Adding Steps and Traversing Mountains

Wednesday, April 27, 2016
Jerusalem, Jerusalem District, Israel
We climbed out of the hole and onto the streets outside of the City of David. There was a hill to climb to get back up to where our bags were stored. We weren't quite through with half our steps for the day but we were all physically exhausted already. Little did we know what lay ahead.

The group split for lunch . Lena and I had a nice quiet lunch in the Jewish Quarter with Alejandro and Sue. Of course they had their adorable toddler with them to keep us entertained. He only almost got run over by a motorcycle once, and that was mostly because he ran for it with outstretched arms. He knows what he likes. Lucky for him, his mother knows what keeps him safe, and that isn't grabbing onto a motorcycle as it flies by.

We separated after our meal because we had to find certain gifts and trinkets before we left town. There was just enough time to get lost in the markets before meeting up with the rest of the group to head off on another mountain climbing adventure.

To get to the Mount of Olives it is necessary to cross the valley between two mountains. Technically the Kidron Valley runs from just north of the Old City of Jerusalem all the way to the Dead Sea, but in scripture the name refers mostly to the portion that separates the Temple Mount from the Mount of Olives. We departed from the Lions' Gate at the Northeast corner of the Old City and headed down a more modern road, crossed a busy highway, and headed up a very steep incline on the side of the mount. It was a little nerve racking because the narrow road didn't leave too much space for the vans and sedans that were speeding uphill to get to the same places we were going.

The the western side of the Mount of Olives is covered with Jewish tombs and graves, and spotted with Christian churches . It's a quiet place generally. It's no wonder Jesus went there often. “When Jesus had spoken these words, He went out with His disciples over the Brook Kidron, where there was a garden, which He and His disciples entered. And Judas, who betrayed Him, also knew the place; for Jesus often met there with His disciples” (John‬ ‭18:1-2‬). The Garden of Gethsemane is a pleasant place to visit. Well maintained and full of flowers and ancient olive trees. Carbon dating is the only way to find out how old they really are since they tend to hollow out as they age. The Church of All Nations (also called the Basilica of the Agony) sits in the garden. Inside is an outcropping of exposed stone in the floor of the building where it is supposed that Jesus, “being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (‭‭Luke‬ ‭22:44‬). This could be the right garden, but doubtful this was the exact spot.

I find it intriguing that so many graves fill the sides of the hill . This is a traditional practice by both Jews and Muslims, although the Muslim graves are across the valley below the walls lining the Temple Mount. I get an eerie yet solemn feeling when I walk through the cemeteries there. The headstones are above ground and lie flat. I suppose if they were upright the wind would blow them down soon enough. Families often construct the tombstones with a small opening in the back to place candles in. Some put small stones on top of the tombstones. This is a tradition which I don't quite understand. My internet browsing shows some do this in place of flowers because flowers die, while others do this to keep the soul in the grave longer or to keep out demons and golems. Others see it as a way to show that a grave has been visited. Another tradition says the stones mark an unmarked grave so a priest wouldn't accidentally walk on it and become unclean. The Jews and Muslims believe they will be resurrected first when the Messiah comes if they are buried in or near the mountain.

Zechariah prophesied of Christ returning to this mount in the Day of the Lord. “Then the LORD will go forth And fight against those nations, As He fights in the day of battle. And in that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, Which faces Jerusalem on the east. And the Mount of Olives shall be split in two, From east to west, Making a very large valley; Half of the mountain shall move toward the north And half of it toward the south. Then you shall flee through My mountain valley, For the mountain valley shall reach to Azal. Yes, you shall flee As you fled from the earthquake In the days of Uzziah king of Judah. Thus the LORD my God will come, And all the saints with You” (Zechariah‬ ‭14:3-5‬).
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