Our last day in the Holy Land started early as we began our walk on the Via Dolorosa at 5:30 AM to avoid the hustle and bustle of the Old City's crowded walking streets. We followed the traditional route first mapped out by Constantine's mother Helena in the fourth century, pausing at each of 14 Stations of the Cross along the way to reflect on Jesus' suffering for us.
We concluded our observance of the Stations of the Cross inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher which is built over an ancient rock quarry which had been converted into a cemetery by the time of Jesus. In that quarry there was a section of stone not suitable for building which was left uncut forming a large rocky outcropping. Standing just outside the city gate the Romans used this skull shaped rock as their place of crucifixion. Jesus was crucified here and buried in a nearby rock cut tomb. To actually touch the rock of Golgotha and peer into the tomb where Jesus rose from the dead is a powerful experience, in spite of all the religiosity and commercialization of the site.
After breakfast and a shower we walked the more historically accurate route on which Jesus would have carried his cross and then visited the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, trying to make sense of the complex layers of history and devotion that makes this a place like none other.
From the Holy Sepulcher we walked outside the city to a nearby park where Herod the Great's extended family tomb is located. It is the best example of a first century rolling stone tomb, precisely matching the description of Jesus' tomb in the Gospels. After inspecting the site we took some time on the grass in the shade of a nearby tree to worship, pray and reflect on the resurrection of Jesus and the remarkable experiences we have had together over these last two weeks in the footsteps of Jesus. It is clear that God has moved in everyone of our hearts in a way that will change the way we follow Jesus on the three continents we come from.
We had a great final dinner together at our good friend's fabulous restaurant, Versavee, located just inside Jaffa Gate at the Imperial Hotel. They completely renovated it last year and it is beautiful--not to mention the Arabic mixed grill they served us!
A dessert of Baklava and Burma along with a selection of coffees finished off our final celebration. Now we are on our way home, thankful for all the great experiences we have shared together.
When you have the opportunity to see, touch, and smell the places where Jesus carried out his ministry it brings a new level of awareness of the reality of our faith. The danger of a pilgrimage like this is to think that the experiences of God we have had are limited to these places. What is clear to us is that we are coming home to follow Jesus with greater faith and passion in the various places where God has called us to represent him and carry out his will on earth as it is in heaven. Thank you for joining us on this journey, for praying for us, and encouraging us. We look forward to sharing our experiences with you so that together we can bring the Good News of Jesus' Kingdom to the people God has called us to serve.
PS: If you are interested in being part of a future Footsteps of Jesus Experience, please email Bob Rognlien at email@example.com.