First, a word about current events. The first I knew that there was something wrong in Jerusalem was getting worried emails from several members of my family asking “are you OK??” Then I checked the news to find out what was going on. You may already know that sadly four rabbis were murdered by two Palestinians while at prayer this morning in Jerusalem. The two perpetrators were then killed in a shoot-out with police. Then the Israeli authorities tear-gassed the homes of the families of the perpetrators (which included very young children). I hardly know what to say other than to report these facts. Although even facts change depending on who you talk to: the narrative of the New York Times article on the events is very different from the narrative I am hearing from the Americans on the college staff. But, yes, I’m fine! Jerusalem is a huge city (think greater New York) and these events happened far away from us. We are very safe and secure here at St. George’s, and will be heading home in about 24 hours. It’s not lost on anyone in our group, though, that we can fly home to safety while the people of Jerusalem aren’t able to do the same.
So, perhaps it was very appropriate that today we began to walk the Way of the Cross and follow in the footsteps of Jesus’s suffering. We couldn’t get these sad events out of our mind as we prayed today. Today we focused on the events of Palm Sunday through Maundy Thursday.
We started the day on the Mount of Olives. Here we visited the the Pater Noster Church, where Jesus is said to have taught the disciples the Lord’s Prayer. This was a very moving church as every wall is covered with the Lord’s Prayer in every conceivable language — from Basque to Cherokee to languages I’d never heard of. It’s even in braille in about 10 different languages. To the delight of our New Zealand crew, Maori was one of the languages so we sang it together and I learned to say the Lord’s Prayer in Maori. It was very moving to pray this familiar prayer in a church where it’s probably been said a million times in a hundred tongues.
Next we went to a church called Dominus Flevit (the Lord wept). It is supposed to be the place where Jesus wept over Jerusalem, and said he longed to gather its people like a hen gathers her chicks. The scripture we read seemed especially meaningful today.
Our next stop was the Garden of Gethsemane. The church there (built in the 1920’s) is one of the most beautiful we’ve been in. The olive groves were beautiful, too. We were told some of the trees still standing might have been young trees when Jesus prayed there.
In the afternoon, we went to the place that Christian pilgrims have considered the “Upper Room” where Jesus had the Last Supper with his disciples, and where Pentecost happened. Historically, the current building is an unlikely candidate, but it’s been venerated since the 4th century. Currently the room is owned by and part of Jewish school (although it’s reserved for Christian pilgrims to visit) so there’s not much to see. The room itself didn’t do much for me (it doesn’t “feel” authentic somehow) but the neighborhood it’s in and the stairs to climb to it do seem much as it must have been in Jesus’s day.
Our last stop of the day was a large Catholic Church that commemorates the betrayal of Peter (when he denied Jesus 3 times). Connie wondered what Peter might think to have a church dedicated to the absolute worst moment of his life. Surely I would not want to have a church to commemorate my biggest mistake, but perhaps the good thing is that we can all relate to Peter as we all make mistakes. The church also purports to have a cave in the basement where Jesus was held prisoner overnight at Caiaphas’s house, but this is not likely. What is interesting, though, is that right next to the church are the remains of a 1st century paved road that was the main way to get from the Mount of Olives to the city. So Jesus almost definitely walked on that road, even if he never was in the cave.
Tomorrow we wrap up the course by remembering the events of Good Friday and Easter Sunday, and having our closing Eucharist. I am feeling ready to be home, but not ready to say goodbye to Jerusalem and all the wonderful people I’ve met here. Please keep praying for peace in the Holy Land.