Friday, January 25, 2008

Walking Where Jesus Walked

Today was a beautiful, somewhat cool day in Jerusalem, filled with powerful times of reflection. We began the day at St. Peter in Gallicantu, the church built over the ruins of Caiaphas' house. We were the only tour bus there, which mean we didn't have to be rushed. Our destination was the pit, or dungeon underneath the house, where Jesus was kept after his arrest. It's one of the few places you can be pretty sure you are walking where Jesus walked. And what a place it is.

Now there are steps to walk down into the dungeon, with lights and a lecturn added. Jesus was lowered down by ropes under his arms, as all prisoners were then. After our guide explained how we know this is the place and the way Jesus would have been handled until he saw Caiaphas the next morning, we turned out the lights and by flashlight read Psalm 88:
For my soul is full of troubles, and my life draws near to Sheol. I am counted among those who go down to the Pit; I am like those who have no help, like those forsaken among the dead, like the slain that lie in the grave... You have put me in the depths of the Pit, in the regions dark and deep. Your wrath lies heavy upon me, and you overwhelm me with all your waves. You have caused my companions to shun me; you have made me a thing of horror to them. I am shut in so that I cannot escape; my eye grows dim through sorrow.

Then we sang, "Were You There." And before the reality of it all weakened us too much, we climbed the steps back up to the daylight. Then it was over to the Antonio Steps, the first century road between the lower and upper portions of the City of David. It was the main route in Jesus day, so once again you can be pretty sure you are "walking where Jesus walked."

On to Mt. Zion, the hill across from the Temple Mount that King David loved. There we entered the Crusader room, built where the Upper Room would have been. The room is opened to all faiths since the memorial for King David is underneath it, and for many centuries it was converted to a mosque. So you aren't supposed to have worship services in it. But again we were fortunate and were the only group there. So, having come prepared, we quickly celebrated Holy Communion in the location where the Last Supper took place, as well as where the Spirit descended upon the disciples on the day of Pentecost.
Next we went to Bethlehem, to the shepherd's caves and the Church of the Nativity, the oldest church in Christiandom. The side of the church built over the grotto of the nativity is under the Greek Orthodox control. There were more groups here and an Armenian service was taking place, so we had to hurry along. But we did sing, "O Little Town of Bethlehem" beside the Nativity.

We ended the day at the Garden Tomb. It probably isn't the actual site. Most scholars agree that the Church of the Sepulchre is built over the place of crucifixion and burial. We go there tomorrow after walking the Via Dolorosa. The Garden Tomb however gives you a good feel of what it could have been like. There again we celebrated Holy Communion, this time with a focus on the resurrection.
Nice day, capped off with an evening hike back to the Damascus gate and a quick walk through the Moslem section. I had dreaded taking the time to come on this trip this year, but of course now I'm delighted I did. Seeing the people in my group experience these places is worth the effort to get them here. Now I'm thinking maybe I can encourage others to come....

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