Spring Break 2011; Israel {part 2}

So, we left off on our journey headed to Jerusalem from the Dead Sea. And it was such a sight to see. After being in such small towns around the Sea of Galilee, Jerusalem is a big deal and a big city. As it was 2,000 years ago. We spent the remainder of our trip in Jerusalem, at first I thought surely there wouldn’t be enough to see…apparently I didn’t read my itinerary very well because we had plenty to do and could have done so much more if we had the time.

Our 1st morning in Jerusalem we walked the Palm Sunday Road, the path Christ took from the Mount of Olives into Jerusalem. We started at the Mount of Olives and made our way to the Garden of Gethsemane, more appropriately named Orchid of Gethsemane. There we saw some of the oldest olive trees in the world.  {at least the oldest I have ever seen} At the Garden a Catholic Church was built over the place were Christ asked God to pass this cup from him, the church is called the church of Agony. The architect set the mood for the church and it was so moving. The interior was dark with navy blue on the ceiling with mosaic stars. At the front of the church were depictions of Christ in the Garden and praying to God. In the center was the stone were He wept and prayed. This was the most emotional place I visited while in Israel. To pause on life and reflect that Christ knew suffering and knows life, brings a greater sense of humanity to him and his time here on earth.

After the visit for the Garden and the Church of Agony, we visited the Church of Denial. The supposed place where Peter denied Christ. We also got to see the dungeon where it is believed Christ spent the night before being crucified. From there we headed to Bethlehem but before we left we had to leave our Israeli guide at the bus stop, see Bethlehem is under Palestinian rule and Israeli citizens are not allowed there. So once we made it into Bethlehem, we picked up a Palestinian guide. {And ate lunch because we were starving!} After lunch at St. George’s we walked across the square in the middle of town to the church of the nativity. Here we had to wait an hour and a half to view the  believed place of Christ’s birth. There are also 3 churches at this one location; Greek Orthodox, Catholic and Arminian. There was a Greek Orthodox ceremony in progress while we were waiting and we had to be quiet, or else one of the cloaked men would kick us out. He wasn’t having a good day and didn’t seem very nice at all. We understood this was a time of corporate worship for them but it was also a worshipful time for us, or at least we wanted it to be. It’s hard to have a worshipful experience when Mr. Grumpy is breathing down your neck every time you make a peep.

When we finally made it to the place, we were only allowed to go in 5 at a time. To the left was the place of the manger and to the right a star on the place where Christ was born. It looked nothing like a cave; nothing like the place it would have been 2,000 years ago. It was ornate and shiny. For me it did not feel authentic. And I was mad at that. Of course, after reflecting on the space and the area I realize that it’s not about what it is, it’s about what it represents. That my Savior came down from heaven to experience life as a man and save me. He was born, He lived, He died and He was raised from the dead. This is the most important thing. Not the sterling silver star on the floor where He was born or the ornate lighting in that space.

This was one of the oldest churches we visited. Built by Helena, Constantine’s mother and added onto and saved by the Crusaders. I loved the traditional style of Early Christian Architecture, along with the beautiful Fresco paintings on the columns and walls. I was in awe of the size and would have been amazing to see it filled with people worshipping thousands of years ago.

After our visit to the Church of the Nativity we went back to the bus to go to the Shepherd’s Fields. This is where the shepherds would have been when the angels would have come to declare the good news of His birth. There is a chapel here called the Church of the Angels built by the same architect of the Church of Agony. But this one is small, bright, inviting and has acoustics to make you feel like you have the voice of an angel. {we sang silent night in there, a very memorable experience}

The next day we went into the old city of Jerusalem, the Bath of Bethsaida and  the stations {not all} of the Cross. We visited the place where the soldiers would have casted lots of Christ’s robe. And we saw were the road was 2,000 years ago…10 feet below the current street level. We walked through the Muslim quarter and bizarre. I took some fun “off the hip” shots while walking through the streets. We walked through meat markets and shops for everyday life. There were herbs and veggies and every possible thing imaginable. It was similar to walking through the streets of Nazareth earlier in our trip. We did get to visit the Western wall or Wailing wall. It was a real awesome experience {although I believe my prayers make it to God no matter where I am}, Travis and I wrote out our prayers the night before we went. Of course men have one section of the wall while women have another section. {the feminist in me hated this}

We also visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. This church was built on the site of Golgotha, where Christ was placed on the cross, then died, laid upon a stone and anointed with oils before being wrapped in cloth and being buried in the tomb. All of which are housed in this church, a Greek Orthodox and Catholic church. The Greek Orthodox altar is built over the tomb of Jesus, then enclosed in a rotunda in the romanesque style. My fear of visiting some of these sites was the way some appeared as a shrine or people were worshiping the site and not the event that happened there. I stopped and watched some of the people who came into the church that would bow down and kiss the stone were Christ was anointed with oil before being buried. One lady purchased Jerusalem crosses as souvenirs and placed each one on the stone and then prayed over them, before returning them to her bag. It was such a sweet gesture. I wish I had taken the Jerusalem cross we had purchased the day before with us so I could have done that. 

The last morning we were there, about half the group got up early so we could visit the Temple Mount, currently part of the Muslim quarter and where the Dome of the Rock sits. To enter you cannot bring bibles or other religious material or wear any other religious material. I wore my necklace under my shirt. It is a magnificent structure with outstanding artistic work on the outside of the structure with detailed mosaics. Truly a site to see. After our early morning expedition, we went back to the hotel to grab the rest of our group to go to the Tomb Garden. A non-profit British Organization owned portion of Jerusalem for evangelical purposes. It isn’t certain this is the place of Calvary or that this is the tomb of Christ but it feels authentic and worshipful. They excavated the site and made it into a garden with several small chapels or worship areas, where we held a small service and took communion. This was our last scheduled thing to do. From here we went back to the Wailing Wall and through the streets of Old Jerusalem. Travis and I had gelato after lunch {YUM!} and then went shopping in the Arminian quarter.

My next blog about Israel will be a spiritual reflection of our time spent there and what I learned in my heart. I may even post a few of my most favorite images from our trip as well!


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