The title theme for this day could be “Wow,” or alternatively, “There are bodies in the elevator but the tomb is empty,” as we were scheduled to start our most jam-packed pilgrimage day with a 7:30am departure, but the elevator in which were Fr. Marty & John Eastham got stuck, and no one was answering the alarm bell (no phone inside Israeli elevators. You know the old joke, so this priest and a lawyer walk into this elevator…) So Fr. Marty had to use his cell phone to call the 1-800 number on the inside of the elevator, and of course they put him on hold with (what else?) — elevator music playing. Then, they asked if we could wait a few minutes, to which John sarcastically replied, “No, if you can’t get us out of here in a minute, we’re both leaving!” (At least John had a priest for the Last Rites and Marty had a lawyer to take care of his will.)
In the end, and about a 20 minute delay, they were finally out of the elevator and we departed. We stopped outside the city gate for some preliminary information given by Rimon.
Then we walked up a block to our first stop — the Pool of Bethesda, in the area surrounding the Church of St. Anne, which is the legendary location of Mary’s birth. (Historically, this is not possible since it was not an area that was a likely home for Mary’s parents in that day.) However, the Pool of Bethesda has been archeologically shown to be true, and this is the spot where Jesus healed the paralyzed man (“pick up your mat and walk”) as recorded in John 5. At this location, we read the story in John’s Gospel, and then conducted our own healing service that was meaningful for all.
From here, it was just a short walk to the beginning of the Via Dolorosa, where we began our meditative walk to pray the Stations of the Cross. Because it was now getting close to mid-morning, there was pedestrian traffic on the narrow streets, with many of the shops opening. There was just enough “commotion” to give us the feel of what it would have been like when Jesus marched on that first Good Friday through the same streets. Even though there was much noise and activity around us, it seemed that everyone was very focused as we sang Taize chants moving from station to station.
Especially timely and meaningful was encountering this poster at Station 9 that remembered the Christians recently martyred for their faith in Syria.
Station 9, Jesus falls a third time, is just outside the Coptic Church. Given this recent horrible event, the collect we prayed here was most appropriate, “grant us so to glory in the cross of Christ, that we may gladly suffer shame and loss for the sake of your Son our Savior Jesus Christ.”
Upon our arrival at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (the location of Calvary and the Empty Tomb), we completed our Stations of the Cross devotions before entering the Church, where we first visited the location of the rock of Calvary where Jesus was crucified. There is a hole underneath the altar where one is able to reach down and touch the rock that commemorates the spot of Jesus’ cross. After everyone had an opportunity for private devotion, we gathered in a circle and added a prayer together for all those who had made it possible for us to be here today – from those who made this pilgrimage possible, to those who were the first to introduce us in our lives to Jesus Christ.
Then, we went down the stairs and queued up to enter the chapel where the Empty Tomb is located. Once we each reached the front of the line, we crouched down to enter the small space, where we each venerated the slab of stone right above where the empty tomb of the resurrected Jesus is.
The reality of what we had seen and where we had walked and prayed throughout this morning began to hit the pilgrims as we left the church and walked into the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem. We stopped at a Jewish bakery for a sandwich and drink before we continued on.
After lunch, we visited the museum built above and around the ruins of a house (called the Cardo, or Burnt House) discovered in recent times that was destroyed in the raids of 70 AD. There was an informative movie that told the story of the Jewish people who were slaughtered at this time. We discovered a chariot for two of our adored Queens to ride down to their theatre seats as the crowds waved to them.We then continued our incredible day by walking down to the Western Wall, where everyone was given the opportunity to walk up to the Wailing Wall after our group photo.
Next, we continued on to the Jerusalem Archeological Park, where there is a comprehensive excavation and display of a Herodian palace that was discovered in recent times. A movie explained very completely how the average Jew would experience a visit to the Temple Mount to offer a sacrifice – everything from the tax they had to pay to the animals they would purchase for sacrifice.
This was a huge palace, as the model below gives an indication. They even had bathtubs, bathrooms, and a wine cellar where they stored the imported wines. (There was money to be made by taxing those who had to come to visit the temple.) Also in the park was the area where the original steps leading up to the location of Mount Moriah, where Abraham brought his son Isaac to sacrifice. These steps are where people gathered around the temple. This is where Jesus would have been many times. This is where Peter in the book of Acts baptized 3,000 on Pentecost day.
A real treasure find in recent times in this area is the pinnacle stone from the top corner of the temple, which had an inscription on it indicating that this is the stone from whence the shofar trumpet was blown at ceremonial times. When the temple was destroyed in 70 AD, this would have been the first stone cast down to the ground, since it was the highest point on the corner of the temple. This, therefore, is the actual pinnacle of the temple — the place where one of the temptations of Jesus took place.
Following this, the group reboarded the bus after our full day of walking, and we continued on to St. Peter in Gallicantu, where we visited the site of Jesus’ initial scourging and imprisonment by Caiphas. It is also the same dungeon where the apostle John and Peter were imprisoned (Acts 5). The church itself is called Gallicantu (which means “cock crow”), because it commemorates the 3-fold denial of Jesus by Peter before the cock crowed.
Our final stop of the day was just across the road from here, at the Upper Room location of the Last Supper. It is amazing that such a sacred Christian site has been historically under Moslem or Jewish control. Groups are not allowed to celebrate Eucharist here, and after Rimon lead the group in a blessing prayer for Fr. Marty (as is traditionally done for church leaders in this spot), we began to sing “I Am the Bread of Life,” until the Jewish guard came in to tell us to keep it down. (We finished the last verse back on the bus.)
Everyone came back to the bus on our way home saying how tiring, yet totally incredible, this day had been. After a short social time and dinner back at the hotel, all went up to bed to crash. Tomorrow, we get to sleep in a bit, as we will depart the hotel at 9:00am.