Did you know that during Jesus' time the entire Mount of Olives was covered with olive groves? Further, it's a range of mountains not a single mount. Who knew? Not me.
Today the Mount of Olives includes (at least) Hebrew University, a convent, Augusta Victoria Hospital (started by the UN Relief Organization in 1949), a Crippled Children's Hospital, a Nurses School and a girl's school. When we passed the girls' scho0l, we saw some girls about 13-15 years old dancing in the school yard. How lovely to see so much delight in the midst of such an anxiety-ridden region.
At the crest of the Mount, we visited Dominus Flavis, the Chapel of Tears. Tradition reports that it was from this site that Jesus looked down on Jerusalem and, thinking on the sin in the city and the pain he had experienced there, Jesus wept. The small chapel is shaped like a tear drop with small vase-shaped forms at each corner where the roof meets the outer walls. These vases symbolize vases that were used to catch the tears of mourners. The altar in the chapel overlooks Jerusalem; a glass window looks out on the city. From the pews in the chapel, you can see Jerusalem. Beautiful.
Next we visited the Garden of Gethsemene where olive trees grow that would have been there in Jesus' time. They still bear fruit. "The olive tree never dies," our guide says.
Later in the day, we visited the site of Caiphas' house. We went below it to where Jesus would have been lowered to the dungeon. Striking is that his cell was the lowest cell. There were cells above it. His was the lowest.
I was walking at this point with Dr. Anthony Negbenebor, the dean of GWU's Business school who has visited Jerusalem 17 times. He narrated for me. He said as we exited the dungeon area, "There would have been lots of people out here. They would have been making a lot of noise. And somewhere here, Peter would have been hiding. Until someone said to him, 'Hey, you were with him weren't you?' And then Peter said, 'No I do not know him."
Then Anthony and I turned and walked up the sacred stairway.
These stairs, discovered several decades ago, would have been here 100 years before Christ. Scholars believe Christ would have walked on these steps at least five times. The walk is amazingly difficult, the steps uneven, rugged, and very steep. So Anthony and I walked them, slow and carefully, huffing and puffing, grateful to be following the footsteps of Christ--if only literally.
You see, as I walk these sacred pathways, I'm reminded that it is not walking where Jesus walked but living as Jesus lived that is the real challenge, the real blessing.
Another of my earlier posts from back in 2008, written about my trip to the Holy Land.
I've said over and over today: Ooooh! I wish my sister could see this. Or, "I wish my sister were here to translate that." You see, my sister Dawn is a Latin teacher extraordinaire and there are few things she likes better than Roman ruins and a good line of Latin text. So when I was standing in the hippodrome in Caesaerea where chariot races entertained 11,000 onlookers, I couldn't help but think about how much my sister would love to see it all. This hippodrome (which bordered the Mediterranean Sea--so blue today that you wouldn't believe me if I could describe it) is only one of the well preserved ruins of this Roman town mentioned in the book of Acts. In Acts, Peter goes there on account of the Gentile Cornelius (Acts 10). But more importantly, Paul is there, defending himself and his faith. (You'll find this story in Acts 25:23-26:32.) Today, we stood in the theater where Paul probably pleaded his case. We saw the box seat (there is only one in this theater) where his accusers set. We listened as our professor spoke from the theater floor, his voice carried up to us on the winds of the Mediterranean. And I thought, I wish my sister could be here to see this.
We drove just down the rode to a Roman aqueduct. Now if you've not heard of such a thing, open another window and do a quick wikipedia search. Basically, Romans created a massive plumbing system that would enable them to build cities in little remote places like, I dunno, Israel. The aqueduct that we saw stretched more than seven miles. I climbed atop it and walked in the trough where the water would have flowed. I sat under the arches and smiled pretty for a picture. I walked in the Mediterranean and looked back at it thinking, my goodness, I surely wish my sister could see this.
After that, we went to a chapel near a shepherd's field--a field like the one where shepherd's would have been abiding their flocks by night. . .The chapel is tiny, and is domed. The dome creates beautiful acoustics. One of our group, Dr. Cal Robertson who was one of my profs last semester, is a gifted and talented tenor. While we were in the chapel, he sang O Holy Night. Around the dome of the chapel were the words from Luke 2:14--in Latin. This would have been a great day to share with my sister.
I began my official blog when I went to the Holy Land in May of 2008. I thought I'd bring back a few of those early posts for those of you who may have missed them the first time around.
May 20, 2008
Today we took a walking tour of old Jerusalem. We were so happy to be off the bus and out in the fresh air and sunshine.
The tour started atop Mount Moriah. You may remember Mt. Moriah from scripture. It was there that Abraham offered Isaac for sacrifice. Now, a beautiful mosque called the Dome of the Rock stands on the mount. The actual dome is covered with 24k gold. Its gleam is unparalleled in my experience.
We left there for St. Anne's Church. St. Anne is Mary's mother, that is, Jesus' grandmother. This church is the best preserved Crusader church in all of Israel. Its walls are fortress-thick. It's as if it were built by. . .well. . .warriors. St. Anne's is a beautifully simple church with renown acoustics. Our group's own tenor, Dr. Cal Robertson, sang for us there. He began with Holy, Holy, Holy and finished with Jerusalem, Jerusalem. His highly trained, flawless voice filled the chapel. When he hit the last note, no one said anything. For several moments, sacred silence swept over those present. As I reflected on the generations of saints who had worshiped there before I had come to this place, I felt humbled by the faith represented here.
Later we walked the via de la rosa--the way of the cross--a mostly legendary route that Jesus is said to have followed on the way to his crucifixion. The way begins below a convent where Jesus' trial almost certainly took place. This site has been authenticated in many ways. However, the rest of the way is suspect, though possible of course.
Still, the via de la rosa ends at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher which offered a wonderful experience totally unrelated to the way of the cross. There atop that ancient church (it was built in the 4th century ad) a small community of Ethiopian monks has taken residence. This community celebrates their biblical connection to Philip because of his leading the Ethiopian to Christ through the reading of scripture. While we were there, one of the monks read to us in his native language, the story of Philip. Beautiful.
Finally we ended our day at the Western Wall or as we call it, the Wailing Wall. I had brought a picture of Paxten Mitchell with me. On the back of the picture, Rob and Amy, Paxten's parents, had both written prayers. So, while I was at the wailing wall, I read the prayer for Amy and then the one for Rob. Next I prayed my own prayer about Paxten and about God's goodness and his provision. Finally I knelt before the wall, once again awed, as I have been throughout this journey, by the number of those who have prayed in this very same spot before me. To think of the prayers that have gone up here: prayers of hope, prayers of despair; prayers of longing, prayers of thanksgiving; prayers of praise, prayers of anguish. And now my voice has joined with all those other voices. I find the weight of the knowledge overwhelming. I feel so humbled at the magnitude of the faith of God's people.
Tomorrow we go to the Mount of Olives. I have a feeling I'm going to be overwhelmed there as well.
Zach, the Palestinian who guided our tour of Israel, knew a little something about aging gracefully. A grandfather who had been considering retirement for months, Zach was hard at work, leading our group of 34 American tourists through his homeland. He walked all over Masada and Qumran in 100° heat. He hiked through Megiddo and strode up and down the ancient streets of Old Jerusalem. All the while, Zach shared his knowledge with us: telling the history of the area, quoting scripture chapter and verse, and recalling vignettes particular to the sites we visited. As far as I know, he never once sat to rest; he walked every step I did.
A month after my trip, my family and my sister’s headed to North Myrtle Beach, my parents’ hometown, for our annual vacation. My brother, Hal, and his family were already there. A few weeks earlier, they had moved back to the area and purchased a home right down the road from our parents.
Unfortunately, things were not going well. Because of a series of complications and botched repair jobs, Hal was still not in his new house. For six weeks, his family of five had been living with our parents while my brother became increasingly frustrated with the work crews he’d hired to make his home safe for his family. As we sat around Mother’s dinner table one night talking over my brother’s predicament, the doorbell rang.
“It’s Mr. Rothman,” Mother announced. “Come in Dick; have some supper.”
Mr. Rothman has been a family friend for 25 years (he watched my brother grow up). He passed retirement age at least 15 years ago. Since that time, he has nursed his beloved wife through Alzheimer’s, becoming her daily visitor when he made the gut-wrenching decision to place her in a nursing home. In addition to spending hours with his wife (who long ago had stopped recognizing him), he visited the other residents of the home. Mr. Rothman brought sunshine to the lonely, even when he was heartbroken with loneliness himself. More than ten years after she became ill, Mr. Rothman’s wife drew her last earthly breath, while her devoted husband looked on, weeping.
Also during the last 15 years, Dick Rothman has been running his own business. An electrician and an expert in air conditioning repair, Mr. Rothman has plenty of opportunities to stay busy. So by 9:00 every morning, Dick Rothman is out making his rounds, visiting customers who’ve relied on him for years.
“Hey, Hal,” Mr. Rothman began that night, “I’ve been thinking about that job you’ve got going on over there at your house.“ He had been over helping my brother with odd jobs while a larger company had replaced all of the duct work in the house and then worked to get the air conditioning running again. The company, though it had come highly recommended, seemed to be botching the job.
“Here’s what they’ve done,“ Mr. Rothman said, taking a ballpoint pen from his shirt pocket and drawing on a table napkin. Hal nodded in agreement. “And here’s what they should have done.“ He drew a different diagram.
“Uggh!” my brother groaned, “I knew it! I knew they were not doing it right.” Dejected, Hal slumped as he propped his elbows on the table and covered his forehead with his hands.
And then Mr. Rothman laughed aloud. “Oh now, Hal,” he said, “I didn’t come tell you this to get you worried. Let’s worry about it tomorrow if they don’t fix it.” He folded his hands in his lap, smiled and shook his head, seeming to recall some distant memory. “’Wait to worry.’ I’ve got that written all through my Bible. ‘Wait to Worry.’ I have to remind myself of that. But the thing is, we’ve got plenty of time to worry.” He patted my brother affectionately. “Let’s worry later.”
Hal knowing Mr. Rothman was right, laughed with his friend--a friend more than four decades older than he, a friend who had reached out to him and pulled him out of his despair.
“The olive tree never dies,“ Zach said. No matter what it has been through, no matter how old it gets, the olive tree keeps bearing fruit. Just like Zach. Just like Dick Rothman.*
On November 6, 2014, Dick Rothman celebrated his 90th birthday. Two days later, he passed from this world into the arms of his Savior, Jesus. Hal's air conditioning still works just fine.
Soon I will be leaving Jerusalem and heading into Jordan to begin the journey back to my own promised land--Asheville, North Carolina. We leave the hotel before 7:30 in the morning and it is after midnight. (My mind seems to be unwilling to slow down for rest. . . )
Our guide and our lead professor told us that today's first two sites were not biblical sites per se but rather historical sites. But me, I'm a fool for a set of ruins so I couldn't wait to get to first Masada and then to Qumran. The plan was to leave Qumran after lunch and head to the Dead Sea for a swim before going to the Garden Tomb for our final worship experience in Jerusalem. It was an amazing day.
Masada, positioned off the coast of the Dead Sea, stands out from the rocky desert mountain landscape as fortresses are prone to do. The ruins there amazed me--towers, aqueducts, baths, a sauna, even an early version of a post office. Unbelievable. I got great pictures there.
Do you know where Qumran is? Well, it's right down the road from Masada, but that's not the important thing about this little mountain range of caves. I'll get to that in a minute. First, let me ask you this. Have you heard of Ein Gedi? What about En Gedi? (Same place.) En Gedi is a desert Oasis and we went through it today between Masada and Qumran. I don't have the scriptures handy, but you may remember the story of David pursuing Saul into a cave at En Gedi? Saul had gone in there to. . . well. . .you know. . .and then he fell asleep (note to self, never fall asleep on the toilet). David finds him there, decides not to kill him but just cuts a swatch of fabric from his robe (maybe to have himself a king's robe made?) much to the protests of his soldiers. En Gedi. That's the place. We went through it today and it is so plush and green in the middle of this rocky, sandy, ruddy desert. Beautiful.
Okay, so Qumran. Did you go over to Wikipedia and look it up? Well that was silly because I was getting ready to tell you. Qumran is the place where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. Remember I told you that Qumran is down the street from Masada and that Masada is off the cost of the Dead Sea? Thus the name. Dead Sea Scrolls. And I was there. Right there. Blessed Assurance.
Next we went to the Dead Sea itself where we floated and played in the water. We covered ourselves in the mud--supposedly it's good for the skin. Very refreshing.
We ended our day back here in Jerusalem at the Garden Tomb. As with much that happens here in the Holy Land, these sites are often disputed. Some believe absolutely that this site is the site where Jesus was laid. Our guide and our professor don't really think it is possible. Instead they challenged us to see it as the type of tomb were Jesus could have been laid. This was most instructive and helpful.
The Garden is lovely. The landscape includes ancient artifacts, blooming flowers and trees while small chapels hide here and there all around the garden. The Garden guide, an older man from the UK with a thick British accent, said before we went to our appointed chapel, "I don't know what you believe about this place being the place where Jesus was taken to be buried and I don't care. Because we who are Christians do not serve a dead God, we serve a living God. Our faith is not about where Jesus was laid when he died; It is about where he lives now that he is resurrected."
Our communion service will hold a private, special place in my memory forever. It was so sacred, so precious. And such a perfect ending. . . no beginning. . .to our Jerusalem story.
On my way back to God's Country,
Well I've come out of Egypt and am in Jericho now. It seems Egyptian computers don't speak Aileen. I could not access my website the whole time I was there. Oh well, I'm in Jericho for a moment or so and thought I'd sent a quick update.
We arrived in Cairo safe, sound and sleepy. We spent three nights there and two full days exploring Cairo and Memphis. The great pyramids of Egypt are something to see, but the venders who lurk there are something to avoid. The Egyptian museum offered lots of treasures, including the artifacts from King Tuts tomb. Here's something I learned: King Tut was so young and such a minor king that his treasures were really pocket change compared to what a great and older king would have had. Amazing. I actually saw the coffin mask--the coffin mask that is in all the text books. Hard to believe I was standing there looking at it.
Yesterday we visited a carpet factory where they make Egyptian rugs. They were so beautiful, so artistic. Children go to school at this factory to learn to make the rugs so that they can graduate with a skill. I took video there so you could see how fast their fingers move. You wouldn't be able to imagine it if I tried to tell you.
We also went to a papyrus institute. Paper was invented by Egyptians; did you know that? Indeed the word paper comes from Papyrus. The art there was captivating.
Today we spent travelling. Tonight we sleep and get up tomorrow to tour Jericho. As we travelled from Egypt to Jericho, I thought about the children of Israel. It is such a barren wasteland and I can't imagine what those people must have been experiencing. Egypt, even then, would have been so bustling and alive. The desert--the wilderness--so void, so dead. How bewildered they must have been once the running game stopped and they looked around to see where they'd landed. It is no wonder it took them 40 years to get their bearings straight.
As we were coming through the desert, at first we hit miles and miles of emptiness. Next, we approached mountains--and they looked nothing like the Blue Ridge. These mountains are jagged, red earth, with no place to even grab a foot hold, much less for a plant to take root. It must have been so scary for the Israelites. It's a wonder they didn't turn back. They must have been walking towards a promise. . .
Walking with the Children of Israel,