Sunday in Jerusalem
The travelers went separate ways for worship this morning, some to St. George’s Episcopal Cathedral, some to the Dominican St. Stephen’s Monastery, and still more to the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer. (Yes, some engaged in Sunday devotions in private ways, as well!) We had some time for exploring before the next itinerary item, so a group of four of us went through Herod’s Gate to begin a walk up the Via Doloroso to stop at each Station of the Cross. Beginning at what is believed to be the Fortress Antonia at which Jesus faced Pilate, was flogged, had a crown of thorns placed on his head, and made his long walk up the road toward Calvary, we began with prayer in the Franciscan chapel that is now part of the Fortress location. Today, the Way of the Cross is a busy marketplace, and many groups of faithful pilgrims make the journey every day. Our own pilgrimage culminated at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the 13th Station where Jesus was removed from the cross. Knowing that we would be returning later in the day to visit the tomb with John Peterson as our guide (see Jerusalem, Day 2), we hurried back to our hotel, rushing through the market to the Damascus Gate as fast as we could (which isn’t very fast in a busy souq (market))!
We headed by bus back up the Mount of Olives to Augusta Victoria Hospital, a facility that is part of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) ministry in the West Bank. The remarkable CEO of the hospital, Dr. Talfiq Nasser, provided us with a tour along with LWF’s Rev. Mark Brown, so that we could see firsthand the remarkable specialty medical work being done for, by, and among Palestinians under very difficult circumstances. Dr. Nasser is a veritable force of nature, battling bureaucracy, circumstances, and even threats to provide health care for those least able to afford it. He even showed us the five different identification cards he must carry at all times to document that he is who he says he is so that he can pass through check points and have access to Augusta Victoria and its patients.
Boarding the bus for the south end of the Temple Mount, we entered through the Dung Gate to pray at the Western Wall of the temple, the only portion of Herod’s Temple left standing by the Romans. Men and women went to their respective areas of the wall, pressing prayers on bits of paper into cracks in the wall, just as faithful Jews have done for centuries. This is, sadly, one of the most contested areas of the Old City with Al-Haram al-Sharif just on the other side of the wall, and Israeli soldiers were very much in evidence.
From the Western Wall, many of us made our way back up into the Christian Quarter for more of the history and piety of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher with the Rev. John Peterson. All of us went up to Stations 11-13, kneeling down to reach into a hole in the floor to touch the rock on which Jesus’ cross reputedly stood. We then went down to the original location of the discovery of the True Cross by Helena, mother of the Emperor Constantine, which discovery led to the building of the first Byzantine church on that location. John then took us to an off-limits location so that we could see the walls of the abandoned stone quarry on which Calvary sat. The original church was actually built inside the old quarry that was used until 100BCE, and the walls remain intact. It is a remarkable architectural achievement! We also revisited the Chapel of Joseph of Arimathea, where a rolling stone tomb still exists, but this time John took us inside, using a flashlight to demonstrate how this tomb would have functioned in the time of Jesus. The great climax of this tour was his description of what happens next to the monumental tomb of Jesus when the New Light is lit on Holy Saturday. It was an incredibly moving account of this most important event in the life of the Eastern Church (including the information that a runner lights a candle from the New Light, is whisked away to Tel Aviv, and flies to Athens to share that light with the Orthodox of Greece!).
Those of us who made this extra tour with John Peterson then trudged back through the Damascus Gate to St. George’s Guest House, where we were treated with refreshments, dinner, and a quiet place to reflect on our experiences in Jerusalem. Tomorrow, we board the bus and head out into the desert to Qumran, the Dead Sea, and Jericho.
Elaine Ellis Thomas
The Rev. Mark Brown of Lutheran World Federation,
travel seminar participant Tim Thomas, and a
gift to Mark - Bulldog Theology
Courtyard of Augusta Victoria Hospital on the Mount of Olives
The Western Wall