The “Palm Sunday” walk down the Mount of Olives got us started today, and a beautiful first full day in Jerusalem it was. It was awe-inspiring to stand on the Mount of Olives overlooking the city from the east on such a gorgeous day. The weather was perfect for us again today, and we made the most of it by covering a lot of ground.
At the top of the Mount we visited the Pater Noster church, which has a very old tradition of being one of places where Jesus taught the disciples the Lord’s Prayer. We prayed the prayer ourselves as a group to get started, then we toured the grounds of this church which has the Lord’s Prayer in dozens of languages from around the world, written on ceramic tiles and placed on the walls.
We visited one of Jewish cemeteries on the Mount of Olives next. This is where wealthy Jewish folks are buried, mainly because they believe that when the Messiah comes, he will come there (Zechariah 14), and he will raise the dead there first. We learned from our guide that a burial place on the Mount of Olives costs around $50,000.
Across from the cemetery stands the church of Dominus Flevit, or “The Lord Wept.” Here, Jesus wept over Jerusalem, and the place is commemorated by a church that resembles a teardrop in its architecture, built by the Italian Antonio Barluzzi. One of the most spectacular views of Jerusalem from the east can be had from the grounds of this church.
The Garden of Gethsemane and the adjacent Church of All Nations stand near the base of the Mount of Olives. This was the place of the Lord’s agony, just before his arrest. The olive grove contains the oldest trees in the Holy Land, and the olives that they produce are harvested each year in the fall and pressed. We learned that the oil from these olives is sent to the Vatican and used by the pope in the ordinations of cardinals and bishops. The church next to the garden has a large, flat stone in front of the altar believed the place where Jesus prayed for God’s will to to be done. The stone is surrounded by small crowns of thorns made of iron that remind us of His suffering as he faced the torture to come.
From the Mount of Olives, we drove to Mt. Zion, the western ridge of ancient Jerusalem and the location of Dormitian Abbey, the Upper Room, Caiaphas’ house, and the Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu. We visited and prayed in the place traditionally believed to be the Upper Room (though the structure is not the original one). Then, we even stopped in to see the famed “Kind David’s Tomb” nearby, which is certainly not David’s burial place, but stands in for the unknown locale as a holy place which the Jews revere.
The Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu marks Caiaphas’ house where Jesus was tried, and reminds us of Peter’s denial of Christ. The building also contains a dungeon that may have been where Jesus was held while under arrest during part of that night. It was a former cistern for water, so a person would have to be lowered into it through a hole on ropes. It had no other entrance or exit and would have been pitch dark. We read Psalm 88 and reflected on Christ’s abandonment and loneliness during those hours of his likely imprisonment.
The first century remains excavated around this area argue strongly that this was the high priest’s house. Our guide, George, participated in the archaeological dig there for four years, and taught us about what was found and how it is relevant.
Next, we entered the Old City of Jerusalem (the part inside the walls) by the Jaffa Gate, had a snack, and got to do some wandering and shopping on our own for a short while. Then we made our way to the Garden Tomb for a special time of meditating on Christ’s resurrection and a celebration of communion as a group. This is a place that is likely similar to the original location of Jesus’ crucifixion and the garden of his tomb and resurrection, though the evidence suggests that it is not a strong candidate for the actual location. It is a wonderful place to reflect, pray, sing, and worship, however, and is very conducive to an encounter with the truth that what matters most is that Jesus rose from the dead, rather than where he rose. Belief in the resurrection is far more important than knowledge of its specific whereabouts.
After a short break at the hotel, we struck out for Bethlehem one last time for dinner in a restaurant called the Grotto. Tasty local cuisine prepared and presented with flair made this a treat and a fun change of pace.
Tomorrow is Sunday already! We will worship together at East Jerusalem Baptist Church, and spend the day touring in the Old City. We plan to visit the Israel Museum in the later afternoon, then head to the airport to begin the journey home.