Today, we spent most of the day in the old city of Jerusalem, and in some important Christian sites. We began at the Western Wall, where faithful Jews come to pray; it is the only area of the Jerusalem Temple still standing, and faithful Jews pray there, nearest where the Holy of Holies once stood in the temple. Then we went through some tunnels once used for the conveyance of water, seeing some remarkably old architecture.
We visited the pools of Bethesda, where people went to receive ritual cleansing and healing. A very old church building stands near there, the Church of St. Anne, which has gorgeous acoustics. We sang a few hymns there, and listened to the echo! (You can watch a video of our singing here, courtesy of one of my colleagues on this journey.)
We crossed the Kidron Valley to visit Gethsemane, where Jesus prayed to be released from the cup of suffering, and where he was ultimately betrayed by Judas. We visited the church which stands where Jesus would have been tried and beaten by Caiaphas, including a dungeon in which Jesus may have been housed for his flogging.
We then walked the Via Dolorosa, tracing the steps where Jesus carried his cross toward Golgotha, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The rock where Jesus was crucified remains exposed within this church, and the tomb in which he was buried can be seen from within the same church complex. Many go to visit the rock of Calvary and the tomb, though, of course, Jesus is not there.
Where he did appear, the Upper Room, was another place we visited. The Upper Room was turned into a Christian synagogue not long after the resurrection (probably after the destruction of the temple in AD 70). We know it was a Christian synagogue because it was shaped like a synagogue, and instead of being oriented toward the temple, it was oriented toward the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the site where the crucifixion took place! After the conquering of Jerusalem by the Muslims, it became a mosque, and now is largely guarded by the Israeli ministry of religion as a tourist site. It was quite moving to sing God’s praise in the very room where Jesus and his friends had their final Passover meal together, and where the Holy Spirit descended on the first believers; the birthplace of Jesus was Bethlehem, and the birthplace of the church is the Upper Room!
It was a busy day, and we were glad to get on the bus to travel back to the hotel after what I’d call the longest 7 km walk of my life. But it was a very special walk indeed.