Today was a bit of a rest day in our busy schedule. We did not get on the bus and Abed and Mike and Judy all had the day off.
Instead, we had a free morning and were invited to worship with the Cathedral congregation. Most of us decided to get up early and visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre again, on the theory it would be less crowded before 8am or so. Connie and I left the college at 6am and walked through the quiet streets of Jersusalem to the church, about a 10 minute walk away. It was much less crowded, but was also wonderfully full of worship as the various sects began their Sunday liturgies. Each has their own section of the church, so there were about three services going on simultaenously. Connie and I split up for some quiet reflective time in the chapels.
I stood in the much shorter line to get into the tomb of Jesus. Interestingly, scholars believe this is very likely the actual tomb, as the disciples would have remembered the location and passed it down to others in the local church community. The first church was built over it by Constantine and records show that he consulted the local Christian community about the location.
It doesn’t look much like a tomb anymore. It’s covered by a little stone house (about 2 stories high — the church itself is way, way higher than that so it looks tiny in the big church) that the guidebook calls “a horrible kiosk” and I can see why they say that. It’s not our Anglican or New England idea of beautiful — it’s incredibly ornate, covered in gilding and candles and the soot from the candles, and more soot. After only 2o mins or so in line, I went in. Inside is more marble, icons, candles, and a marble slab that is supposed to be where the body of Jesus was. I am not sure if I can put my feelings into words right now, but I was very glad to have had the chance to stand in that space.
After that, Connie and I decided to wander around the Old City a bit. We knew some of our classmates had decided to try to get on the Temple Mount (potentially a dangerous place to be, but probably not so dangerous at 7am on a Sunday), but we were not that bold. We did visit the Western Wall (the famous Wailing Wall which is the most holy site in the world to Jews). So we visited two “most holy sites in the world” before breakfast.
After breakfast, we went to worship at the Cathedral. Someone described the Cathedral as “a little piece of England plunked down in Jerusalem” which is very true. The service was also a classic Anglican worship service — but in Arabic. The Dean did repeat the sermon in English, and everyone prayed things like the Creed and Lord’s Prayer in their own language simultanously, which felt very Pentecost-y, especially with our Maori friends there, too. I learned that I’ve been pronouncing the word Maori wrong all this time. It’s not May-ori, but Mow-ri (two syllables). Maybe you already knew that.
After lunch, Rodney took us on a walking excursion to the Pool of Bethesda where Jesus healed the paralytic. Although many of the sites we visit are “maybe, probably, perhaps, Jesus was here”, Rodney said this one is a defintely as archeology shows this was definitely the Pool of Bethesda as described in the Bible. So that was cool. We had some time on our own to pray and explore the site, which looks like an archeological dig. You can see Roman, Byzantine, and crusader-era bits.
This evening we had a lecture on historic Judaism from Rivkah Fishman, who teaches at Hebrew University. After dinner I did Facetime with my family — yay! The internet connection is not so great here, but we were able to see each other’s faces for the first time in about a week which was nice.
Tomorrow, we head for Nazareth and Cana as we continue to trace Jesus’ ministry on the landscape of this extraordionary place.