In the past couple days we have walked and sat and talked in the places where Jesus lived. Yesterday we spent some time in Bethlehem (Palestinian territory currently) and that was "interesting." The place where Jesus was thought to have been born is now covered over by a church. Well, 3 churches actually. Each one has their own "tribute" to the birthplace of Christ.
We were able to go to the Western Wall or Wailing Wall where the Jews daily go to pray for the Messiah to return. We went to the Temple Institute and heard from a young Jewish girl explain how the Jewish people are preparing to build the 3rd temple. Even though the Muslims have The Dome of the Rock in place over the temple site (actually it's been there 1300 years) the Jews have decided not to wait any longer and they are beginning to prepare things for the temple. Things such as the 24ct golden menorah that stands in the site of The Dome of the Rock. They are preparing by making instruments and the altar of shobread. She explained that they don't know who the high priest is yet that will come, but they hope that they can build the temple before he gets here.
We visited the Temple Mount where the Dome of the Rock is located. It's under Muslim control and we had to go through extra security to get there. The Temple Mount is where the original temple was built and torn down again. The Jews definitely look forward to the day that this golden dome is torn down and the 3rd temple is built in it's place. I had a bit of a funny incident there. I got "scolded" today by a "poor beggar woman" who was insulted that I would not give her enough money. In fact she would not except what I was trying to give her - which was equivalant to about .25. It's all I happened to have in my pocket and I thought I would give it to her. So much for being poor! I've never known a true poor person who would actually not accept money!
We sat on the Mount of Olives on Sunday morning and sang "Holy, Holy, Holy" in a small church just above the Garden of Gethsemane. Interestingly enough, Get' semane actually refers to an oil press. It's the tremendous pressure that's placed on the olives to produce the pure virgin olive oil. It's the garden that Jesus was "pressed" in on in His final days of life. We wondered as we gazed on this garden, what these 2000 year old trees heard that night. Trees that have literally been kept alive for 2000 years!
We walked the Via Delorosa today - the way that is thought that Jesus walked in His final hours through Jerusalem to the cross. We spent some time in Antonio's fortress, the place where the soldiers played games for Jesus clothes. We walked on the original road of that day - complete with grooves in the rocks to give traction to the the chariots. We saw the "game boards" that were carved in the rock from those days. We went to both spots that are thought to be the tomb where Jesus was laid. One place is the Church of the Holy Seplucher. Definitely not my favorite spot. The Garden Tomb however is what I like to picture as the original tomb. It's peaceful, uncluttered and empty! We ended our time together today with communion in the the Garden Tomb. It was beautiful and the grand finale of our time together as a group.
So tomorrow we leave for Egypt and say goodbye to this amazing place. With all the conflict that's gone on in this part of the world recently, we have not come face to face with any trouble. Heard it in the distance, yes. Actually we heard some gun shots in Jerusalem today for a couple minutes. When our guide was asked about it, he said if it was anything serious, we would immediately hear sirens. Thankfully we didn't! ...and Malcolm continued to speak without skipping a beat.
About of a third of our group heads back to the States. We're off for more adventures in the Sinai penninsula to see the exodus route of the Israelites. We will see the Pyramids and take a camel ride in the desert. Much to see and do still! Not sure how internet access will be in Egypt but I'll do my best to update. :-)