“And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives” (Mark 14:26).
The Mount of Olives is east of Jerusalem, across the Kidron Valley. Jesus often traveled this route, to rest, pray or continue on to Bethany just a couple of miles away. As the name suggests, the hillside was once covered with olive groves. By Jesus’ time you would also find the tombs of kings, prophets and David’s son Absalom. Today, there are over 150,000 graves on that hillside.
Jesus staged his triumphant entry into Jerusalem on the Mount of Olives (Mark 11:1). He also taught about the end times here (Matthew 24:3ff). From this unique vantage point, Jesus wept over the city of Jerusalem (Luke 19:41). It may also have been the site of Jesus’ ascension into heaven (Acts 1:12).
We hit the ground running at 7:30 and got a bird’s eye view tour of Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives.
To save a little time (and energy) we drove the Palm Sunday walk to the Garden of Gethsemane. I led a communion service there for our group. I’ve done it hundreds of times, but never “on site” before. What a great experience!
From there we entered the old city of Jerusalem through the Lion’s Gate. We first stopped at St. Anne’s church and the Pool of Bethesda. Amazing excavations brought the story of John 5 to life. In St. Anne’s we sang a few songs (everyone knew “Jesus Lives Me” and the Doxology) in a place with remarkable acoustics. The hang time of each phrase lasted at least five seconds. I did a verse of “Of the Father’s Live Begotten” because you can’t take the Seminary Kantorei out of the kid.
Beginning at Pilates judgment hall we then walked the Via Dolorosa past the fourteen stations of the cross. This path takes you up and down through a maze of churches, shrines, and markets jam-packed with people of who knows how many nationalities.
We finally arrived at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, within which are one tradition’s location of Jesus’ crucifixion and burial. The line to see that last station was three to fours long. We plan on going back there on our free day.
Today was also our day to go to Bethlehem. Our Israeli tour guide handed us off to an Arab tour guide for this part of the trip. We first stopped at a great restaurant for lunch of schwarma. We also spent a little time at a store selling olive wood carvings. We got a few gifts there, but many of the items were way up there in price.
We got onto a smaller bus that took us up to the Church of the Nativity, but not after backing over a concrete barrier. This driver was definitely on the wild side. But then again, so was everyone else on the road.
The wait to see one traditional birth place of Jesus was two hours, and most of our group didn’t want to do that. The rest of the church was either under construction or not open to the public. So we really didn’t see much there. I wasn’t impressed by the town of Bethlehem at all.
Overall it was an up and down day. In some spots I saw more than I expected. In others I saw less. But we were right there where it all happened.