On Day 1 of our tour, our entire group of 46 met at the Ben Gurion airport – we reconnected with friends from other Canadian Covenant churches and met new people from USA Covenant churches in Colorado, Illinois, and Oregon. It was fun to hear the stories and pull to visit the Holy Land – we all come together from different backgrounds but desire to connect with each other, the people of this land, and our Lord in these sacred cities.
Our tour guide, Saiid, has been fantastic so far – we feel blessed to be guided through this trip by him. He is a Lutheran Palestinian who lives with his family in East Jerusalem.
His knowledge of Israel/Palestine history, the different theologies and ideologies, and archaeological background of the places we visit has added so much depth and meaning.
On this first day of our tour, we enjoyed a delicious buffet-style lunch at a Kibbutz in Jerusalem. It was really cool to see a part of the vast community compound and how the modern day kibbutz works.
We then got our first taste of the Holy Land from an outlook looking at the Old City of Jerusalem, the ancient Biblical city of Jerusalem (City of David), and the Mount of Olives. Saiid then told us that we would next be journeying on Jesus’s Palm Sunday path from the Mount of Olives to Jerusalem – I was moved to tears! It was incredible to view this path from far away and get this first connection to Jesus’s life.
We started the path at the Church of the Pater Noster, located on the top of the Mount of Olives. This is the location where Jesus taught his disciples to pray. The cloisters of the church are covered in The Lord’s Prayer in many, many different languages from around the world. It is assumed that this teaching happened in a cave that is located on the church grounds so our entire group fit into the cave and said The Lord’s Prayer together. When we pray this prayer on Sundays at church, it is to connect us with believers past and present – it was so cool to do this and feel connected to Jesus and his disciples in the very place that he first taught it.
From there, we walked down to the Dominus Flevit Church. Dominus Flevit means “the Lord wept” – this is the site of where Jesus wept over the city of Jerusalem in Luke 19. The view from the church overlooks the Old City of Jerusalem from above so it was really powerful to imagine Jesus traveling down the Mount of Olives and crying over the pain and the suffering he would be experiencing soon. The Dominus Flevit Church is shaped like a tear drop and has many Middle Eastern motifs for crying or tears built into it. Inside, there is a picture window with a clear view of the Dome of the Rock and the Old City.
The Palm Sunday path follows a cobblestone road that is very steep. And the western slope of the Mount of Olives (where the path is) is covered from top to bottom (the Kidron Valley) with Jewish grave sites. The photo below shows the view of some of the gravesites (foreground), the Kidron Valley (lowest point in the photo), and then the hill back up to the Old City (surrounded by the wall):
(Photo courtesy of David W.)
The next stop on the path was the Garden of Gethsemane. I was speechless as we entered the garden gates – the oldest part of the pretty expansive garden was very close to how I imagined it from the Bible. The oldest olive tree in the garden is 900 years old! There are beautiful Hollyhock plants as well. It’s serene and peaceful – the perfect place for Jesus to steal away from the busyness of Jerusalem to pray. From the Bible, we know that the Garden of Gethsemane is where Jesus spent his last night; it is the location of Judas’s betrayal kiss and Jesus’s arrest before his crucifixion. It was easy to imagine this scene playing out as we walked through the Garden.
Before Jesus’s betrayal, he was in the Garden of Gethsemane to pray, knowing that the cross was his destiny. He brought Peter, James, and John with him as a form of support and encouragement in this time of fear and agony, and they infamously fell asleep while Jesus prayed. To commemorate Jesus’s “prayers of agony”, a church is built upon the rock where Jesus knelt to pray, called The Church of All Nations. Inside, we got to touch the “holy rock of agony” and spend time in this sacred place. Another cool piece of history in this church are a few original samples of the mosaic tiles from the church – these date approximately 1700 years old!
We ended our journey down the Palm Sunday path here, at the foot of the Mount of Olives, looking up at the Old City walls. This was the view that Jesus had as he was arrested to face trial and be crucified for our sins. It was incredible and moving to stand in the same place and feel the “realness” of Jesus life and sacrifice.
We spent last night in Bethlehem, Palestine, which means that we had to cross the separation wall at the Bethlehem checkpoint. It was sobering to see this after having just left the location of the beginning of Jesus’s incredible show of love for ALL people. Crossing to Palestine felt like entering a nearly 3rd world country: there was graffiti and litter and disheveled homes, more chaos and noise. We also saw evidence of the separation wall splitting apart neighbourhoods and single family lands. It was honestly so crazy and so sad. The reality of life here is not lost on us as we breezed through the checkpoint while hundreds of Palestinians were herded like cattle through the checkpoint and searched and guarded by heavily armed Israeli military. Today, we will travel around Bethlehem, to holy sites as well as get to meet with Palestinian Christians and hear about their struggle and work within the conflict. We are looking forward to hearing how God is at work here.
-Written by Erikka