Saturday, May 23, 2015

Day 6 - Southern (Old City) Jerusalem

It's 9:30PM and I am on overload tonight...physically, as we walked a lot...mentally, as we took in so much information, and spritually, as I'll attempt to describe.

We began the day on the Mt. of Olives overlooking the Kidron Valley, with an incredible view of Old Jersalem - its eastern side with the Dome of the Rock on top of Mt. Moriah and the Golden Gate that was sealed when the Moslems conquered the city to prevent the Messiah from entering. (I preached on this last year, so I'll have to get to it another time.)

We learned about the Jewish cemetaries here, atop where Jesus taught the disciples. At the base, the tombs of Absalom, St. James, and Zechariah still exist. From here we walked down to Gethsemane, the actual Garden where Jesus prayed and found the disciples sleeping. A church was established called All Nations, as 16 countries founded it. So much was here including a 2000 year old olive tree, that is the lone living witness to Jesus' presence then.

I have to say, this one place moved me more than any other today. I knelt inside the church and had time to reflect on what Jesus did here... His agony... His betrayal... His abandonment by His closest friends... What could all this have felt like for Him?

And to add to that, His knowledge of what would come next: "Oh that this cup would pass! But not My will, Abba, but Yours." Can you imagine the depth of emotion in words like this? I'm not sure I can. Kneeling there, I pondered it. And the years came. Alone, rejected and despises, a man of sorrow acquainted with grief. And surely He bore our sins...freely! Will you consider the Garden today? Among its vibrant green trees lies a profound sense of death. And it calls to me to die to self yet again.

I'll admit... I wasn't myself the rest of the day. And that, in hindsight, was good.

We then drove past the Dung Gate, around Mt. Zion in the south and then to the west side and entered Jerusalem at the Jaffa Gate into one of 4 sections of the city - the Armenian Quarter. We dined at an Armenian restaurant, whose family established it as a grainery in 1882, and here I had my first of 2 cultural lessons.

I wrongly assumed the staff were Armenian, and upon beginning a dialogue with our server (Who, me? Talk to a stranger? Yeah, I know...keep going with the story!), I learned she was a Palestinian. (I will withhold her name for safety reasons.) I noticed a cross around her neck and asked her about it. She shared she is a Lutheran, formerly of Bethlehem, but now living in the Old City. Persecution of Christians by the Muslims there is quite oppressive. She is forced to observe their restrictions, and even participate in fasts or face punishment.

Ten years ago, the city, in the West Bank, was 90% Christian. Numbers now hover around 10% since Israel conceded the territory to the Palestinian government. She said she had a much better life even as a minority still in Jerusalem than back in her home city.

It was telling. We think WE face "persecution" all the time. She did, and still does. But she is proud of her heritage and faith in Jesus. To even wear that necklace means hatred, but she identifies with Jesus Christ. She is glad to do it. I needed that reminder; how about you?

We walked through many narrow streets, full of shops and residences, into the Jewish Quarter. Today is the Sabbath, and most were returning from services. Tonight begins Shavout, or Pentecost...the Feast of the Harvest 50 days after Passover. We wished many "Shabbat shalom!"

Here we visited King David's tomb and were separated, men from women, as in any Jewish holy site or synagogue. We then went around the corner to a place significant to the Son of David, the Upper Room, where traditionally it's believed the Last Supper took place.

From there, we exited at the Zion Gate in the south and went a short distance to Dormition Church, the site of the High Priest Caiaphas' house. Here Jesus was charged and held overnight in the dungeon, dropped into a pit in the basement, after his arrest by the Jewish guards in the Garden.

What touched me most here were the original stair-steps Jesus used, both as a free man after the Last Supper, and then as one condemned to die. I touched one (reaching over the fence!) and thought how my Lord may have placed His sandal there. I felt a lot like the woman who wanted to touch just the hem of Jesus' garment to be healed.

I know, however, that my healing in Him has already come! He is with me and will never leave me alone or without hope. Sometimes we need a touchstone to remember this fact. I pray these words will be one for you today!

My last cultural connection was at dinner at an Arabic restaurant in a section of Jerusalem that has for quite some time been kind to Jew and Christian alike. (Falalfel, shish-kebab and French fries, complete with Heinz ketchup!) Our waiter, a young man named Mohammed, taught me some key phrases: shukran...thank you, and asalaam-o-alechem (can you guess that one?)

I.commented how good his English was and how hard I'm sure it must be for him. He said the opposite...how hard Arabic is, even as a native speaker, he still flunked tests in school, but excelled in English. How? Even when mocked by his friends, he insists on renting American movies without subtitles. We parted with a firm handshake and blessings in his studies.

Family, there is so much good to be had if we are willing to open up and extend the peace of Jesus (shalom, salaam) to others. How might you do that today?

It's late. From Jerusalem, Lie-la-tov! (Good night in Hebrew)

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