Our final day in Jerusalem began with a tour of the Mount of Olives. Our bus drove us to the top, which is truly a watershed location. In a spot clear of buildings, one can look down the slope into the Kidron Valley, on the other side of which is the Temple Mounts and the rest of the Old City. A swivel of the head has one looking down the east side of the mountain, where the elevation fades out of sight on the horizon, eventually reaching the Jordan Valley, and ultimately the Dead Sea. From this peak, we wound our way down, beginning in a Palestinian neighbourhood and passing along the way multiple churches and the major Jewish cemetery here.
Besides offering some of the best panoramic views of Jerusalem, the Mount of Olives is the site of numerous significant biblical moments—Jesus’ frequent retreats to pray, his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, his sadness as he gazed over the city whose history was filled with its rejection of the prophets, and his arrest as he prayed his sweating-blood prayer on his final night. Tradition also holds this as the place of Jesus’ ascension, despite the Scriptures’ silence on that detail.
So along with my numerous shots of Jerusalem and the Dome of the Rock, this section of my photo album will be filled with pictures of churches and their gardens. There included…
Church of the Ascension: Now little more than a small, domed structure, surrounded by fortress walls built by the Crusaders, this spot is more accurately called the Mosque of the Ascension—it’s under Muslim control with Christians limited to paid visits and one service a year to mark Jesus’ ascension. A small section of stone floor here is claimed to bear an imprint of Jesus’ foot. I suppose he did press down pretty hard to get lift-off!
Church of Dominus Flevit: This church, built in the 1950’s, is easy to figure out if one knows Latin. It’s name translates, “the Lord wept,” and it marks a spot traditionally linked to Jesus’ looking over Jerusalem with sadness. The church there was even built with a tear-shaped design to display the message of Jesus’ tenderness and grief, within its own stones
Church of the Pater Noster: A church commemorating the Lord’s Prayer that Jesus taught to his disciples. The walls of the courtyard are covered with tiled sections that contain these famous words in 160+ languages.
Church of All Nations: I admit it—I don’t appreciate architecture as much as some. I’m not the best for paying attention to detail, and I’m not quick to discern meaning hidden in various art forms. That said, I do know this much: This church is beautiful. From it’s shimmering images in the sunlight, to its bluish light within, to its “tree touches” to help it seem “at home” within its Gethsemane setting, there is beauty in this place. In fact, as I walked through, I remembered my first visit here as a hot day. And THIS was where we chose to linger in the shade, look at the centuries-old olive trees, and just sit.
Tomb of the Virgin Mary: Though a more solid line of tradition marks Mary’s likely resting place as Ephesus, you know she’s going to get some type of structure here! By this point in the day, I was “sited out” and hardly ventured down into the filled-with-brass-lamps shrine.
As we arrived home, an irony hit me. For Jesus, the Mount of Olives appears to have been a place of solitude, of peace. Yet we found it to be the most tourist-overtaken place of our trip so far! That said, along with a pace to be maintained and a schedule to keep, made it very tough to feel meditative at these very special sites. I actually feel a bit bad about that. But that’s how it was, and I’ll have to simply re-enter the memories via photo or journal. In the end, the place isn’t what it’s about anyway, and it IS a staggering thought that I just spent the morning of May 26, 2010, walking over land that was among Jesus’ favourite places on earth—a place where he sought peace and a place where he wrestled wretchedly with God’s will for his life.
And that thought alone seems to restore some holiness to what some eyes would see as little more than a tourist trap.