DAY 7- SATURDAY, JANUARY 23: MT. OF OLIVES, POOL OF BETHESDA, VIA DOLOROSA, HERODIUM, BETHLEHEM
Today was our first day here in Jerusalem! It would be a wet and damp day (temps in mid-high 40s), with occasional rain that developed in mid-morning. Leaving the hotel at around 7:30, we drove to the Mt. of Olives for our first encounter with Jerusalem, the Temple Mount, and the Old City of Jerusalem! It is an amazing view from here! Walking down the hill, we considered the many stories that happened here, both in the OT and NT. At a chapel called Dominus Flavet, we read from Luke 19 and Zechariah 14. Continuing downward, we stopped for a brief time in the Garden of Gethsemane. Here we listened to the passion narrative of Jesus (Luke 22) and a song as we considered the ultimate price Christ paid.
Walking into the Old City through the St. Stephen’s (or Lion’s Gate), we visited the Pools of Bethesda (“house of mercy”) and read from John 5. We also enjoyed the 8-10 second “echo” in St. Anne’s, a Crusader Church here on the grounds.
From here we began walking the Via Dolorosa (the “way of the cross”). Even though archaeology strongly suggests that the route Jesus took in carrying the cross to Calvary was in the completely opposite direction (i.e. Jesus was tried and condemned by Pilate at Herod’s palace, not the Antonio Fortress), it was interesting to experience this traditional walk. Our destination was the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. We went inside and looked around at this church originally built in 325 AD. Following this visit, we enjoyed lunch in the Christian Quarter.
Leaving the Old City through the Jaffa Gate, David and our bus picked us up and drove us to Herodium. Located on the edge of the Judean Desert, it was not raining here. We hiked to the top of this “palace-fortresses” built by Herod the Great to see the impressive view from here as well as some of the ruins. From here we could see the Mt. of Olives, Bethlehem and Tekoa (where the prophet Amos was from).
Leaving Herodium we traveled west to Beit Sahor and the Shepherds’ Fields. Located outside of Bethlehem, we enjoyed a time in a cave, reflecting upon God’s redemptive plan, for “just at the right time, God sent His Son…” (Galatians 4:4). We sang a number of Christmas carols, both in the cave and in the Chapel of the Shepherds.
We ended the day by visiting an olive wood shop and store. It was remarkable to see all the beautiful wood carvings. We drove back out of Bethlehem back to Jerusalem five miles north to our hotel. We enjoyed dinner together, with some enjoying a restful (and warm) evening in the hotel, while a few went to Ben Yehuda to shop and take in some modern Israeli life.
DAY 8 – SUNDAY, JANUARY 24: OLD CITY, WAILING WALL, WESTERN WALL TUNNEL, JEWISH QUARTER, ISRAEL MUSEUM, YAD VASHEM