Here I am in Jerusalem, the night before we fly back to the USA. What a few days it has been.
Our last morning in Galilee took us to Mt. Carmel, where Elijah confronted the prophets of Baal. It was a beautiful, cool, crisp morning with a light haze, but we could still see quite a distance. From Mt. Carmel, we headed to Caesarea by the Sea, the Mediterranean Sea, that is, with blues as incredible as any I’ve ever seen in Hawaii. The waves were breaking on the reef as we walked the promenade on the beach, visiting the site of Herod’s palace where Paul was held for two years.
From there, we made our way to Jerusalem, reading several of the Psalms of Ascent as we climbed the mountain slopes. Avner played “Jerusalem” as we neared the city. Coming around a curve, Jerusalem leapt into view, gleaming white in the afternoon sun. I think I gasped out loud. It was an exhilarating moment to finally see the City of David, the City of God, the location of so many familiar stories in Scripture.
We quickly made our way to Bethlehem as orthodox Jews hurried along the streets preparing for Shabbat. Our guide left us, as she does not have permission to travel into Bethlehem at this time, and once through the Palestinian checkpoint, our new guide joined us. Arriving at Manger Square, we joined the throngs making their way into the Byzantine church built atop the traditional location for the birth of Jesus. An hour and a half later, we finally entered the cave as pilgrims from Nigeria began singing “O Come, All Ye Faithful.” It was a touching moment to hear such devotion in their song, and to sense the common faith that had drawn all of us from across the continents to this place.
We began our day at the Promenade overlook that allowed us to enjoy a more detailed look at the city, and then spent much of the rest of the day, our first day in Jerusalem, in the Christian and Arab quarters. We began by visiting St. Anne’s and the pool of Bethesda, then making our way through the throngs on the Via Dolorosa and at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, followed by lunch and shopping in the Arab quarter. (I don’t haggle well, just in case you were wondering.)
Afterwards, we again braved the Via Dolorosa, this time going in the opposite direction, and heading out of the city. We boarded our bus for a trip across the Kidron Valley to the Mount of Olives, where some brave souls rode a cranky camel, and we visited two sites, one a collection of first century ossuaries, and the Garden of Gethsemane and the Church of All Nations, which was a welcome change from the throngs at the Holy Sepulcher.
Today, we spent much of the morning at the Holocaust Museum, then went to the Jewish quarter for lunch. On our way into the quarter, we found ourselves in the midst of a festive parade for a young man’s bar mitzvah, surrounded by family and friends, a trumpeter, dancing, singing and the sound of a shofar being sounded. They were making their way to the Western Wall of the Temple Mount, where we found them after lunch. After a short time at the Western Wall, we toured an archaeological dig that runs the length of the Western Wall, touching stones from the Second Temple period, chiseled amazingly smooth with 3-3.5 inch borders all around the face. The stones were huge, like 14 ft. by 12 ft., and weighed six tons.
From the Western Wall, we went to the newly excavated Southern Wall and the Southern Steps, where pilgrims and worshippers would have climbed the Temple Mount to offer their sacrifices. Our final stop for the day was a virtual tour of the Temple Mount. All in all, good preparation for tomorrow morning, when we will be visiting the Temple Mount itself and the site of the Garden Tomb.
It is hard to imagine that tomorrow will be the end of our time here in Jerusalem, but we are eager to return to our homes and families. We will never be the same. We have seen this land that God loves above all other places on earth, heard His stories, had our hearts break as He has whispered to us, and come away with a new understanding of Jesus’ heart and message.
After lunch, we