Friday, March 8, 2013

Jerusalem, My Happy Home: Part 11

There was unrest in Jerusalem today. There may have been several things going on. I have heard different versions. But the main thing was a funeral at the Al Aqsa Mosque for a Palestinian inmate killed in prison recently. The funeral was accompanied with a major protest. That led to a confrontation involving the use of rocks and firebombs by the Palestinians and tear gas and water canons by the Israelis. We saw a lot of police on the streets, some on horseback, and there were still water canons around. The police were following Muslims in traditional dress pretty closely, checking them out. Tonight there is a big demonstration happening in Manger Square. In a way it all seems fitting for the visits we made today. But I’m glad we visited the Temple Mount yesterday instead of today!

We began this morning at the Franciscan church at Bethphage on the Mount of Olives. The Church is in the general vicinity where the village likely stood and where Jesus would have begun his Palm Sunday ride into Jerusalem. The present church is 19th Century but is built over the ruins of a Crusader chapel.

We then went a-ways down the hill to the Church of Dominus Flavit (the tear of the Lord) where Jesus prophesied the destruction of Jerusalem because she would not follow his way of peace. It was a moving view of the City. Of course we don’t’ know exactly where this happened, but it was on the Mount of Olives. From the Mount of Olives you look across the Kidron Valley (deep but not wide) to Jerusalem, specifically to the Temple Mount. Jesus would have been looking across at the Temple when he spoke.

Next we visited Gethsemane. This has been high on my list, first and foremost because Gethsemane is not a replica. It is the very garden where Jesus prayed. But it proved even better than I expected. Not only was it the same plot of earth, some of the olive trees were the same trees! Who knew they lived so long? In fact some of these trees had been around a long time when Jesus was there. The prayer in Gethsemane was the most compelling moment in the life of Jesus that led me back to the Church so long ago now. I realized I could meditate a long time to grind away at my ego; but he did it right there by surrendering to God’s will. There is, of course, a church at Gethsemane, its art and architecture well suited to the mood of agony in the garden. “Agony,” in this story does not mean intense suffering. It means struggle.

Then we visited the Benedictine Church of the Dormition of the Virgin Mary. I’ve already expressed my skepticism about linking that story to Jerusalem. JMHH Part 10. But this Church is beautiful and has some of the most compelling Marian art I’ve ever seen. It was very special to be there.

This afternoon, we went to a Church that commemorates the Last Supper. There is a room constructed to be the sort of place such a meal might happen and where the disciples might await the coming of the Holy Spirit. It is set above a Memorial to King David.

Then we went to the Church of St. Peter in Galicantu (cock’s crow) located on the Eastern slope of Mt. Zion just outside where the wall of Jerusalem would have stood in Jesus’ day. This Church is associated with the Trial of Jesus before Caiaphas. The story is that this is the house of Caiaphas, that Jesus was tried here, that Peter denied him three times here before the crowing of the cock, that Jesus was beaten by the Temple guards here, and that he was kept in the pit until he was delivered to Pilate.

Authenticity check: this is not a house. It is a Church but it does have a real dungeon underneath. This Church was built in 1931, but it replaces a medieval Crusader church, which in turn was built over the ruins of a Byzantine Church built in 457 C.E. The Church has commemorated the trial and sufferings of Jesus here since the mid 5th Century. The choice of this location was not arbitrary. It is believed that Caiaphas’ house was in this vicinity. And this place has a real dungeon underneath where imprisonments and scourgings happened in the 1st Century. So it does have a decent claim to being the place of Jesus’ trial. The dungeon part may or may not have figured into Jesus’ story. Christians read Psalm 88 about being in the pit. But it’s a bit of a stretch to find that happening in the Gospel accounts. If you do imagine Jesus in the pit, or anyone else for that matter, it is really grim.

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