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Day Six - Mount of Olives, February 4, 2012

   The day started with looking out over Jerusalem and talking about all the places we would meet for the day. I sang and danced with my girlfriends because of the joy I feel about being in Jerusalem.

     As we stand here overlooking the city and discussing the places we will visit, the first spiritual reality I noticed is that though three major religions have holy places that are almost in a straight line, the highest is the holiest place is our Christian Church where we celebrate Christ's crucifixion--Church of the Holy Sepulcher. The other reality I noticed was how far and high it was from the Upper Room to the Mount of Olives. What great shape our Savior was in by all His walking that He could live through that night of suffering.
     We were real pilgrims today as we walked from the Church that marks the journey Jesus took on Palm Sunday down into Jerusalem. Here in Bethphage we see the stone that is said to have held the donkey Jesus rode that day.  Our next church was the sweet Church marking when Jesus taught the Disciples to pray (Pater Noster Church).  A wonderful story about the life and heart of a French Princess was very special. The Lord's prayer in 125 languages decorates the gardens.  Our guide Sam sings the prayer for us in Aramaic.  I want to use this pattern of prayer more in my own prayer life.

   My understanding of the Bible has grown so much. We stopped at the church where Peter denied Christ, as we walked the very steps Jesus walked to the High Priest's house.  I read the Psalms of Ascent thinking about those other Pilgrims and how they may have prepared themselves to enter the city by these beautiful thoughts.
    Most moving of all was standing in the old cistern that was used as a prison where Jesus
may have been held that night. We know this, not from Scripture, but from the marks in the wall made by Christians. Fr. David read Psalm 88 as we thought about the loneliness our Savior felt there! I can't
really explain it now. This was one of my most meaningful places I came on my journey.  Here I realized even deeper that I can never conceive what my Lord suffered for me.

Imagine this place in total darkness.  We were standing below this hole--we walked down steps, but Jesus would have been let down with a rope--no light--alone in the pit.  Read Psalm 88 and think about this.
1 LORD, you are the God who saves me;
day and night I cry out to you.
2 May my prayer come before you;
turn your ear to my cry.
3 I am overwhelmed with troubles
and my life draws near to death.
4 I am counted among those who go down to the pit;
I am like one without strength.
5 I am set apart with the dead,
like the slain who lie in the grave,
whom you remember no more,
who are cut off from your care.
6 You have put me in the lowest pit,
in the darkest depths.
7 Your wrath lies heavily on me;
you have overwhelmed me with all your waves.
8 You have taken from me my closest friends
and have made me repulsive to them.
I am confined and cannot escape;
9 my eyes are dim with grief.
I call to you, LORD, every day;
I spread out my hands to you.
10 Do you show your wonders to the dead?
Do their spirits rise up and praise you?
11 Is your love declared in the grave,
your faithfulness in Destruction?
12 Are your wonders known in the place of darkness,
or your righteous deeds in the land of oblivion?
13 But I cry to you for help, LORD;
in the morning my prayer comes before you.
14 Why, LORD, do you reject me
and hide your face from me?
15 From my youth I have suffered and been close to death;
I have borne your terrors and am in despair.
16 Your wrath has swept over me;
your terrors have destroyed me.
17 All day long they surround me like a flood;
they have completely engulfed me.
18 You have taken from me friend and neighbor—
darkness is my closest friend.

    Crosses etched by 1st century Christians brought clues that this was a holy place.  The old cistern/dungeon is near Caiaphas' house.  The gospels only tell us that he was held until morning when they brought Him before Pilate.  The crosses indicate He may have been held here.
     We were gifted with quiet time in the Garden on the Mount of Olives near the Church of all Nations. I read about Jesus' words to Judas there "Why have you come?" Jesus knows the answer, He asks us so I can know.

We saw the olive tree that is 2000 years old.  It was in the garden when Jesus prayed here.  In the rock that marks His place of prayer that sealed our hope of salvation I saw a cross formation in it--made by nature.

This tree is over 2000 years old and was in the garden when Jesus prayed here.
     We saw Roman steps that Jesus took from the garden to the city.

      We went to Bethlehem for lunch--my favorite meal--pumpkin soup was the best I've ever had.  After being in the dungeon today and connecting with a deeper experience of Jesus' suffering, I had the opposite experience in the Church of the Holy Nativity.  This church still stands from the Byzantine times because the door had the wise men from the East.  The Muslims saw themselves in this door and preserved it.  I am touched by the humility of bending over to enter the manger.  I have a new sense of this place.  It is humble but very comfortable.  This cave where Jesus was born was a quiet oasis in the midst of the crowded town full of visitors.  Though I could not see the cave (it is covered with cloths) on the other side, in the cave of St. Jerome, I found the experience of cave dwelling to be surprisingly comfortable--a good place to find rest and quiet.

You enter the Church of the Nativity humbly as you bow to enter.


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