We begin our day by visiting the grounds of the third most holy place in the Muslim tradition, Al-Aqsa Mosque, where according to the Quran, the prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven. Later we will visit the Mount of Olives and tour Augusta Victoria Hospital with Rev. Mark Brown of the Lutheran World Federation after which we will have a catered lunch at the LWF Vocational Training Center and tour that facility. Later we will walk part of the Palm Sunday Road to visit the Garden of Gethsemane, and in the late afternoon we’ll walk through the Armenian, Arab and Jewish quarters of Jerusalem’s old city. (B, D)
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While we stick to the script for most of our days, today was another day where our events were moved around. We didn't visit the mosque, but instead visited the church directly next to the Garden of Gethsemane, the Church of the Agony. And oh what sadness it was. The morning started out cloudy and damp, and catching the end of the Mass only added to the somber tone. Nothing like walking through the very garden where Jesus fell to his knees, asking God to take away this painful and sorrowful cup. This was the location I had so looked forward to seeing...and didn't plan to be as sad as I ended up being. I know Jesus was in the Garden at other times, and I guess I had focused on those aspects and those stories. Being in the Church of the Agony FIRST put me in the mindset of the betrayal and crucifixion, and was anything but prayerful and pensive. I was disappointed to see that the actual Garden was fenced off. Understandable, I suppose....but still disappointing not to be able to be IN the actual Garden. I was thankful to be outside the Garden at least, and fell to my knees in prayer. One of those deep, deep prayers that is clearly between you and God. To think that my tears fell on the same ground where Jesus's tears had once fallen was a bit too much for me.
Susan and I re-joined the Mass in progress, and they were singing their sending song, "Will You Come and Follow Me?", a favorite Lutheran hymn about discipleship. What a wonderful hymn to sing, arm in arm. The windows in the church were ALL PURPLE! Purple crosses - SO my color! But then it hit me..."Will you come and follow me...." You mean....until death? Follow Me to the grave? Follow me into the Garden...? The tune suddenly held much deeper undertones than I had ever experienced, and I left wondering just how far I would be willing to follow.
We also reacted as a Seminary group to the fact that we couldn't partake in Communion. Now, mind you, it was a Mass, so we played by the rules of the House. But being excluded from Christ's table at a place so important in the life of Christ didn't feel so hot. If anything, this Pilgrimage is highlighting aspects of our pastoral identities that we will take into the parish. Our Tables will be OPEN in nature, to ALL, as it is Christ's Table, and not ours. DIdn't make or break the Garden experience, but certainly was a point well worth exploring.
We visited Mark Brown at the Augusta Victoria Hospital - just walking through brought me RIGHT back to all of those sounds and smells of CPE this summer. Incredible. Lutheran World Federation has certainly played a role in making sure they are taking care of the people of the land. We went to a nearby Church and listened to more details, and eventually had time to sing. I lead "It is Well" from the center of this German church, which resounded with such beauty, and was amazing to look at as we sang together. THEN, I snuck up on the altar as we were wandering around, and found a PIANO! Well, I HAD to play that while we finished up. Did my spirit good!
Off to the Lutheran World Federan Vocational Training Center, where they teach kids in the area some really specific skills. Warehouses had room after room of fantastic tools and whatnot, allowing the kids to learn the actual tools of the trade. Lots of incredibly practical skills being taught here. Lunch was made by some kid chefs.
Off to Church of the Pater Noster, where the Lord's Prayer is posted in 153 different languages, all on ceramic tiles. Fascinating to see the differences and similarities as we walked along the tiles. We read the prayer in Hebrew, Aramaic, and in Ethiopian, as one of our student friends is from Africa. We even SANG the liturgical version of the prayer inside the lower part of the cave. What a trip this is!
Rounded out another full day atop the Mount of Olives, overlooking all of Jerusalem. Our guide, Peter, was extremely helpful in pointing out all of the amazing sites, and the path Jesus took to them all. I can honestly say we just might be able to connect the dots if we had to explain it to others. Might. I mean, if we had a map. And a guide. And a really detailed explanation once again!
I can't imagine the emotion that tomorrow holds: we start with a walk down the Via Dolorosa, the path Jesus walked through the city to his demise. A church service follows, and it's off to the Holocaust Museum. Good grief...or perhaps just GRIEF GRIEF. Not entirely sure our spirits can handle the power and depth that Sunday will bring. Lord, have mercy.