Wednesday, July 15, 2015
The focus today and tomorrow is Holy Week.
We departed on the bus at 7:45 am to go to the Mount of Olives. As its name implies, this is a hill covered with olive groves in Jesus’ time. From Bethany it would take about 20 minutes to walk up to the crest of the Mount of Olives, from there another 20 minutes to walk down to the (old) city of Jerusalem. The Mount of Olives features quite frequently in the account of Jesus’ last visit to Jerusalem. When he is not within the actual walls of the city or in Bethany, this is where he is found. Two particular episodes are remembered on the Mount of Olives: (1) his private conversation with some disciples about the future of the Temple, and (2) his final time of prayer before his arrest in Gethsemane, the olive grove at the foot of the Mount.
Because of the topography of the Mount of Olives we began at the top so we only had to walk down the mount. This means we step out of the chronological order of events, for now. Our first stop was at the Chapel of the Ascension on top of Mount of Olives. This chapel commemorates the place from which Jesus ascended. This chapel was originally open to the skies, but the Franciscans enclosed it during their renovations. There is a stone within the chapel which is believed to be where Jesus stood before the ascension.
The next stop was the church called Pater Noster (or Eleona), which houses the never-completed shrine to the Lord’s Prayer during the reconstruction in the 1920s. It remains open air. But the real beauty is in the 127 different mosaics spelling out the Lord’s Prayer in different languages. This site also commemorates where Jesus taught the disciples about the end of time.
From there we continued on foot to Bethpage Church which represents Jesus’ triumphal entry. Even though he entered Jerusalem on a donkey, his supporters treated him like royalty. Bethpage is a place of friendships and relationships to Jesus. We learned that this is a place rarely frequented by pilgrimage tour leaders.
We continued our downhill walk (in the hot dry weather) to Dominus Flevit … where Jesus wept. It was built by the Franciscans in 1955 over a Byzantine monastery; it is modern church that powerfully evokes that moment when Jesus began to weep for Jerusalem as recorded in Luke 19:41-44.
After leaving Dominus Flevit we continued to the bottom of the Mount of Olives to the Church of Gethsemane; on the grounds is a large church commemorating the story of Jesus in the garden and the garden itself with several very old olive trees…we’re talking almost two centuries old. They are probably not form the time of Jesus because the Roman tenth Legion was stationed on the Mount of Olives and likely chopped down most of the trees. We sat on the stairs of the church and heard the scriptures stories recounting Jesus in the garden. Inside the church there was a mass taking place, so we were only able to take a few pictures without interfering. After leaving the church we wound our way through the gardens taking in the smells from all the flowers.
Nearby was the grotto commemorating the assumption of Mary. I went down two stories of outdoor steps to get to the entrance, but was intimidated by the dark environment, so I watched Rob and Lauren descend into the depths of this shrine. Nearby there was also another grotto that may have been where the disciples slept while Jesus prayed in Gethsemane.
The bus took us back to the college for lunch and a break.
Then we were back on board the bus and en route to Mount Zion. There we visited the Cenaculum which was where the Last Supper was held. The room is pretty much just a large room with very little Christian symbols left. Unlike most other sites, this one was jammed with visitors.
The next site was the church of St. Peter in Gallicantu which commemorates the trial of Jesus and his imprisonment. The church is built into the hillside and has three levels, each commemorating different aspects of the story. Its main sanctuary in the uppermost level has natural light streaming through colorfully-stained glass in a contemporary French design. On the second level there is another sanctuary commemorating Peter’s denial. Then, in the lowest level is a small, dark and dank pit which we all entered. This pit is comparable to what biblical scholars believe Jesus was put in for the night after being arrested. We heard Psalm 88, the dark psalm of lament. We sang Ah Holy Jesus that classic Good Friday hymn, but it left me depressed after learning about what Jesus had to endure. Once we went back up two levels and headed outside, we saw a sculpture of Peter denying Jesus, saying “I do not know him.”
We really packed a lot of places and events in today as we remembered Holy Week…and we only got through Thursday! Tomorrow is the last day of class. It sounds like we’re in for a new experience where we walk the Stations of the Cross through the streets of Jerusalem. But no cameras! Stay tuned.