Sunday, August 28, 2011

Holy Land Journal: Sunday in Jerusalem

Tour buses and tourists
mobbing the Church of All Nations
JERUSALEM – Today is Sunday in this holiest of cities, and like everything else here, it is a day of contradictions, contrasts and confusions.

Friday belongs to the Muslims, Saturday belongs to the Jews, and Sunday belongs to the Christians.

As someone told us the other day, "there are no agnostics in Jerusalem."

We began our day by taking a taxi to the top of the Mount of Olives, to the place that it is said Jesus began his final entry into Jerusalem on what is now remembered as “Palm Sunday.”

We saw no palm trees. The route is now lined by rundown Palestinian houses.

At the top of the mountain, there is a small church that marks the traditional spot of where Jesus found a colt to ride into the Holy City where he would be arrested an executed.

When we arrived, a Catholic mass was underway. We stood outside and could smell the incense.

House demolished by Israelis
Next to the church is a house that was owned by a Palestinian family. It was demolished because they did not ask permission of the Israeli government to add a second story for one of their sons.

We worked our way along the traditional route of Jesus’ path into Jerusalem. For two millennia, this path is packed every Palm Sunday with tens-of-thousands of the faithful. Today is taxis and small cars.

Next we entered the Church of the Flavitis, about halfway down the mountain. It is where tradition says Jesus paused and “wept for Jerusalem.” The church on the site is shaped like a teardrop.

It was then that things began to take on the flavor of a theme park. A man in Arab garb greeted us with a donkey. He kissed my hand three times and we paid him a few shekels.

Another Catholic mass was underway when we were arrived. We did not stay long, but paused for the view of the Temple Mount which was breathtaking.

Finally, we walked down a steep path to the bottom of the Valley of Kidron and the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus was betrayed and arrested by Roman authorities.

A friendly greeting
When we arrived, a young man thrust olive branches into our hands and then asked us for five shekels. Another was hawking panoramic photos. Meanwhile, the tour buses began jamming onto the street in front, jostling for places to offload their passengers. An Israeli police car blasted it siren several times trying to push the buses along.

We pushed our way inside to the Basilica of the Agony, or “The Church of All Nations,” certainly one of the most beautiful churches we have seen. The church is kept dark, yet gold mosaic tiles glisten on the ceiling and inside the dome.

Another Catholic mass was underway, and we did not linger. We left as a huge throng of Greek pilgrims pushed their way into the Garden of Gethsemane. We pushed our way out.

We took a cab back to our St. George’s Anglican Cathedral, arriving just in time for an English-language Holy Eucharist. I felt I could breath again, thankful to be back with friends and the familiarity of our liturgy.

After lunch, we set off for the City of David, where the first small fortress of David was built before Jerusalem was established.

Lori walking down from the Mount of Olives
We walked through the Tunnel of Hezekiah, a deep underground tunnel built 2,000+ years ago that is only about three feet wide and five feet high. Water from a spring runs along its half-mile entire length, and we sloshed through the tunnel with Petzel lights on our foreheads.

I must admit, it was not my favorite thing to do. But we did it with friends and lived to tell the tale. We got a feel for a secret escape route out of the city in times of peril, and we marveled at an ancient engineering fete.

When we emerged, we took another tunnel – larger and dry – back to where we started.

When we came outside, a long line of Israeli soldiers – all of them very young, all of them with automatic rifles slung under their shoulders – were walking down to enter the City of David and take the same tour we had taken.

This is a city of many contrasts, contradictions, and confusions.

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