Monday, January 27, 2014

Day 7, Part 2: Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Western Wall, Holocaust Museum, Garden Tomb

With another bitterly cold day outside, I suppose now is as good as any to stay indoors and tell you some more about our Holy Land adventures. The end of my last post left us at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre near the middle of Tour Day 7.  After going into the shrine that marks the place where they believe Jesus was buried, we gathered in the large open sanctuary in the church.  A small group of us returned the next morning and I took a few more pictures then that I'll share later, but here are a few highlights of what we saw on my first visit.  In the middle of the sanctuary was this basin, known as the Omphalos or "navel", marking what Greek Orthodox Christians believe to be the center of the world.  I looked up a little more about this object and on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre website (, they write this: "This notion was already present in the Jewish religion which considers the entire city of Jerusalem to be the center of the world; for Muslims, the center of the world is marked by the rock at the center of the Dome of the Rock. In the Church of the Holy Sepulchre the cross of Christ is the center of the world from which the arms of the Savior extend to embrace it in its entirety."   

After a few moments looking in that area, we made our way back toward the entrance of the church so we could go up some stairs to see Golgotha, the place where Jesus was crucified.  The mount has been enclosed by the church centuries ago, but the exposed rock at the top where they believe the cross was placed is in a shrine that you can touch.  On our way, we passed what's called the Stone of the Anointing, commemorating the anointing of Jesus' body before burial.  There's a beautiful mural behind it that depicts the scene of Jesus being taken down from the cross and being anointed and buried.  The stone itself is revered highly by Orthodox Christians and we saw many of them coming and kneeling before it, many of them kissing it in much the same way many of the figures in the mural were kissing Jesus.  Here's a view of that part of the mural from next to the stone:

From there, we walked up some stairs to the top of Golgotha to view the place of crucifixion.  Here is a portion of the inscription over the doorway we passed through on our way up the stairs.  By now, you are an astute enough Holy Land traveler to notice something odd about this.  We're in a Greek Orthodox church, yet the inscription is in Latin.  This is because this raised portion of the church was originally built by the Crusaders and there is still a Roman Catholic Chapel of the Crucifixion right next to the Chapel of Calvary that we visited:

The top of the stairs opened directly into the Chapel of Calvary.  This picture shows a small part of the numerous decorations that enshrine the hole in the stone it's believed the cross would have been placed into.  They allow you to see and touch that very spot, but the line was pretty long when we were there as an entire group, so we saw it from a distance and moved on.  Again, I'll have more pictures of this from the next day when a few of us returned to this place. 

Underneath that shrine, at the base of Golgotha, is a small space called the Chapel of Adam.  A couple of windows look to the base of the rocky hill that has been enclosed by the church itself.  This shows the crack its believed was formed from the earthquake at Jesus' death.  You can also see a small Orthodox icon in the upper left depicting the crucifixion.

After a brief stop in the Chapel of Adam, we once again took to the streets of the Old City, making our way back to the Dung Gate where we first entered that morning.  Just around the corner from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer:

The sign at the entrance to the church describing what you can see there.  You'll notice the sign is in German and English.  This property was given by the Ottoman Empire to German Emperor Kaiser Wilhelm I in the late 19th century.  The infamous Kaiser Wilhelm II personally dedicated the church when it was completed in 1898.  The church and adjoining buildings remain the property of the Evangelical Church in Germany.  However, there are also offices of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land on the site, as well as an English speaking congregation served by two pastors from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.  This is another place I returned to the following day, since all we got to do was walk by it and snap a few pictures.

Here is the main entrance to the church:

A familiar name along the way:

Here we are walking back east toward the Western Wall Plaza at the Dung Gate.  The Mount of Olives is in the distance:

Here is an overview of the area of the Western Wall.  The security checkpoint is in the foreground, although the area we entered as visitors to the Temple Mount in the morning is just out of frame to the right.  You can see the covered wooden ramp we walked up in the center of the picture.  Beyond it is of course the Dome of the Rock and the primary place of prayer along the Western Wall is to the left of the ramp. 

Once we had a bathroom break (the restrooms here were free, so we took advantage...I haven't mentioned before that some of the toilets we used were pay toilets, usually costing 1 or 2 Israeli shekels, about 50 cents), we gathered to hear Pastor Art read a portion of Solomon's prayer of dedication for the Temple, especially emphasizing the place where Solomon prays that God would hear the prayers of foreigners who come from distant lands to pray in this place.  So in a way, Pastor Art told us, Solomon was praying for us; an excellent thought to center ourselves with as we ourselves went to offer our prayers at the Western Wall.

As I mentioned when we first saw the Western Wall when we were going to the Temple Mount, there are two separate sections for men and women to pray in.  Men are expected to wear something to cover their heads.  Some of our group had caps on, but most of us donned kippahs that were available for anyone to borrow.  After spending some time praying and placing prayer notes in the cracks in the wall, Pastor Art and I posed for a picture:

I told you in my last post that I started paying more attention to children after my experience at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and as we gathered together in the plaza to make our way to where the bus would pick us up again, a group of Israeli schoolboys came along.  Not all Israeli boys dress this way, but this is an example of orthodox or "observant" Jewish schoolboys wearing kippahs, having long locks of hair to the sides of their faces, and also wearing tassels. 

After the schoolboys cleared out of the way and had a seat nearby to eat their picnic lunches, a little girl decided to do some twirls and run around in the open space.  Eventually, she found her way over to the fence in the background where she peered through to look at some of the soldiers at the security checkpoint for the Temple Mount, that is until her mother caught up to her and gently pulled her away.

After boarding the bus, we drove through the city to a different hotel that had a large cafeteria where we had lunch.  After that, we went to the Holocaust Museum for a brief tour.  Here is the visitor's center at the Museum, seen from inside the park. 

The first place our guide showed us was a place called The Righteous Among the Nations, honoring those who saved the lives of Jews during the Holocaust.  A "forest" of trees is part of this memorial, lining both sides of a path called the Avenue of the Righteous.  Here is the one that honors perhaps the most famous such person: Oskar Schindler of "Schindler's List" fame.  It was planted by Schindler himself in 1962.

The main thing that our guide wanted to show us here was The Children's Memorial, dedicated to the memory of the 1.5 million children who died in the Holocaust.  Here is the sign near the entrance to the memorial:

A view down the path leading into the memorial.  The small bars sticking out of the stone symbolize the lives that were cut short. 

Pictures weren't permitted in the memorial itself, but needless to say it was one of the more sobering experiences of our trip.  There is a recording that plays the names, countries of origin, and ages of the children as you walk through.  After seeing some portraits of some of those Jewish children, you enter the main part of the memorial were many mirrors reflect just a few small candles into an infinite number of lights. 

After the Children's Memorial we walked through Janusz Korczak Plaza and viewed this sculpture that commemorates (surprise!) Janusz Korczak.  He was a Polish pediatrician and author who, according to our guide, was sort of like the Dr. Spock (the famous pediatric author, not the Star Trek character) of his day.  He was also the director of an orphanage in Warsaw.  According to one legend, when the 190-some orphans were taken to the Treblinka extermination camp in 1942, Korczak was supposedly recognized by an SS officer who offered to help him escape.  Korczak refused to leave the children and ultimately went to the gas chambers with them.

Walking back to the visitor's center and entrance, we again passed the Avenue of the Righteous.  This man holding a baby caught my eye, an ordinary scene that almost brought me to tears after our experience here.  It reminded me of a song written by Larry Olson, a Lutheran musician and songwriter, originally from Madison, MN.  During an experience in war-torn Bosnia, he asked a man there what he could do to help.  The man replied that he could teach his children not to hate.  So he wrote a song whose chorus goes, "I will not raise my child to hate your child, I will raise my child to love your child...I will not raise my child to hurt your child, I will raise my child to help your child." 

On a lighter note, we saw this on our way to the bus, a name that should be quite familiar to Minnesotans or at least fans of the Minnesota Vikings:

We also had to endure the sight of snow in the parking lot!

Our last stop of the day was at the Garden Tomb.  This is an alternative site for Jesus' death, burial and resurrection. I'm not sure if I've discussed before about the difference between an "authentic" site and a "traditional" site.  Authentic means there's no dispute about what took place there.  Traditional means that it's where many people believe something happened, but it may not be the exact place.  So there are two traditional sites for where Jesus may have been crucified and buried.  One is at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre that we already saw and the other is here at the Garden Tomb.  It was interesting to talk with members of our group later and hear who was more convinced by one or the other. 

At the Garden Tomb, the place has been made into a traditional English garden.  It provided a peaceful place for reflection in the midst of the busy city.  It's outside the walls and to the north of the Old City.  This site provided a guide for us, and the first thing he showed us was the place presumed to be Golgotha or Calvary, the mount of crucifixion. You can see why the Englishman who originally set aside and developed this site thought this might be Golgotha or "the place of the skull" because the rocks do sort of form the face of a skull. 

Next we saw the tomb itself, carved out of a rock face.  Here is our guide explaining the site to us.

This is the entrance to the tomb.  The steps take you over the channel where the large stone would have been rolled along.

Another nice thing about the Garden Tomb is there are many places on the site for worship services to be held.  This gave us another opportunity to worship together, sing a few hymns, and have Holy Communion.  Pastor Art offered another brief sermon as well.  Here I am leading the worship service:

And distributing Holy Communion.  The tomb is behind those trees and shrubs in the background.

After our worship service, we had the chance to go inside the tomb itself.  This is what part of it looked like inside, with areas carved out of the rock where a body could be laid.  This is what a typical family tomb of the time would have looked like.  A body would be left here for a time to decompose, then the bones would be gathered into one of the ossuaries or "bone boxes" we saw earlier in our travels so that the space could be used for the next body. 

After a brief stop in the gift shop, it was time to get back on the bus and head for the hotel to have supper and end our day.  Looking back, it's amazing to see how much we experienced in such a short time.  The two full days we spent touring in Jerusalem were incredible, but also really overwhelming.  It will probably be quite some time yet before I can really wrap my mind around everything we saw.  Thanks again for following along.  Since it looks like I'll be home for most of my day off today, maybe I'll get a start on the next post later this afternoon. 


Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Back in Brrrrrooten and Day 7, Part 1: Temple Mount, Pool of Bethesda, Via Dolorosa

Good news!  Our group made it safely home to Minnesota, even though it decided to throw us a little bit of a snowstorm to celebrate our homecoming in the wee hours of Friday night/Saturday morning.  The last few days for me have been spent trying to readjust to God's time (Central Standard Time, of course) and trying to be with my family as much as possible.  Pastor Art, the wizened ministry veteran that he is, had arranged to have someone else lead worship for him on Sunday.  Myself, being younger and more foolish, thought it would be no problem to come back and lead worship on Sunday, complete with two annual meetings, and oh yeah, just cap the day off with having both church councils over for supper that evening.  Needless to say, my wife is an absolutely amazing woman and I couldn't have done any of this without her.  So now I'm trying to take it a bit easier at the start of the week to allow her and I both to get as much rest as possible...not easy with three young children. 

The other good news to share, which you're probably much more interested in than my dull, yet somehow exhausting life is that I've made substantial progress on editing pictures for the blog and a book that I'll be putting together in the coming weeks.  The small netbook computer that I had with me on the trip was nice for travel, but it doesn't have the more sophisticated photo editing software that I have on my home computer, so I'm taking the time to go back and re-edit all of the pictures, including the ones that I've already shared on the blog.  I won't be replacing the original posts, but they will look even nicer when it comes time to print said books.  I'm planning on using Blurb to create the books and they will be available for sale to anyone who wants one.  When the book is done I'll share the link to where you can purchase it. 

So as the windchill dips into the -40 range this evening and my children are finally snuggled comfortably in their beds, how about I try to tell you about our seventh day of touring the Holy Land?

Tour Day 7 for us was Tuesday, January 14, our third day staying in Jerusalem.  We awoke bright and early to be near the front of the line to get into the Old City of Jerusalem and into the Temple Mount.  The Temple Mount, so named because it's the site where the Temple of Jesus' day once stood (the so-called Second Temple, built after the Israelites returned from exile in Babylon, eventually destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD).  To say that the Temple Mount is interesting and important is an understatement.  It is a holy site for three of the world's major religions.  For Jews, it is where the Temple once stood which was for centuries the center of worship for the people of Israel, where the presence of God dwelt with the people, and where the High Priest communicated directly with God.  It is still the place toward which many Jews direct their prayers.  For Christians, it is a place that Jesus taught, prayed, and worshiped, not to mention the heart of the city where the central elements of the story of his death and resurrection took place.  For Muslims, it is a holy site because it is believed that Mohammed ascended into heaven from this location during his Night Journey where he spoke directly to God and received important instructions regarding prayer.  After Jerusalem came under Muslim control in the 7th century, the Dome of the Rock shrine was built over a large rock called the Foundation Stone.  It's this building that currently resides on the Temple Mount, its gold dome the most recognizable landmark in the Old City skyline.  This Foundation Stone is believed to be the place where the Holy of Holies stood in the Jewish Temple, and it's also believed by Jews to be the place where Abraham nearly sacrificed his son Isaac.  Muslims also believe this, except that it was Abraham's son Ishmael who was nearly sacrificed.  Confused enough yet?  As I said, it's nearly impossible to overstate the importance of this site to literally millions of people. 

Even though Jerusalem itself has changed hands several times in recent history, most notably in 1967 when Israel gained control of the Old City and the rest of the West Bank from Jordan, the Temple Mount itself remains under the oversight of Muslim authorities.  Israeli Police provide security on and around the Temple Mount, but Muslims make the decisions about when and for how long the site will be open to visitors.  They also forbid anyone to bring non-Islamic religious texts and artifacts into the site or to openly pray while there.  This meant that we left our Bibles on the bus for the morning portion of our tour.  It also posed a problem for us because we planned to walk the Via Dolorosa after visiting the Temple Mount but before we would return to the bus.  Because neither Pastor Art nor I had the texts for the stations of the cross memorized, we needed a way to read the Biblical text without bringing a Bible with us.  Luckily, technology saved the day and someone from the group had an e-reader with the Bible loaded on it.  Either the Muslim authorities haven't caught on to this technology or they don't care because we didn't have a problem bringing it with us. 

Ok, so that's the most I've written about any single site we've visited thus far, but like I said, it's really impossible to do justice to the historical significance of this place.  I think of any single place we visited, it fascinated and made me a little nervous because of how contested it is.  Not only is it a place where so many people have gone to worship for thousands of years, but it's also a place marked by conflict, assassination attempts (at least one successful), and protests in more recent years. 

So where was I?  Oh yeah, so we left early to get in line to go through the security checkpoint to be able to get in to the Temple Mount.  Non-Muslims are allowed access from 7:30 to 10:30 in the morning, so our window for visiting was rather small and we didn't want to spend most of our day waiting in line.  As usual, our guide was nearly perfect in planning when we should leave our hotel and we were one of the first groups in line.  After a short wait, the gates opened and the screening process began.  After going through the checkpoint, you walk up a long covered ramp that takes you above the large open area below that's known as the Western Wall, sometimes called the Wailing Wall.  The Western Wall is the last portion of the original Temple area that is still standing, and it is a famous place of prayer for Jews.  Here is the view from inside the ramp of men praying.  A smaller area for women to pray is just out of frame to the right. 

Upon entering the Temple Mount, we found ourselves standing between the Dome of the Rock to the north:

and the Al Aqsa mosque to the south: 

 As we stood and listened to our guide describe the buildings and history of the place, as well as answer many more of our questions about the current politics of the place, we got a first hand experience of the tension that exists over this sacred site.  There were several groups of Muslim men seated in various places around the Temple Mount and we started to hear some of them chanting something a little ways off.  The Israeli Police, who had just moments before been helping tourists take pictures in front of the Dome of the Rock, started talking on their radios and looking more alert.  It turned out that a group of Jews had for some reason been granted permission to walk through the Temple Mount wearing kippahs (or yarmulkes or yamakas, whichever you prefer).  Of course this was seen as a sign of protest and the Muslims who were there praying and studying were voicing their own protests against them.  When she realized what was going on, our guide said something like, "We're just going to move a little farther away from them."  That's how we found ourselves standing virtually alone on the vast platform that immediately surrounds the Dome of the Rock:

The smaller structure to the right is called the Dome of the Chain.  It was most likely used as a model for the Dome of the Rock, although the Dome of the Rock was ultimately constructed with a hexagonal outer wall rather than octagonal.  Like many places we've visited, this building has a history of use by both Muslims and Christians for prayer depending on who had control of the Temple Mount. 

As we explored this area, another rare sight greeted us: one of the doors of the Dome of the Rock was open.  Our guide suspected that the snowfall that Jerusalem received the week before may have caused some damage as they were apparently hauling scaffolding into the shrine to make repairs. As recently as 15 years ago when Pastor Art first visited the Holy Land, visitors were allowed inside the Dome of the Rock.  Since 2000 and the Second Intifada in Israel, it has been off limits to non-Muslims, so it was indeed rare for us to get at least a peek inside.  And yes, for you farm implement aficionados, that is a Bobcat-like machine to the right being used to haul the scaffolding to the door:

Here's a view of the inside of the Dome of the Chain, showing the intricate tiling that decorates both it and the exterior of the Dome of the Rock:

A view to the north side of the Temple Mount:

Looking to the east toward the Mount of Olives.  You can see the small dome of Dominus Flevit Church near the center of the middle arch.

Walking down those steps and slightly to the north, we came to the Golden Gate.  It's no longer in use, and the current gate probably only dates to the 6th century AD, the original gate below this one, but this is believed to be the location that Jesus entered the city during his triumphal entry that we remember on Palm Sunday.  The man on the roof was keeping a close eye on all of us:

 After the Temple Mount, we ventured into the narrow streets of the Old City of Jerusalem and made our way just a short distance to the Pool of Bethesda at St Anne's Church.  Here we are getting our first good look at the streets of the Old City:

Pastor Art reading the story of the healing of the sick man by the Pool of Bethesda in John 5.  

A view of the site of the Pool of Bethesda.  Like many archaeological sites we've seen, this one contains many layers of history including a Byzantine church, a Crusader church, as well as a Roman temple. 

After having a look at the archaeological stuff, we stepped into St Anne's Church and our guide encouraged us to sing a few songs in the acoustically beautiful space.

Bonnie graciously stepped up to direct our singing:

After this, we began walking to the place where we would begin our journey along the Via Dolorosa.  The streets that seemed narrow enough just walking through them became even narrower as we also shared the road with vehicles:

The approximate location of the Antonia Fortress marks the beginning of the Via Dolorosa.  This is the location that Jesus most likely would have been taken to his trial before Pontius Pilate.  Today, several churches are located in this area to mark the site, and we began by visiting the one named Ecce Homo (Latin for Pilate's words, "Behold, the man").  Our guide Gila took the time to explain the path we would walk and show us some drawings of what the city probably looked like in Jesus' day.  Here she's showing us the place where they believe Jesus was crucified and buried, outside the city walls of the time, but today the place where the Church of the Holy Sepulchre stands.  You can also see of course the Temple Mount with a depiction of what the Temple itself would have looked like.  The large building to the left of the Temple Mount is the Antonia Fortress.  As an aside, the more time we spent with Gila, the more we realized what a remarkable guide she is.  Pastor Art, in preparation for leading our devotions along the Via Dolorosa, did a simple Google search of "Via Dolorosa Bible readings."  Google answered with nearly 200,000 websites and the very first one listed was from, our guide's website.  She was a wealth of information, not to mention an experienced guide who seemed to have a knack for getting us to places at times when very few if any other tour groups were around. 

 After hearing the first reading of the stations of the cross from Pastor Art, we went underneath the church to see a large cistern and some of the ancient streets of Jerusalem that have been excavated.  The grooves in the limestone pavement were to help horses get better traction when it was wet. 

Back on the "modern" streets, we began our walk along the Via Dolorosa by passing under the Ecce Homo arch, the site traditionally recognized as the place that Pilate delivered that speech.

We made several stops to read as we went along.  Several stations occur at the same location and not every location is accessible for devotional readings.  We did the best we could, however.  Here we are at station 6 listening to Pastor Art read for us.  This is the station that remembers the legend of Veronica wiping the face of Jesus with her handkerchief.  This event is not recorded in scripture, so we read Matthew 25:40 instead. 

Part of the Via Dolorosa goes through a marketplace.  Even though the merchandise and services offered are modern, you really got a sense of how crowded it must have been as Jesus carried his cross through the streets.  

This gentlemen certainly caught our eye as he quickly strolled by:

Soon, we were standing in a courtyard near the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.  The large dome in the background with the cross on it is part of the church.  In order to keep peace among the various denominations that come to the site, reading and singing as a group is not typically allowed within the church, so we used this space to read the final passages for the stations of the cross where Jesus is crucified, then brought down from the cross, and buried.  

For me personally, this was the most emotional part of the entire trip, and I know it was very meaningful to many others.  Throughout our time in the streets of Jerusalem, I was typically the "rear guard" or caboose for our group, making sure that we all stayed together and no one got left behind.  During our walk along the Via Dolorosa, I saw more people putting an arm around their spouse or holding hands than any other time on our trip.  I hope it doesn't embarrass them too badly, but I had to get at least one picture of this kind of moment, so here is Jim and Sue as we prepared to walk into the Church of the Holy Sepulchre for the first time and see the place that embodies the central event of our faith.  I think it pretty well summarizes the way most of us felt as we took those steps.

After passing through a couple of small chapel spaces, we came to the main entrance of the church:

Being an Orthodox church, it had the same level of ornamentation and decoration that we were now used to seeing in such places:

We took our place in line to wait to see the spot where Jesus was laid in the tomb.  Pictures were not allowed inside, but here are some of the decorations just above the entrance:

It's now getting close to midnight here in Brooten and I should be getting to bed.  There is a lot more to share from this day, but it will have to wait.  I have to share one story with you, though, about my experience of seeing this place in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.  Inside this shrine that's been built around the spot they believe Jesus was buried, there are two rooms.  The first room you enter is simply a waiting room.  The room containing the altar and other decorations around the place of the tomb is rather small so they only allow four or five people in at a time.  There is an Orthodox priest standing in the "waiting room" that tells you when you can go in and when your time is up and you have to come out.  As usual, I was at the end of the line in our group, just behind Pastor Art and his wife Brenda.  As our turn came closer, Pastor Art was cut off just after Brenda went in, which unfortunately meant they didn't get to go in together.  Just as I was feeling bad about that, a young woman and a little girl came into the waiting room behind us.  The little girl, no older than 6 or 7, was dressed brightly and carrying a backpack.  The priest, dressed in black with a long beard and a kind but stern face suddenly lit up as the girl smiled, said something to him, and ran and leaped into his arms.  Even though I didn't know the language they were speaking, it was immediately recognizable as the universal language that exists between fathers and daughters.  It was almost indescribably beautiful in that holy place to see the unconditional love between parent and child on display.  It of course made me miss my own children, but it also made the priest seem more human to me and the entire place lighter and less formal.  In fact, when he put her down, she tried to get past him into "the place," and he had to catch her by the arm.  From that point on I started paying more attention to children in the places we were visiting (you'll see more evidence of this later), and I began to wonder if her attitude of smiles and laughter and joy was more appropriate than all of the somber faces I saw waiting in lines to see this or kiss that or kneel before this other thing.  She was a great gift to me because I think she gave me the clearest expression of the hope we have in the resurrection I could imagine: laughing and smiling right by Jesus' tomb and the loving embrace of parent and child.  I think that's a good thought to end on for the night.  Peace to you all.