Saturday, August 11, 2012

Palm Sunday, Gethsemene, Peter's Denial

Today, we visited three churches commemorating important occasions in Holy Week and doing a bit of walking down the Mount of Olives on steep roads between them. 

Security Fence (Greene photo)
Our first stop, however, was to part of the Israeli security fence that was built through the main road between Jerusalem and Jericho.  This wall is part of the hundreds of miles long wall built in parts of the West Bank in response to suicide bombings in the early 2000's.  The wall has been effective in stopping the bombings, but is creating havoc in the daily life of many Palestinian Christians and Muslims living in the region.  Among the graffiti on the wall were many messages from Americans written in sharpie expressing hopes for peace and the wall's eventual dismantling.  We have heard Palestinian Christian and Muslim speakers on two evenings so far, and tomorrow we will hear an Israeli speaker on the current political landscape.

The Rock Jesus Used to Mount the Donkey (Greene photo)
From the fence we went to Beth-phage, where tradition has Jesus mounting a donkey to ride into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.  A sweet little Roman Catholic church sits on the spot.  It houses the stone that Jesus is alleged to have stood upon while he mounted the donkey.  The church is fairly modern, but built on ruins of an earlier church.  When we arrived, a group from Hong Kong was finishing mass.  Their closing hymn was "Bless the Lord, My Soul" from Taize, sung in Chinese.  Then we entered, viewed the church, and sang, "All Glory, Laud and Honor."

We stopped briefly at a church called Dominus Flavit, "The Lord Wept."  It has four tear drop shaped bulbs on the corners to represent jars that tears are collected in to be buried with the deceased in certain cultures. 

Seriously old olive trees (Greene photo)
Next we went to the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus wept before his arrest on Maundy Thursday.  The garden includes olive trees that are over two thousand years old, and which Jesus may have seen during his lifetime, possibly the last night he was there with his disciples.  He may even have used olive oil pressed from the fruit of those trees!  The church there was built in the 1950's from donations raised through the world.  Inside, in front of the altar, is the rock Jesus wept on during the agony in the garden.  Two priests and a handful of nuns were in the altar area having mass in Spanish as we arrived, but the church was large enough that they allowed visitors to walk around inside while the service continued.  While we were there praying, the gospel of the agony in the garden was read as part of the liturgy.  Hearing it struck me as extremely powerful, as were the Alleluias sung before it.

Our final formal stop today was at the site of Caiaphas's palace, where a church known as St. Peter in Galicantu ("crowing rooster") has been built in recent years.  Today, this site stands across the road from the "Old City", but in Jesus' time it was within the city walls.  The church itself is one of the most beautiful we've seen, with powerful artwork, elegant architecture, functional space, and a very positive feel.  The church itself has three levels.  The top is the main sanctuary, with artwork about St. Peter.  The second level is another sanctuary space with a side chapel for the blessed sacrament.  The back wall is the rock of the hill the church is built upon, and it juts out in a way that blends the worship space meaningfully into the surrounding environment.  The bottom floor is the most interesting, however, and part of the reason for the church.

In the cistern cell (Greene photo)
In the basement are Roman ruins of a dungeon and a pit that had a number of uses.  Originally it appears to have been a bath for ritual cleanings.  Then it was dug out and used as a cistern.  By Caiaphas's time, however, it was used to drop prisoners into as high-security cell.  The only opening would have been in the top, and prisoners would have to be lowered by ropes around their arms and shoulders.  Jesus may have been held there overnight while awaiting his trail before Pilate.  When we went down into the cistern, a lectern held a binder with Psalm 88 translated into dozens of languages.  Psalm 88 is particularly appropriate for such a place.  "You have laid me in the depths of the Pit, in dark places, and in the abyss." 


  1. Glad you're hearing both Christian and Muslim Arab and Israeli perspectives on the security fence and other concerns of the post-'67 situation. As our friend George Werner says about the complexities and nuances of the issues, "everyone who comes here chooses a side. And they are always wrong."

    1. Things on the trip are weighted toward the Palestinian side, primarily because it is harder to hear that perspective in NWPA. However, Bishop Sean's comment to us was that we should leave more confused and less certain.