After a drive through the checkpoint between Bethlehem and Jerusalem, we worshipped at St. George’s Cathedral, the seat of the Bishop of Jerusalem and the Middle East. The familiar Anglican liturgy moves from English to Arabic, and the hymns were from the old English hymnal. (Look up “Jerusalem the golden” on Youtube and hear some English choir sing it…that’s were we are now…Jerusalem, the golden city.) The excellent sermon by Dean Hosam Naoum (first in English and then in Arabic) was just the message we needed to hear at this point in our journey … about our merciful God who gives second (and third and more…) chances. One of our group found the service so moving that he was in tears. Another called it “Pentecost.” Bishop Suheil Dawani celebrated the Eucharist, and in good Anglican fashion, we had coffee hour (with fabulous Turkish coffee) in the garden afterward. It’s such a small world … we met a priest from England who has a sister-in-law who lives on Bainbridge Island. Four of our group are from Bainbridge, so it was delightful to connect them.
Before lunch at the Notre Dame Institute, we went to the Western Wall. This is a portion of the remains of the Second Temple (so there during the time of Jesus but destroyed by Rome within a few years of his death). From one perspective, the remains of the old steps leading into the Temple are visible. At the Western Wall, Jews in particular, but also Christians, come to pray. The cracks in the wall are filled with written petitions to God. We joined the many who came to pray, the men going to the men’s section and the women to the (much smaller) women’s section. The men’s section is regarded as the closest point to where the Holy of Holies would have been before the destruction of the Temple (70 CE).
After lunch, we went to the Mount of Olives, where we prayed, sang, and walked from the top to the base … a very steep downhill. On Palm Sunday, when we tell the story of Jesus mounting the colt (or donkey or both…depending upon our gospel), this is where we believe that event would have occurred. On the Mount of Olives is the Garden of Gethsemane, a true garden with flowers between the rows of olive trees. None of the trees we saw were from the time of Jesus, but they might be “descendants.” At Gethsemane is the Church of All Nations, dark inside as if it were midnight, since Jesus was there at one of his darkest hours.
We checked into our hotel, The Gloria, just inside the Jaffa Gate. Cynthia and I took a quick walk to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, for our own time in that holy place. Later, we’ll be there with our pilgrim group, so it felt good to have a time for our own prayer. Returning to the hotel, we gathered our group to meet two men from The Parents’ Circle, an Israeli and a Palestinian, each of whom lost a daughter in the violence that continues to occur in this holy, yet, fragile region. They told their stories, described their friendship, and encouraged us to open our eyes to the violence that occurs when peoples hate each other. That they are together is a witness in and of itself … they spoke about forgiveness … which starts with each of us in our hearts and then becomes the most powerful weapon against injustice and hatred. A very Christian message from this Israeli Jew and Palestinian Muslim. Our group was both devastated to hear these stories but also very inspired. The American Friends of the Parents Circle may be an organization to which we want to connect.
Our group is absorbing so many sights, new cultural experiences, new flavors of food, and new insights in our hearts that we’re feeling rather full to the brim. It a tired group that headed to bed around 8 pm. And we’ve only begun to experience Jerusalem.