It has been an altogether WONDEFUL day here in the holiest city on earth!
I got up very early and sat out here in the quiet hallway of the convent, thinking, reflecting on the day to come, and emailing wife and friends. We ate breakfast at 7:30 and got some welcome news: since our trip was under budget, we each got a $100 refund. Mine did not survive the day, but more on that later.
We set out at 8:30 for the Old City of Jerusalem, but it started raining almost right away. I bought a cheap umbrella in a shop, but soon it was coming down so hard we all took refuge in a Cafe Aroma just outside the Jaffa Gate till it quit a half hour later. Then we headed into the Armenian Quarter, to see the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.
I am a tactile person. I appreciate things by touching them. To be able to touch the stone bed where the body of my Master was laid was one of
the most profoundly moving experiences of my life. It was, in a way, made even more special by the fact that modern excavations beneath the Church have actually confirmed that this is most likely the actual place where Jesus was crucified and buried. I lit two candles in this church. While I am not Catholic, there was something profoundly satisfying about doing so. Sometimes I think we evangelicals, despite being far closer in doctrine to the earliest Christians, lose sight of how majestic ritual and tradition can be.
The next stop was the Ecce Homo Basilica, a church built over the arch where Pontius Pilate presented Jesus to the mob with the words "Behold the Man!" This was moving for me both spiritually and personally, since that dramatic scene is the cover art for my book, THE REDEMPTION OF PONTIUS PILATE. It was easy for my mind's eye to strip away the trappings of twenty centuries of faith, and see that scene played out before my eyes.
From there we went to the Western Wall, where faithful Jews by the thousands pray every day. I approached the Wall and said a prayer, and imagined the magnificent edifice that once stood on this foundation. Next to it is the Davidson Archeological Park, an excavation of much of First century Jerusalem there in the Temple precincts. This area has only been uncovered in the last 20 years, and you can actually walk on streets where Jesus and His disciples walked on the way to the temple.
Next, we walked to the Pool of Bethesda, where John's Gospel describes Jesus' healing a lame man. This story was once thought to be purely legendary by skeptics, since there was no the record of this site, but modern archeology has found the pool exactly where and how John described it, and there was even some graffiti there alluding to its healing powers. Next to the pool is St. Anne'S church, which has some of the most perfect acoustics imaginable. The folks I am traveling with are nearly all Church of Christ, and they are EXCELLENT a capella singers. We all sang several hymns together, then descended into the Garden of Gethsemane. This is another spot identified with some certainty, and it is beautiful. A gorgeous church has been built over what is supposed to be the very rock Jesus prayed on. This site is less certain, but still in the right vicinity.
That was the end of the day's tour. I walked back alone, doing a little shopping (OK, a LOT of shopping!) And just soaking up the ambience of this marvelous place. I hope my wife and family like the gifts I got them!
Tonight, we had a great dinner at the Armenian Tavern, and Dr. Mark Shipp gave out the 2016 Archeological Study Tour Awards. I won several, most notably the "I Hugged a Crocodile, I Chased a Lizard, and I Dug Up a Pillar" award, and also the "I Dressed for a Flood But Ran Down a Mountain and Now My Feet Hurt Award."
After that, it was a brisk walk in the chill evening air back to the Convent, and I did actually get to call home and talk to my daughters, but not my wife, before bed this evening. Tomorrow, back to Caesarea Maritima, then more fun, facts, and faith in Jerusalem! Shalom!