We had another beautiful day of weather in the Holy Land! We started the day in the Garden of Gethsemane. It is a quiet place of prayer now as it was in the time of Christ. There are several olive trees that are hundreds of years old. Their trunks are large and gnarled; they separate and head in different directions. The bark on the trunks is rough and looks every bit the age of the tree, yet, the branches are full of new green leaves and young offshoot branches. They were a reminder of how the Christian faith is an offshoot of the Jewish religion. We went into the church that was next to the garden, The Church of All Nations. It has to be one of the most beautiful and inspiring churches in the world. From the mosaic on the front exterior face of the church to the hues of purple, blue, and rose in the stained glass windows, it is a place that invites people to come before God in prayer.
Afterwards we went to the Mount of Olives and were able to look out across the Kidron Valley to the city of Jerusalem. We took a group picture and headed off back to the city of Jerusalem itself. We went to the Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu. The church is over the site that is believed to be the former house of the high priest Caiaphas. There are cisterns beneath the house that were converted to dungeon cells by the first century. There is a high possibility that Jesus was kept there the night before the crucifixion. We gathered in the space and then read Psalm 88:
O Lord, God of my salvation, when, at night, I cry out in your presence, 2 let my prayer come before you; incline your ear to my cry. 3 For my soul is full of troubles, and my life draws near to Sheol. 4 I am counted among those who go down to the Pit; I am like those who have no help, 5 like those forsaken among the dead, like the slain that lie in the grave, like those whom you remember no more, for they are cut off from your hand. 6 You have put me in the depths of the Pit, in the regions dark and deep. 7 Your wrath lies heavy upon me, and you overwhelm me with all your waves. (Selah) 8 You have caused my companions to shun me; you have made me a thing of horror to them. I am shut in so that I cannot escape; 9 my eye grows dim through sorrow. Every day I call on you, O Lord; I spread out my hands to you. 10 Do you work wonders for the dead? Do the shades rise up to praise you? (Selah) 11 Is your steadfast love declared in the grave, or your faithfulness in Abaddon? 12 Are your wonders known in the darkness, or your saving help in the land of forgetfulness? 13 But I, O Lord, cry out to you; in the morning my prayer comes before you. 14 O Lord, why do you cast me off? Why do you hide your face from me? 15 Wretched and close to death from my youth up, I suffer your terrors; I am desperate. 16 Your wrath has swept over me; your dread assaults destroy me. 17 They surround me like a flood all day long; from all sides they close in on me. 18 You have caused friend and neighbor to shun me; my companions are in darkness.
It was a powerful moment to reflect on the despair that was felt in that place.
Our last visit of the day was to Herodian, one of the palaces built by King Herod the Great. It is just outside of Jerusalem and in the past few years archaeological evidence has revealed it to be the burial site of Herod. This was an important find because it validated the historical accounts in the writings of Josephus Flavius. At the top of Herodian, we could see the surrounding towns and landscape. Jerusalem was easily seen as was Bethlehem. Standing in one spot we could see the town where Jesus was born and the city where He was put to death and then rose from the grave. An impressive moment at the end of a great day!