Mount of Olives, Via Dolorosa, Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Garden Tomb
01.12.2011 - 01.12.2011
This morning our first stop was 'The Church of our Father,' originally built by Queen Helena as one of the first churches in the Holy Land. The church is built as a memorial to Jesus' teachings in Jerusalem. It was destroyed by the Crusaders, and rebuilt in the 11th and 12th Centuries. It is controlled by the Canaanite Sisters, and its walls are covered in the Lord's prayer in dozens of different languages.
As we kept walking on the Mount of Olives, we began to walk down the road toward Jerusalem, the route Jesus would have taken on Palm Sunday. The path was a lot steeper than I had imagined!
As we walked down we stopped to look at the gravestones and tombs on the mountain. These kinds of tombs would have been here in Jesus' time - its the clearest picture of 'whitewashed tombs' we can get when Jesus uses the phrase in Matthew 23. While we were there, our guide talked about John 11, Jesus and Lazarus. He told us that the fact that Lazarus was raised on the fourth day after he died was particulary significant since in Jewish custom, the belief is that the soul stays with the body 3 days after death. If Jesus had come on the third day, it wouldn't have been much of a miracle. But the fact that Jesus came on the fourth day, after Lazarus' soul had left his body, made his resurrection even more amazing!
Also on the Mount of Olives, we stopped at another church, which commemorates the likely spot where Jesus looked over Jerusalem and wept. The church here is designed to look like a tear drop. While here we were also taught about the Jewish custom of collecting tears in a glass bottle, sealing itwith bees wax and putting in front of a tomb to show that people mourn somebody's death.
At the base of the Mount of Olives we came to the Garden of Gethsemane, the place of Jesus' arrest. Together we sat in the courtyard of this place and read John 18. This garden contains the oldest Olive trees in the country - some believed to be up to two thousand years old.
This would have to be one of my favourite places in Israel so far. It was so different to how I had imagined. So much closer to the Temple - it was only a few hundred meters away. We were taught about the name of this place. Gethsemane derives from Gat-Shemin - which means oil press. The name of the garden describes the function of the garden - it was an olive grove. Not a beautiful botanical kind of garden. It was a very ordinary kind of garden, with only one type of tree. It was a good time to sit and reflect about what Jesus must have gone through around this place. And to thank Him for what He has done.
The church on this site was called the ‘Church of all Nations.’ It was quite dark inside, remembering the dark events that happened here.
As we walked into the city walls we did the walk to the cross (Mark 15:16-23).
Our second last stop today was the Church of Holy Sepulchre, the place marking the likely locations of the cross and the tomb. We didn't spend a lot of time here. It was very crowded - there was pushing and shoving to see the sites - this was pretty disgusting! In fact, the whole church disgusted me a lot. The history involved with the 6 orders who 'run' the place, their infighting, the 'religiosity' of the place all made me quite uncomfortable. There was no respect or sense of awe at being in the place. I'm glad we weren't there long.
Our final stop was the Garden Tomb. This is a site set up by a group of keen Christians who believe this was more likely the location of the tomb of Jesus, mainly due to the apparent visible skull in the rockface of the site. This has been highly criticised by archaeologists and is highly unlikely to be the correct location.