Today was an early start in order to head to Jerusalem to visit the Al-Haram ash-Sherif complex. This site is only open at certain times and as it is currently a Jewish holiday traffic could be busy and checkpoints slow. Thankfully neither was bad and we made good time entering the complex via the Dung Gate – which unfortunately meant we could not enter the complex as the Israeli authorities will only allow you to enter by that gate but the Jordanian Waqf responsible for the complex say you can enter by any gate – but if you enter by the Dung Gate you cannot enter the Dome of the Rock or Al-Aqsa Mosque.
After spending some time here we left by Lion Gate and went to the Church of St Anne (Pools of Bethesda). The site believed to be the childhood home of the Virgin Mary and also the site of events in John 5 : 2 – 9.
Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie – the blind, the lame, the paralysed. One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, ‘Do you want to get well?’
‘Sir,’ the invalid replied, ‘I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someome else goes down ahead of me.’
Then Jesus said to him, ‘Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.’ At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.
The Church has a wonderful accoustic so we took time to sing Be Still and Make me a Channel of Your Peace, a deeply moving experience and one described by the priest overseeing the church as ‘angelic’.
After this we headed along the Via Dolorosa following the stations of the cross starting with the Churches of the Condemnation and Flagellation along with the prison of Jesus and Barabbas. This route was crowded to the point of almost not moving as we headed towards our final stopping point of the route at the Holy Sepulchre where yet more waiting began.
Entering the Holy Sepulchre always seems like a surreal experience to me, on the one hand I know the Gospel writings and the Roman writings describing what happened in Jesus’ last days, but on the other I also know that the places contained within the church (the tomb, Golgotha, and Calvary) were decided by Queen Helena based on her thoughts and discoveries. George, our guide made a very good point when he said that he believed that Calvary was probably in the right place inside the church, however the burial tomb was far more likely to be at the Garden Tomb as why would someone as rich and powerful as Joseph of Arimathea have a beautiful garden tomb at the bottom of a quarry where the Romans crucified people.
It is hard within all of the oppulence of these churches to see the real story, Jesus’ story. To feel the reality I think you need to spend time somewhere like the Garden Tomb, where the peace and tranquility of the place really allows you to bring the burial of Christ, the women arriving at the Tomb and Christ appearing to them to the fore, feel what the women felt when they saw that empty tomb, smell the sweet flowers all around and realise that he is really not there, he is indeed risen.