Rector’s Blog Nov. 13: The Old City

This was a wonderful day. We had a free afternoon in the city and Kate and I, along with classmate Barry from Kansas, did the Ramparts Walk. The walls of the Old City of Jerusalem, which date back as far as 2,000 years ago, were built as a defensive wall. You can walk along the top of them around half of the city or so. That is what we did: got wonderful views of Jerusalem up close and far off, from seeing the laundry people hang to dry on their rooftops to seeing things from a distance like the Mount of Olives, where Jesus and the disciples went after the Last Supper. It was really something. We also got to walk through the Old City again, which is full of narrow streets surrounded by shops and is its own wonderful experience.

But the real pilgrim part of the day came this morning. We went down to the southern steps of the Temple site. It is a place where there have been a lot of excavations, so you can see things like the stones left when the Romans destroyed the Temple in 70 CE, on the way that was the old market . It was not hard to picture the money changers there or the place to buy your animals for sacrifice. As our group gathered for scripture and reflection, I got to read Psalm 122. It is called a ‘psalm of ascent,’ meaning ascent to the Temple- which used to be up the steps where I stood today.

“I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’ Our feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem.” Today I got to stand within Jerusalem’s gates and experience God’s presence there. It was incredibly powerful. I will never read this psalm the same way again. Not to mention that we know Jesus stood on these very steps, which continues to move me enormously.

When we left the southern steps we went to the Western Wall. It is also known as the Wailing Wall, traditionally the place Jews went to lament the destruction of the Temple. Today there was a lot of singing and dancing, as it was a bar mitzvah day. I saw a number of thirteen year old boys being celebrated. No girls though, and the wall separating the men from the women and all of the implications of such separation are worthy of their own commentary.

But the reason most people go to the Western Wall is to pray. I did not expect to be as moved as I was to stand at this place, the Western Wall of what used to be the Temple. The tradition is that you write prayers and put them in the indentations of the Wall. I prayed for my dad especially. Putting my hands (and my prayer beads) on this rock that millions of hands have touched was a remarkable experience.

We have had such full days that it is hard to believe that there is more. But there is- tomorrow we leave for Capernaum and the Sea of Galilee. This is where the heart of Jesus’ ministry took place. We will be there for a couple of days and I will have lots to report.