Friday, April 24, 2009

Jerusalem - David's Royal City

Today we were back on the bus by 8:00 am to spend the day touring Jerusalem through stories in the Bible going from Jesus' time back to David's time and then back to Jesus again.

First Doron, our guide, gave us a little political history about who controlled Jerusalem at various times between 1948 until 1967 when the Israelis finally took it over from the Jordanians. We also found out that April 29 is the Isreali Independence Day and the 28th is their Memorial Day.

Doron then described the layout of the city from the viewpoint of the Mt. of Olives where we began the day. The old city of Jerusalem is surrounded by a wall and is all visible from that height. It was amazing as he pointed out one landmark after the other - the Temple Mount with its mosque with an $8,000,000 golden dome, The Church of the Holy Seplechre, the Lion, Golden and Damascus gates, the Church of the Redeemer, the Church of Mary Magdalene with golden domes also, the Qidron Valley and the Field of Blood with the Greek Orthodox church at the bottom of it, and the Cemetary where graves are built on top of each other. He described the Jewish custom of visiting the tombs 3 days after the burial of a person to retrieve the bones and place them in an aschuary where they would become ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

Our first tour for the day was the Garden of Gethsemane and the church built around the rock where Jesus agonized over the decision he had to make about letting himself be captured and crucified. It was built by an Italian named Barluzzi and is called the Church of All Nations. It was moving to be able to touch that rock and picture what Jesus must have gone through. Our guide said that Gethsemane was actually more important than Calvary because that's where Jesus made the final decision to follow his Father's will. Calvary is just the physical crucifixion or the fulfilling of that decision.

An interesting parallel about the site is that it is very near where Abraham went to sacrifice his son Isaac, and instead of being afraid, Isaac actually got up on the altar willingly, knowing that God would provide the sacrificial lamb.

Another interesting side note about the name Gethsemane - it actuallly means Olive press. The olive trees become hollow after 80 years and we were seeing 3,000 year old trees. The seeds would fall on the branches and new branches would be grafted out instead of grafted in to keep the tree growing.

Next we went to the Garden Tomb discovered by and Englishman named Gordon. It's actually called Gordon's Calvary. It includes Calvary, which is actually on the top of a quarry and on the other side of the quarry is what they believe is tomb where Jesus was laid. The other site is on the Via Dolorosa which we'll see tomorrow. A unique story they told that's not in the Bible was about the time that Peter went into the tomb after the women came to tell Peter and John that the tomb was empty. Supposedly, along with the burial cloths, Peter found Jesus' headband folded up on the stone behind the burial site. It was Jesus' custom, as a carpenter, to fold his headband and place it on top of a finished piece of furniture to signify that the job was finished and ready for the buyer to inspect and decide if he wanted it. If it passed the buyer's inspection, the buyer would put the money to pay for it on top of the headband. If Jesus put his headband on the stone behind the burial site, that meant to Peter that Jesus' promise of salvation through his death and resurrection had been fulfilled.

After seeing the tomb, we held a short service using the Holden Evening Prayer psalmody, hearing a homily from Pastor Mattson and sharing communion - Jesus' Last Supper - together. What a moving experience that was! We'll never experience communion in the same way again.

We spend the next two hours touring David's Royal City. There have been ongoing archeological digs in the area and some major finds as recent as the last 3 years ago. That's when the original water system that King Hezekiah dug around a major spring under the city and then David expanded, was discovered. There were ceramic stones and pots found with the names of people living at the time, many of whom where names from Biblical times. It must be an amazing place for archeologists to work. We took a long walk down many stone steps to see this water system being excavated and restored. Our guide is an expert in Biblical history and Jewish history and the stories and people really come alive as we listen to his excitement and see the places he's describing.

Our last stop for the day after a short lunch at a kibbutz near Bethlehem, was Caiphas' house, where Jesus spent the last night of his life. We walked on the steps where Jesus must have walked after the last supper and when he was being led to his trial. We saw where Peter denied Jesus and actually heard the roosters crowing in the area. We went into a beautiful church called the church of Peter and the Rooster Call. It had incredible stained glass pictures of Jesus and the disciples.

Another story we were told is about the Jewish tradition of the "last night hope". Before someone was sentenced - either to prison or to death - every piece of evidence was looked at again and every person possible who could speak for the prisoner was contacted to see if one piece of evidence could be found that would declare the person not guilty. That's why the fact that Peter denied Jesus 3 times, just when Jesus needed him most was so striking. There was no one to speak for Jesus and no piece of evidence to find him not guilty. So he spent his last night in the prison under Caiphas' house.

That's all for tonight.

Blessings, Barb

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