After a sumptious meal in the evening (the buffets at the hotel are great), a decent night’s sleep and a good breakfast, we headed out for a short bus ride to the top of the Mount of Olives outside Jerusalem and walked the Palm Sunday route that Jesus took into the city. It is a steep walk down into the Kidron Valley and we made two stops: one at the place where Jesus wept over the city and one at Gethsemane, which is down in the valley itself and not in the location where I had always pictured it. When Jesus prayed that night, he would have been looking up at the city and imagining the "climb" he would have to take the next day. That’s just one of those little moments in this trip that puts the Bible in a whole different three-dimensional perspective. The views on the way down this route are panoramic and it is an experience everyone should have.
We then took a short bus ride to Bethlehem, which is in the West Bank. We crossed the checkpoint at the infamous wall that the Israelis have built. It is some 30 ft. high, imposing, and runs like a scar along the landscape. It also marks the divide between the privileged and the poor. The issues here are so complex, of course, but seeing it first hand really makes you consider both sides more clearly. Palestinians are suffering 60% unemployment because they can’t leave their homes to find jobs in the larger city of Jerusalem. Refugee camps are still prevalent. It is a real mess.
In the midst of that, though, there are some interesting things happening. Pilgrims are beginning to come back to Manger Square. We visited the church there and traditional site of Jesus’ birth, which sits on top of a cave complex. Jesus was very likely born in one of these caves, which were always adjacent to a house or "inn" and was the place the animals were kept.
We were then hosted by a Palestinian restaurant for lunch and treated with amazing hospitality, followed by a visit to a shop specializing in olive wood carvings. It was a blessing to interact with these wonderful people. Again, you need to come here to experience it in order to get a different perspective than what the news tells us.
I must stress that at no time in my visit here have I felt, seen, or experienced any concern about security. Most people here want what everyone wants…peace. The old hatreds and suspicions run deep, but what I have heard universally is an invitation for people to come and visit. The whole region here is dependent upon tourism and there is much to see and many wonderful people to meet.
We then crossed back through the wall and visited the Israel museum, where there is a 1:50 scale model of Jerusalem outside that I wish I had seen when I was in seminary. It puts the biblical descriptions in a whole new light. We also visited the Shrine of the Book where some of the Dead Sea Scrolls are housed. That was a very emotional experience, seeing these ancient texts up close.
Sunday we go to Galilee, so I’ll report on that later. Blessings for a great Sunday!