Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Jerusalem - First Impressions

Sue and I have been privileged to join a tour of the holy land while we are on this side of the world.
Arriving in Jerusalem has been one of the most precious travel experiences of my life.
Sue at the tower of David
We visited the tower of David, which is a museum in Old Jerusalem.  While the main structures date from the 12th Century with upgrades from the Ottoman empire, some of the structure dates back to Herodian times, and the history of Jerusalem goes back 4000 years.  Reading the historical displays was like an Old Testament survey, because of course that is much of the history of this city.  This has reinforced for us that the Bible isn't just a made up story.  The story of God is anchored in historical events.

This is a holy place for Jews, Muslims and in a slightly different way for Christians also. As such it has been a focus of conflict for centuries, often changing hands, often violently. It also struck me, by contrast, that at various times Jews, Muslims, and Christians have been able to live here together peacefully. That is the challenge Jerusalem faces today.

We have been struck by the compact nature of Jerusalem, and indeed Israel as a whole.  It was a short drive from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and a short walk from our hotel to the Old City.  In the classic photo below, you can see the short distance from David's tower to the Western Wall and the Dome of the Rock, and then beyond to the Mount of Olives.  Again this raises the ever present and complex issue of Jews, Muslims and Christians coexisting.
The view over the Old City, Dome of the Rock to Mt of Olives
It was a short walk from the evening service we attended in Christ Church (the oldest Protestant church in the Middle East), to the Western Wall (the most holy site for Jews), and then just above that wall is the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque (holy sites for Muslims).

We were able to join in with two different church services.  A small Baptist church in the morning, and the Anglican service in the evening.  Both sought to be aware of the complex religious context and the worship and prayers reflected that.  Reading a Psalm about Jerusalem and praying for the peace of Jerusalem have never been so poignant for me.  Christ Church in particular sought to appreciate their Jewish roots in a liturgical and historical context.  Both were conscious of the call to show God's love to everyone, including people of other faiths.

The Western Wall at night with Dome of Rock and Al-Aqsa mosque above.
Although there are so many historical sites here, Jerusalem is a living city.  We had some delicious falafel wrap for tea at a little restaurant/takeaways and then walked around the corner on stones that are likely to be the roof of ancient houses, down some steps to a lower level with the remains of a synagogue and a market where Jesus could have walked.  Then down some more steps, through a gate and we were at the Western Wall.  Orthodox Jews pray at the wall twenty four hours a day.  Just above them on the temple platform is, strictly speaking, under Jordanian jurisdiction, and many Muslims go to there to pray. It was instructive to see the level of devotion to a place.
Jews praying at the Western Wall
While coming to Jerusalem is a wonderful kind of pilgrimage for us, we believe praying a prayer at home in Mosgiel is just as effective as a prayer prayed in Jerusalem.

Walking back to our hotel led us through little streets lined with shops, closing for the day now, but where people made their living.

We look forward to learning more about this fascinating place when the formal tour gets underway tomorrow.

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