I am back in the warmth of Michigan today, having recovered somewhat from the long travel day yesterday. Or yesterdays, I suppose. We drove from Petra, Jordan to Jerusalem, then Tel Aviv, flew to JFK in New York, then to Chicago, then drove from Chicago to Holland and on to the Grace Bible College parking lot in Grand Rapids where it all started less that two weeks before. We gained back the seven hours we lost traveling to Israel, but I could use another week to recover.

We planned to leave Petra about 9AM, which is close to when we actually left this time. It was only about 32 degrees when we boarded the bus in Wadi Musa, about ten degrees cooler than Grand Rapids, Michigan. The sky was bright blue with no clouds, quite striking in the desert. We made great time, only making one stop on the way to the King Hussien Bridge / Allenby Bridge border crossing. Suliman made the border stop as painless as possible, and we left him at the border. The Israeli side was remarkably painless as well, we moved through security much more quickly than when I was there in May. Our driver was waiting and ready to drive us to the Jaffa Gate of the Old City in Jerusalem.

As we went up the Jericho road we could tell the weather was going to be chilly and cold. Dark clouds loomed over the city, and as expected we hit rain as soon as we got to the city. I was told that it had rained most of the day, but we got a nice break for the three hours we were there. We had a late lunch at Jacob’s Pizza just inside the Jaffa Gate. (I recommend it, fast and friendly service even though 19 people packed into his little shop to avoid the cold!) This little restaurant is typical of the strange things you see in the Old City – it was still decorated for Christmas (Santa and a Tree), there was strange classical music on the stereo (including the Death March), and two flat screen TV’s playing Tom and Jerry cartoons (with the sound muted).  Positively surreal.

Some of the group split off for some shopping, I lead a group down to the Holy Sepulcher. Since it was cold day in January, the streets down through the Christian Quarter were nearly deserted (making us prime targets for the vendors, “Hey mister, you forgot to look in my shop!”)

The crowd was also light inside the Church so we were able to get to look inside the Tomb without a long wait. I must admit that it was somewhat disappointing. The family ahead of me looked like they were on a trip to Disneyland and were taking the whole thing rather lightly. There was an empty Coke bottle shoved behind a candelabra just before the entrance. The orthodox priest who was there to keep things moving inside the shrine looked like Rubeus Hagrid’s cranky brother. I would have liked my time in the shrine to be spiritually moving, but the whole thing seemed set up to distract my attention away from the Resurrection.

One of my fellow-travelers Ray Crumb spent more time poking around the side rooms and drew my attention to the first century tombs directly behind the Tomb of Jesus. There is a little Coptic Chapel attached to the Tomb, opposite that is a door which leads to the Syrian chapel. My interest was in the two small tombs, but there were a number of people in the Syrian chapel venerating an icon of some sort. My copy of Murphy-O’Connor’s Archaeological Guide gives no details on this very plain room other than a name on a plan of the site.

This points out one of my frustrations with the Holy Sepulcher – I am ignorant about 90% of what is in the church! There are all kinds of chapels and art pieces, but all the guide books are interested in is the Tomb. If any reader knows of a serious “guide to the Holy Sepulcher” please leave a comment. Every time I go in the place I leave wanting to know what each room is for and where “those mysterious stairs lead.”

After some final shopping we were ready to head to the airport, although it was really too early yet. The weather was just too cold to enjoy the evening. I did all my shopping in the Franciscan Book Shop, picking up a copy of Fr. B. Bagatti, Excavations in Nazareth (part 1, 1969). I realize most people have probably already bought a copy of this one, but it makes for some good reading for me. It contains many diagrams and sketches of the Church of the Annunciation, among other things. (This is the sort of report I want on the Holy Sepulcher!)

Assuming that my jet-lag subsides, I will edit the previous posts on the Israel 2012 trip and fix any spelling errors (which I blame wholly on the iPad’s auto-replace feature) and add a few more pictures. I will update my Flickr site as well, so check back sometime this weekend for my final thought on our trip.