As we have been following Jesus through the final events of his life on earth, we get a growing sense that our unique journey in this amazing place is also drawing to a close. Today we reflected on the Last Supper Jesus shared with the disciples before his arrest and crucifixion by visiting the Upper Room.
This medieval structure has been built over the ruins of two churches which in turn were built over a large first century house in this southwest part of ancient Jerusalem. This was the area where the wealthy upper class lived. Archaeology and ancient tradition both point to this being the location of the house of John Mark, his mother Mary, and their extended family. It was amazing to realize that this was not only the location of the Last Supper, but also where the disciples gathered on the Day of Pentecost to be filled with the Holy Spirit! We sang and prayed that God would feed us and fill us with his Holy presence as he did those first disciples.
From the highest point in Jerusalem we took the route Jesus and his disciples followed as they made their way into the Kidron Valley heading toward the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives. It was along this way that Jesus gave the disciples some of his most powerful teaching, including the image of him as the vine and us as the branches. We decided there must have been vineyards planted on these slopes which Jesus used as visual aids for this amazing teaching!
As we ascended the base of the Mount of Olives we came to the ancient Garden of Gethsemane. The monks here have tended these olives trees for hundreds of years. Gethsemane means "Olive Press" and indeed archaeologists have discovered first-century olive presses in the nearby caves of this area. It is a fitting setting to imagine Jesus under tremendous pressure as he faced his impending suffering and death.
Beside the ancient grove of olives trees stands a beautiful church designed to recreated the setting of the Garden of Gethsmane at night while Jesus was praying to relinquish his will to the Father's. Each of the columns mimics the trunk of an olive tree and the mosaic dome depicts the branches of the trees with the starry night sky beyond. The purple windows create a sense of twilight and all point toward the huge rock on which an ancient tradition says Jesus prayed.
After reflecting on Jesus' humanity as an example of ultimate submission for us to follow, we headed back the way we came down the Kidron Valley, retracing the path Jesus would have been taken by the soldiers who arrested him on behalf of the religious leaders. This route took us back to the southwest hill of Jerusalem to the ancient remains of another upper class house in this neighborhood.
Although archaeology can't confirm this as the exact spot, the Armenian Orthodox House of Caiaphas is certainly located in the very same area where the High Priest called together certain members of the Sanhedrin to condemn Jesus in a sham trial. As we sought shade in the arches of this courtyard we couldn't help but identify with Peter who stood in a courtyard in this very area and denied Jesus three times just as his Rabbi foretold he would. On our way back the Guesthouse for lunch we paused at the site of Herod the Great's huge palace to reflect on the trial of Jesus before the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate who would have been staying there for the Passover.
After lunch we got in some much-needed shopping and then returned to the Lutheran Guesthouse for a wonderful Seder Dinner recounting Jesus Last Supper. The wonderful staff here put on all the trimmings for us and served delicious lamb! After the meal we sang worship songs and shared Communion with each other. We ended the night by sharing with one another the deep love that has developed among us in just two intense weeks. We all agree that we have become a spiritual family following Jesus together! We headed off to bed to get some sleep before our 5:30 AM walk on the Via Dolorosa tomorrow morning ... hard to believe it will be our last day on this incredible journey!