Good afternoon dear friends. Have I told you all that I love you? This is one of Iyad’s great sayings each day as we start the day, and one that I share with you.
As our final full day on pilgrimage we are connecting the stories from Palm Sunday through Good Friday. So our day began in the village of Bethphage on the Mount of Olives. It is at the church in Bethphage that commemorates the beginning of the Palm Sunday procession. Tradition says that Jesus mounted a donkey, and there is a rock to prove it, and with his disciples made their way down the Mount of Olives and into Jerusalem. As Jesus’ procession was descending to Jerusalem, Pontius Pilate was leading a procession of Roman soldiers east from the coast up to Jerusalem to keep the peace during the Passover festival. So, that first Palm Sunday was setting up the epic showdown between Jesus, the Son of God, against those who would not accept his message.
John Peterson shared with us what the processions of Palm Sunday look like today. Led by Scouts playing musical instruments and runs led the different churches as the process from Bethphage to Jerusalem. The streets are lined with the local Muslim families who offer water to the thousands of Christian’s in the procession. At the end of the procession are the various Patriarchs who bring up the rear. Since we didn’t visit Bethany, the site of Lazarus’s resuscitation and where Mary anointed Jesus’ feet, John told us all about Lazarus and how he is venerated in the Eastern Churches.
From Bethphage, we drove to the top of a road that we then walked down as we descended the Mount of Olives to the Garden of Gethsemane. The road was very steep and winding as we passed numerous Jewish cemeteries. About halfway down the mountain we stopped at Dominus Flevit, the church that commemorates the spot where Jesus wept over Jerusalem. We weren’t allowed in the church because if was being used for Mass, but the church itself is in the shape of a teardrop. This is also the site of some of the most iconic pictures of the Old City.
After some time to take pictures and look over the city as Jesus once did, we co tied our walk down to the Garden of Gethsemane. The garden as it is today is just a small to of land near the bottom of the valley, but in Jesus’ time the garden was a much larger area. The church is large but not nearly as large as one might expect for such an important site in the story of Jesus. It is beautifully adorned with a large rock in the center of the sanctuary that is surrounded by a metal rim that looks like the crown of thorns and is venerated by pilgrims. This is also the site of Jesus last healing miracle when we reattached the ear that was hacked off by one of the disciples.
From the garden we paused our walk in Jesus’ footsteps to visit one of the Diocese of Jerusalem’s great missionary endeavors in the Princess Basma Center; named after Princess Basma of Jordan, the paternal aunt to the current King of Jordan. The Princess Basma Center for Children with Disabilities, is a charitable, non-governmental, non-profit institution entrusted under the Anglican Episcopal church. The center provides services for children with disabilities in Palestine. All Palestinian children with disabilities have access to quality health services and inclusive education, can participate and have influence, have hope and opportunities. The Princess Basma Center, established in 1965, works on the integration and empowerment of children with disabilities and their families in their communities through: their physical rehabilitation, inclusive education, the development and dissemination of best practices, and influencing policy and legislation.
After a lunch of burgers, our first burgers in the Holy Land, we continued the Holy Week story by visiting Saint Peter in Galicantu; the site of Caiaphas’ Palace or house, the dungeon where Jesus was kept, and where Peter denied Jesus three times. We heard the gospel of Peter denying Jesus, and we went to the lowest level of the church where prisoners were kept in an old cistern. We heard that great psalm of lament, Psalm 88, as we stood in the cistern imagining Jesus imprisoned in the very same place. I had visited this site before but it still gives me chills just thinking about it, and seeing it again. It caused me to think about how I have denied Christ in my life, or denied the Christ in others; choosing to see what I wanted to see and not the face of Jesus. As other went around exploring the other areas of the church and grounds, I sat i the chapel in silence and prayed; prayed that I could have the courage and the strength to follow Jesus even when I might not want to follow Christ.
When we were done it was time to head to Iyad’s house in Jericho for our final meal together and celebrate a wonderful pilgrimage. For the week we were assigned prayer partners; another pilgrim for whom we would pray throughout the pilgrimage. Then we were to buy a simple gift for our partner and at Iyad’s house we would exchange the gifts. It was pretty awesome to hear who everyone’s partner was and why they choose the gift they did for their partner. Then we watched an excellent parody on West Side Story called West Bank Story, available on YouTube, and had another excellent meal cooked by the local women of Jericho from the YWCA, though most of the women were Muslim.
Tomorrow we finish Holy Week by walking the stations of the cross on the Via Dolorosa, the Way of Sorrows. It is an early start to our final day on the pilgrimage, so I will be you all a good night.