I made it to Israel and I have been on my first official tour of the Old City! It is amazing to be here. Yesterday morning I went to church at the Jerusalem Alliance Church with some other JUC students. The service was in Arabic and most of the congregation were Palestinians. They had a translator, but she was quite difficult to understand. So, for most of the service I simply listened to the speaker and tried to learn some Arabic. In the afternoon school began.
My physical settings class went on a tour of part of the Old City with Dr. Wright. What I found most interesting on the tour were the six Christian groups that reside within the Holy Sepulcher (Church of the Resurrection) and their traditions and interactions surrounding it.
The Holy Sepulcher
On shabbat, I saw a group of Greek Orthodox priests marching out of the church. They walked out in two columns which were led by two men with giant staffs. With every other step, they would hammer their staffs on the ground with an echoing thud. It was intimidating.
Just prior to that I had heard someone say that these Christian groups look at evangelicals and view us as missing the point because of our lack of tradition and reverence for the sacred. I do not know how true this is, but it makes sense. So, yesterday I was thinking about this as we toured part of the Old City. During the tour, Dr. Wright said, “they [the six Christian groups] are sublimely stuck in the Byzantine era.” That seems very accurate. They have tradition and despite the world around them moving on, they are going to stick with what they know. I would like to talk with them in order to better understand their views. Though, the one priest I tried to speak with did not speak English.
What is Holy?
So much emphasis seems to be placed on the physical locations where Christ’s life took place that I am curious about their understanding of what Christ’s life accomplished. From outward appearances, they certainly seem to have a list of rules and regulations you have to follow before you are considered righteous. Which, of course, there is no possible way for any of us to make ourselves righteous. It is only Christ in us that enables us to be “good enough” before God. If it is Him living in us, then we bear his presence wherever we go. So, could not all ground where a “God-bringer” walks be considered holy ground?
The land of Israel is valuable because of its history, the events that have happened here, and the people who have walked here, but why have there been so many wars over who owns and controls it? God has promised to give this land to His people. We just seem to continually trying to work out His promise without Him. His timing is perfect, and He will work all things for the best of those who love Him. It is interesting that after all of these centuries of fighting within the Church as well as between the Christianity and Islam, it is the Muslims who currently own the Holy Sepulcher!
The 3rd Temple Menorah
Something else that impressed me was the golden menorah above the Wailing Wall. Though this was not it’s intent I thought it was a great picture of how our lives, as Christians, aught to be lived preparing for life in God’s eternal kingdom. This menorah is to be placed in the temple when it is eventually able to be rebuilt. Hence, I imagine it would be a cause of tension between Jews and Muslims. Often, Christians get caught in a pattern of simply living life from day to day, not expecting anything more than “just another day”. We are called to much more than this. Christ came that we might have life and have it to the full! Why do so many of us assume that there is nothing more to this life, but after death it will be much better? God has so much more for us on this side of death than we can even imagine. But, He limits Himself in our lives by allowing us to decide how much we will trust Him and what we will trust Him with. When we begin to live as though our God is completely trustworthy, then there is no limit that we can fathom to the things that God will do in us and through us.
Those are just a few of the things that I have experienced so far that have set my mind to work. Other things I saw on the tour yesterday were the traditional site of the Last Supper, the Zion Gate, the Hurva Synagogue, the Wailing Wall, and a brief geographical study of the land Jerusalem is built on.
Today is the first day of Ramadan. During this month, Muslims do not eat or drink from sunrise to sunset. Hundreds of thousands of Muslims will come through the city this month to pray on the Dome of the Rock platform. Friday is the day when all Muslims must go to the mosque. I’m planning on going to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher at 6AM Friday morning so that I can see the priests and nuns performing their morning rituals and services. Then I am going to hike up to the top of the Mount of Olives. From there I’ll be able to look back and see over half a million Muslims praying around the Dome of the Rock.
This is already an amazing experience and I am so glad I am here. I hope everyone is doing well.