Exploring the Old City
What a day! Of course I feel like I keep saying that every day! Well, today was no different.
We began with devotionals led by Trevor. He read to us from Isaiah 53, and made the point that Jesus was obedient to the cross, and God was pleased. He challenged us to consider what the desires of our hearts are and whether they please God.
Our first stop this morning was at the Friends of Zion Museum. This museum has existed for only a few years, but I think we all left feeling inspired, excited, and proud to be Christians who support Israel and the Jewish people. The museum was truly interactive and visual. It was quite impressive. I think I even learned a new way that I might be able to incorporate the Israeli National Anthem, “HaTikva,” with the hymn, “It Is Well With My Soul.” That will be a project for when I get home! Overall, the museum was a hit with our crew. I even heard someone exclaim, "It's over already?!"
We left the quiet Jewish side of town (it is still the Sabbath for this side of Jerusalem) for the more bustling Eastern side where Muslims and Christians were going about their business and sightseeing. Today was a big walking day for us. Our driver, Ruven, dropped us near the Lion's Gate, and we hiked up the slippery cobblestone road into the Old City. We managed to avoid getting run over as we made our way through the narrow streets of the Via Dolorosa.
At Saint Anne's Church we sang several hymns. The acoustics of the sanctuary are remarkable, and our bus is basically a traveling choir. We took advantage of the reverb and sang out for all to hear, in four part harmony. We also got to see the Pools of Bethesda next to the church.
As we made our way through the very crowded stations of the cross, we also stopped by the Church of the Flagellation and saw original first century floor stones.
We enjoyed our choice of pizza or falafel for lunch. No word on what is for lunch tomorrow. I suppose it will be a surprise!
Then we spent time at the two supposed sites of Jesus' crucifixion and burial (and resurrection!) The Church of the Holy Sepulchre https://www.bibleplaces.com/holysepulcher/ was packed with people. It was so crowded that it did not lend itself to being a place of deep contemplation. We split off for 20 minutes so we could explore what we wanted.
I went the less-traveled route and got to see many things I had not seen before. There are not signs posted, at least not in English, of what you’re looking at, so I had to look it up when I got back. I went exploring down and to the right, where I now know I ventured down into the Chapel of St. Helena and further yet into the Chapel of the Finding of the Cross. On the walls, I could see preserved remnants of very old paintings of Christ, probably dating far back. I also found bricks on bricks of crosses carved by the crusaders. It was less congested, and here was one place I found people praying in quiet contemplation. I ventured over to the Chapel of Joseph of Arimathea, which contains a family of tomb spots carved into the rock. Some people think this could be another place the body of Jesus may have been laid. It is carved into the same rock face as the one traditionally thought to be Jesus' in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
After all of the organized chaos that made up the Christian, albeit Muslim, Quarter of the Old City, we found our way out of the pushy merchants to our bus, where we escaped to the Garden Tomb at Gordon's Calvary https://www.bibleplaces.com/gardentomb/. Quite a contrast from the Sepulchre. The beautiful gardens and knowledgeable tour guide made an excellent case for this being the true burial site of Jesus. We celebrated communion together in a small chapel after getting to peek into the tomb. I was surprised to see that there was a Byzantine cross that had been found in the garden tomb.
The Sabbath is now over, and the city is awake again. It's amazing how quiet Jerusalem gets in the Jewish sections on this day. I realize I didn't miss the city traffic outside of my hotel now that it is back.
It's hard to believe that tomorrow is our last tour day. It sounds like we are in for some really exciting things that will really close the loop. We have already seen and done so much. This is truly the trip of a lifetime!
To echo my fellow pilgrim, "Is it over, already?!"
Blog author: Amy Westphal
Ministry Initiative Specialist
The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry
Photos: Melissa DiLiberto
Ministry Services Supervisor
The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry