Our first stop was Sephorris, a vast site best known for its mosaics (the “Mona Lisa” of mosaics) and the large Roman city that was there in Jesus’ time. Scholars assume Jesus and his father labored at Sepphoris.
For our morning devotions, we walked toward the water to the Church of St. Andrew, a lovely Scottish Presbyterian chapel. The minister, Kate MacDonald, met us and joined us in prayer. She spoke about her work, which is as much with dozens of partners in Israel and Palestine working for peace and justice, as it is with pastoral leadership in the congregation.
We walked across the vast square that spreads out between Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome on the Rock. Actually, we were also walking across where Jews believe the First and Second Temples stood. For both religious traditions, this is holy ground. For Muslims it is the third holiest of their pilgrimage sites, after Mecca and Medina.
Helena, mother of Roman Emperor Constantine, had the first Church of the Nativity built in this place around the year 333, to commemorate what was believed to be the cave where Jesus was born. It has gone through multiple renovations and restorations in the centuries since, including when the Crusaders controlled the region, beginning in 1099.
On the Palestinian side, the wall has become a billboard, an art exhibition, an outlet for anger and frustration, and an opportunity for creative protest in humor. For many, the most moving part of what is displayed there are printed out, large posters offering details in the first person of the impact of the wall and the Israeli occupation.
We then headed to the Mount of Olives, to start a long walking trek of about three hours. First stop was a lookout viewpoint on the ridge above the Kidron Valley, looking across to the Old City of Jerusalem and its walls and many churches and mosques. From there we made our way to the Dominus Flevit (“The Lord Wept”) Church.
It is always difficult to come face to face with humanity’s vast capacity to be inhuman to others. The Holocaust is as extreme as it gets, but it was not a spontaneous event. It was the result of centuries of Christian antipathy toward Jews. Although we may not feel directly complicit, there’s no doubt about the role of our Christian forebearers in the faith.
Madaba is best known for its mosaics, both ancient and modern. Of the former we saw the famous Madaba Map Church, St. George, a Greek Orthodox church built in the 19th century over a mosaic map dating from the 6th century. It’s the oldest existing map of the Holy Land, and is a beautiful as a work of art.
After prayer we walked out the front door of the hotel and right across the street to enter the site known as Petra – one of the seven modern wonders of the world! It sounds overdone, but when you enter the steep, sandstone gorge and come upon the massive stone carvings, you realize Petra deserves its reputation.
We had our morning prayer in the excavated synagogue of Masada. Kathy read Psalm 27. Look it up and imagine us on top of Masada. It was moving to hear words that probably had been read in that very room 2,000 years ago…”