In the morning, we arranged for our usual bus and driver to drop us off at the Jaffa Gate of the Old City. Most of the group planned to go to the King David Museum, which Pastor Art will share with you in just a moment. I was interested in going back to the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer. After seeing so many Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches, I jokingly told everyone that I wanted to walk into a church where I could say, "I belong here! I'm Lutheran! Where are the things for me to kiss and the curtains that I get to look behind?" Of course, there is nothing like that there, but I did want to see the church and perhaps meet with the two ELCA pastors that serve the English-speaking congregation. The Lutheran Church of the Redeemer also features a large bell tower (a picture was in my previous post) that you can climb up to get a good view over the entire Old City. That sounded like a wonderful idea on a beautifully clear morning like the one we had that day.
A few others from the group thought that sounded interesting and decided to tag along with me. It was nice to have their company and somewhat of a relief to not be wandering through the narrow and unfamiliar streets of the Old City alone. Even so, everyone else gave us a hard time, waving goodbye and taking our picture as we walked away as if they would never see us again. We were pleasantly surprised to find the streets almost completely empty. Our route to the church took us through part of the busy market that we had walked through the day before along the Via Dolorosa. Instead of being crowded with people, however, it was virtually empty as most of the shops were not yet open, even at 9:00 in the morning. After our nice, leisurely stroll to the church. The old church was locked, but the church offices attached to it were open, so we found out from the receptionist that the building would not be open for tours until 10. We also found out the pastors were around, but in a meeting.
With some free time on our hands, we decided to make the short walk around the corner to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Amazingly, we found this place also almost empty, at least compared to how we experienced it the day before. With no line, we took advantage of the opportunity to go back up to the top of Calvary to see the place of crucifixion. Here is a closer view of some of the decorations:
Here is the place they believe the cross would have stood. You have to kneel down to see it, and you can put your hand inside the hole there to feel the indentation in the rock where the cross would have been placed.
Some more decorations adorning the altar built over the place of crucifixion:
A single prayer candle lit, overlooking one of the chapels that surrounds the main part of the church. It really was a completely different feel to the place this time around; much more quiet and contemplative.
Another view of the modern mosaic behind the Stone of Anointing, this portion depicting Joseph of Arimathea removing Jesus' body from the cross.
I was able to get a better view of a few of the Orthodox pilgrims who were there so you can have a look at the reverence they show to the Stone of Anointing.
By this time, a large group of Russian Orthodox pilgrims had arrived, so the line to see the tomb was quite long again, but I did have the chance to get a better picture of the shrine that's been built there than I had the day before. You can just see the tops of some heads as people make their way into the door in front.
It really was a beautiful day to have a more relaxed look around the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Old City itself. Here's the courtyard we saw the day before, this time in brilliant morning sunlight:
We made our way back to the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer to use the restroom and see if the church would be opening for tours soon. As I waited for the others in the reception area, the two ELCA pastors came down the stairs and I introduced myself. They were very kind and welcoming to us. They even took time away from a birthday party (complete with cake) to give us a tour of their offices (very brave, if you ask me, to let tourists into your office!) and showed us the chapel where the English speaking congregation typically worships. It's an old Crusader chapel, simple but beautiful. Here I am with Pastors Angela and Martin Zimmann in the chapel. Like I said, they were very gracious to spend some time with us and it was interesting to hear their perspective on living and doing ministry in Jerusalem.
After our visit, Pastor Martin told Maurice (the man in charge of giving tours and collecting the fee to climb the tower) to show us everything and not charge us anything. While they went off to the birthday party for one of their colleagues, we went back outside to a cafe across the street to wait for Maurice to open the building. After purchasing a few things from one of the local vendors, we sat down for the ladies to have a glass of pomegranate juice:
Here was the view up at the church tower from our table:
After a while, Maurice came down and opened the main part of the church for us. Here is a look at the altar. This space is used by the Palestinian congregation, hence the Arabic:
A wider look at the front of the sanctuary:
After having a look around the sanctuary, it was time to climb the narrow circular staircase up to the top of the tower. There's something like 177 steps to the top, so it's a good long climb. The view was well worth it, though. Here we are looking to the east toward the Dome of the Rock and the Mount of Olives beyond:
Looking down toward some of the streets on the west side of the tower. The cafe we sat at is out of the frame at the bottom:
Looking toward the northwest, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is on the right:
Looking southwest, the large towers in the distance are the King David Museum where the rest of our group was. It sits right next to the Jaffa Gate where we entered the Old City on this morning. You can see a small arch in some shadows on the far left center of the picture. This is where Muristan Street (the street the church sits on) enters the enclosed market.
It was really neat to be able to look out over the Old City and see a different perspective on many of the places that we saw during our time in Jerusalem. After taking our pictures and enjoying the view, it was time to head back down the spiral staircase and meet up with the rest of our group back at the Jaffa Gate. Here is the view of the descent down the tower. It was so tight of a space that I ended up having to duck my head for a lot of it, so the feeling was a lot like the old game of putting your head on a baseball bat and spinning around. Luckily there are two landings along the way to break up the trip or else I'm sure I would have been really dizzy at the bottom.
Here we are reunited with the rest of the group, waiting for our bus to come and pick us up.
For the afternoon, most of our group traveled back to Bethlehem to have lunch with a Palestinian Christian family who have been to the United States to sell olive wood carvings and inform American Christians about the situation for Christians in the Middle East and specifically in Israel. By this point in the trip, I was pretty well mentally exhausted. After having a more relaxed morning exploring on our own, I knew it would have been hard for me to muster the energy to make another trip back through the checkpoint and wall to Bethlehem, travel by car to someone's home, and listen to passionate (although interesting) conversation about politics. As I mentioned before, I also knew I needed to get a little work done to prepare my sermon for the Sunday after we returned home, so I, along with a couple of others who weren't feeling well, decided to go back to the hotel and have a more laid back afternoon.
After a little nap, the weather outside was just too nice to stay inside, however, so I ended up taking a little stroll a few blocks from the hotel to the light rail station. I think I already shared in an earlier post that I like trains (since the age of 2, more proof that I haven't really grown up yet), so it was fun for me to go and take a few pictures of the modern light rail trains that climb up and down some of the hilly streets of Jerusalem. Here's one of the pictures I took of a train stopping at the Shim'on Ha-Tsadik station.
That's all I really have to share from my day, so here is Pastor Art to tell you about what everyone else did:
20 of our group spent the morning of day 8 touring the King David Museum at the Citadel, one of the most easily recognized landmarks in the western part of the old city. The Citadel was built by Herod the Great as protection around his palace in Jerusalem. From the top of the highest tower, which Herod named Phasael, after one of his brothers, we got a great panoramic view of the old city, including the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer.
In the many rooms of the fortress, the Citadel houses the King David Museum, which tells the story of 3000 years of history and civilizations which have controlled the area of Jerusalem.
Here is Craig looking at a display which explains how the Citadel was constructed, a subject of great fascination to the farmer/builders in the group.
This minaret, often called the “Tower of David” is a later addition from the Muslim Era, is a Muslim prayer house, which they named “David’s Cell” because they believed that David prayed in this place.
Group members relaxing and refueling at the snack bar in preparation for their last shopping excursion into either the bazaar in the old city or the modern shopping mall just across the street.
We also saw schoolboys there on a fieldtrip to study the history of the city of Jerusalem.
In the afternoon, we ventured back into the city of Bethlehem at the invitation of Michael and Carmen Zoughbi. They are one of the few number of Christian families still living in Palestine. Many of them have moved out because of the difficult living conditions brought about by ongoing conflict with the Israelis over the past dozen years. They served us a lovely meal of chicken or pork schwarma (pleasing to our pig farmers), vegetables, fruit and coffee. It was a delightful and informative afternoon of conversation. In addition, we got to meet their son, Jamal, whose wife had given birth to their first child on the day before we arrived. We then enjoyed thrilling car rides up and down the hills of Bethlehem on our way to the olive wood shop that the Zoughbis manage on behalf of a wood carving cooperative.
The last picture shows the hillside looking north from the gate to the house. Supposedly, there are four steeples visible at the top of the hill (not necessarily in the picture), they represent a wide diversity of Christian denominations in Bethlehem, Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Syriac and Lutheran (Christmas Lutheran Church of Bethlehem).
This is Bryant again, just wrapping up by saying thanks as always for following along and thank you to Pastor Art for sharing some of his pictures and words with us. There is only one more day of touring to tell you about before our long plane ride home, so stay tuned for our trip back into Jordan and a spectacular visit to the ancient city of Petra.