Today we began at the Western Wall – we went to hear why the wall is so important to the Jewish religion and to add our own prayers to those of the people gathered there. Then we got a tour of the Western Wall tunnels, and got to learn how the temple was built. Next we went to the public garden at Gethsemane and into the Church of All Nations. Our guide was kind enough to book us into the private garden at Gethsemane where we gathered to hear Duncan preach and Jeff pray. Next we saw the grotto of Gethsemane. We then took the bus out of the city to enjoy GenesisLand with Camel riding and lunch in Abraham’s tent. We returned to the city to sing in the church of St. Anne (check out the videos below, though they barely do the acoustics justice!), and visited the Pools of Bethesda, where Jesus healed the crippled man. We ended the day by walking the Via Dolorosa, seeing the Stations of the Cross and ending in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher which is built over Golgotha and the Empty Tomb.

I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. Philippians‬ ‭3:14‬ ‭NRSV‬‬

The final day of the tour is always a bit strange. We are exhausted – emotionally, physically, spiritually. But there is so much to see and so much to do and this may be the only time some of us are ever here…

So we press on.

I think the highlight of today, at least for me, was listening to Duncan preach in the private garden at Gethsemane. He shared this quote from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe: [if she had truly understood the Deep Magic] “The witch would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards.”

This is why we are here – because a willing victim, who had committed no sin, did indeed sacrifice himself. For you, for me, for anyone who would call on his name and ask forgiveness. And on the third day, the veil in the temple tore in two and death itself worked backwards, as Jesus was ALIVE! And because he lives, we shall live also.

I don’t know how to convey to anyone who hasn’t been here what a crazy mix of emotions happens on a day like today. From the quiet reflection of Gethsemane to the somewhat silly fun of GenesisLand to the alien discomfort of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. We have been up and down and everywhere in between.

We have encountered the scriptures in a way that has brought them to life right before our eyes, and we have been strangely disappointed and left wondering by places that didn’t connect with us, or with the scriptures that happened there.

I’ve had conversations with several in our group who were disappointed by Bethlehem (‘we wanted it to be a green field with a few sheep in it! But it was this noisy city and this church that was far too ornate for Presbyterian eyes!’) and who similarly struggled with the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

We spoke over dinner how sometimes the very things that we build to honour there Holy place where Jesus was, end up creating a barrier to our faith. I’m going to be chewing on that thought for a while, because I believe there is a sermon in there about how our good intentions sometimes get in the way.

I have always been glad to bring a group of pilgrims to the Holy Land. This time is no different. And I hope to bring more in the future, God being my helper.

Amen.

From the Western Wall:

From the Tunnels under the Western Wall: (only pictures of Fuzzy Owain, my traveling buddy!):

From Gethsemane:

From GenesisLand:

Singing in the Church of St. Anne:

Reading at the Pools of Bethesda:

From the Via Dolorosa:

From the Church of the Holy Sepulcher: