After a long travel day (Monday and Tuesday!) we arrived in Jerusalem to start the 2022 Grace Christian University Israel/Jordan trip. This is my then time leading a student trip, although this time I have more adults than students. This complicates things sometimes (more bathroom breaks and more questions about what is at the top of the stairs we are about to climb).
Since our hotel is a 10 minute walk from the Garden Tomb, we started our first day in Israel with a visit to this beautiful garden to read the story of the resurrection and reflect on Jesus’s death and burial. Our guide in the Garden Tomb (Edgar) was excellent, as is usual for Garden Tomb guides, especially since he had to negotiate space between three large groups all arriving at 9AM.
From the Garden Tomb we made a long walk up to the Jaffa Gate and made a brief stop in the Citadel. This site is good for showing the real depth of Jerusalem, from Hasmonean times (150BC) to Herodian (first century BC); there are Crusader era fortifications and Ottoman walls. This is all visible from one viewpoint! The top of the building offers an excellent view west to the new city of Jerusalem and to the east to see the Dome of the Rock, the Holy Sepulchre, and other major points of interest.
We made our way from the Citadel through the Armenian Quarter to the Jewish Quarter, with a quick stop the Cardo (a small bit of street from the early Byzantine period and at Broad Wall (likely built in 700BC by King Hezekiah). After a quick lunch, we walked down to the security checkpoints for a visit tot he Temple Mount.
I have not been on the Temple Mount in several years, and given recent events I thought we would skip this part of the tour. But there were no problems for us at all, in fact, it was a very quiet and peace time. Except, nearly every one of the women in the group were told to wear coverings (provided by the security guards in change of hemlines). It wasn’t too bad and the women took this in stride. While we were in from of the Al-Aqsa Mosque we were approached by a guy telling us to come around to the side of the building and peer in the windows and take a few pictures. Of course he was also asking for money for his trouble, but I was happy to pay for the chance to get a peek inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque. There are number capitals and one pillar sitting on the east side, all unidentified. We were later than expected and the security started telling people to leave a little early, so we only had a quick look at the Dome of the Rock before we exited via the Cotton gate. We stopped at a little cafe and had mint tea or Turkish coffee.
After that well deserved rest, we picked up the Via Dolorosa at the third station and walked past many of the other stations to the Church of Holy Sepulcher. Our guide took in the “back way” (which sounded sneakier than it really was). We basically avoided the crowd by cutting through the Ethioptic church to enter the plaza in front of the church. Most of my group had no idea what Ethiopic Christians were, or Coptics for that matter. The Church of Holy Sepulcher is really a collection of churches and chapels on the traditional site of Golgotha and Jesus’s tomb. I took some of the students to Golgotha and had a good discussion of the value of traditions which support the site (some are very good, others are very weak). The line to enter the actual tomb of Jesus was very long so I took the students into the Syrian Chapel. There are usually very few people in the Syrian chapel, but there are two first century tombs in the back of the chapel which are good illustrations of the tomb people are waiting an hour or more to enter
All things considered, the Holy Sepulcher has a better claim on being the actual location of the crucifixion and location of Jesus’s tomb, but the Garden Tomb is a much better place to actually worship. After a very nice orientation by the Garden Tomb’s own guide we entered the tomb and then celebrated communion. Since we were the last group of the day, most of the students were able to spend a few minutes privately reading Scripture or praying in the quiet garden.
We ended the day by walking through the Muslim Quarter to the Damascus Gate and back to the hotel. Tomorrow we start at the Mount of Olives, should be a great day!