We reluctantly woke to our final day of this amazing journey wishing it wasn't coming to an end. Or maybe our reluctance was just that we woke up so early! We headed out at 5:30 AM to walk the traditional route of the Stations of the Cross along the Via Dolorosa. Although this is probably not the historical route on which Jesus would have carried his cross, it was powerful to walk this path that followers of Jesus have taken for over 1500 years.
After breakfast we visited the Citidel which is built on the ruins of the great palace that Herod the Great built on the southwest hill of Jerusalem. It was here that Pontius Pilate would have been staying during his visit to Jerusalem during the Passover and it was the courtyard of this palace that he would have condemned Jesus to flogging and crucifixion.
From there we traced what is most likely to be the actual route Jesus would have taken as he carried his cross to Golgotha. Turning down David Street we then turned onto Muristan Road, passing through this arch (below) which stands roughly where the gate in the city wall stood where Jesus was led outside to be executed.
Both the traditional and historical route of the Via Dolorosa lead us to the same place: the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. This confusing, complex, and profound church challenge the pilgrim to dig through layers of ancient buildings and modern religiosity in order to find the true meaning of this unique place. Although some have denied it, the archaeological, biblical, and literary evidence combine to give us nearly complete certainty that this is the actual location of Jesus' death on the rock of the Golgotha and his burial (temporarily!) in a newly cut tomb.
We had visited the Holy Sepulcher several times during our stays in Jerusalem, but now we dug into it's complex and fascinating history. Exploring every nook and cranny we saw both the historical context of Jesus' death and resurrection as well as the history of devotion by the hundreds of thousands who have literally risked or given their lives to come and pray in this place.
As we reflected on Jesus' death and resurrection here we couldn't help remembering how Jesus had entered into the extended family of Peter and Andrew and transformed their family business ("I will make you fish for people"), but then eventually invited Peter and the other disciples to enter into his extended family business which was building ("On this rock I will build my church"). Jesus predicted that the Psalm would be fulfilled in him: "The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone." It didn't escape Peter's notice that Jesus was crucified on a large outcropping of stone that was literally rejected by the builders! No wonder he wrote later, "Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God's sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house" (1 Peter 2:4-5).
We headed out of the Old City through Jaffa Gate and visited the family tomb of Herod the Great in a nearby park. This offers us an amazing example of a rolling stone closure in a tomb from the time of Jesus. After the hustle and bustle of the tomb in the Holy Sepulcher, this gave us space to reflect on Jesus' resurrection and celebrate the victory that he has won for us!
It was bittersweet as we celebrated Easter in the very city where the Good News was first proclaimed, but also realized that our unique journey was coming to an end. As we listened to what God was saying it became clear that this was not the end, but just the beginning of what God was going to do in us and through us in light of all we experienced in these two weeks!
One of the unique features of our last day in Jerusalem was the growing excitement and preparations that were being made for the historic visit of Pope Francis on Sunday and Monday. Everywhere we went we saw signs of the local Palestinian Christian community welcoming the Pope to their city. While we were enjoying our last dinner together at a favorite restaurant in the Old City, the Patriarch of Constantinople, the leader of the Eastern Orthodox Communion, arrived with a much fanfare and a parade of religious dignitaries. Malcolm managed to snap a picture of him as he passed by the window next to our table!
In the midst of all the excitement we enjoyed a final meal together at Versave, the excellent restaurant owned and run by the extended family of our dearest friends in Jerusalem, the Katanashos. As the time came to say our goodbyes, the Australians invited us Americans to visit them in Perth, and we in turn invited the Australians to visit us in America. We have truly become a spiritual family through these profound experiences and it has been such a blessing to share this journey together.
After lots of hugs and goodbyes we each made our way to Ben Gurion Airport to fly east and west to our respective homes. We all agree walking together in the footsteps of Jesus was an experience we will never forget and will change the way we follow him in our own homes and families. Thanks for all the prayers and support! Come join us next year for the experience of a lifetime ...