of Jerusalem, became overwhelmed by the beauty of the second temple, and predicting its future destruction, weeps openly, as recorded in Luke 19. We celebrated Eucharist here at an outdoor chapel while we overlooked the walls of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount across the valley.
Next, we continued our walk, roughly following the direction of the Palm Sunday procession down the hill. However, rather than continuing across to Jerusalem, we stopped at the Garden of Gethsemane, where we visited the church dedicated to the Agony of the Garden. The olive trees there have been scientifically proven to date back to the time of Jesus. There is a beautiful church there (called “Church of All Nations”) where a Polish pilgrimage group was singing hymns led by a guitar playing nun that added to the beautiful of our meditative stop. It was now 12:30pm, and the group was spiritually full but physically a bit drained after this incredible morning. We boarded the bus, and traveled back into Palestine past the border guards to have lunch at Ruth’s Restaurant, run by a Palestinian Christian family there. After a short stop (ha!) at the adjoining souvenir shop, we continued on back towards Jerusalem, to visit Hezekiah’s Tunnel — an underground tunnel used to divert water from a spring outside the city walls to inside the city walls, so that the city could be under siege and they would have a source of fresh water without the attackers ever knowing it. There have been a lot of excavations done in the area leading to the tunnel, which we toured as we walked the gradual descent to the tunnel entrance. (This was originally on the itinerary for Friday, but because we had additional time this afternoon, and to give the group a more leisurely Friday morning, we changed it to today.) We could view the area up to our left where Jesus had wept over Jerusalem, and below us the valley where they would have marched Jesus on his way to his trial. At the entrance to the tunnel, Rimon explained how there are actually two tunnels, one higher than the other. The higher one actually has water running through it, and a Disney-like sign indicated that it would not be over Rochelle’s head. The tunnel below is a dry tunnel, and given the cold weather and the attire of the group, we began the descent to walk through the dry tunnel. Once we reached the bottom, we were able to actually see where the spring still has water rushing through it. A short walk from the exit from Hezekiah’s Tunnel brought us to the Pool of Siloam. We had a slight delay with another “traffic jam” that everyone stopped to photograph before continuing on.
Once we arrived, we read the account of Jesus healing the blind man in John 9, where he tells the man to “go wash in the pool of Siloam.” An amazing recent discovery here, due to a road collapsing, was the series of steps that led all the way down from the city to the pool of Siloam. They have excavated this entire series of steps, and we walked on the very steps that date back to Jesus’ time.
These would have been the steps that the healed blind man would have walked to get to the pool of Siloam. By this time it was after 5:00pm, so Faris our bus driver did some fancy maneuvering through some narrow side streets, and got us back to our hotel.