Rector’s Blog Nov. 17: Temple Mount and Lazarus

We had a little free time this morning before the lecture and a few of us made the trip to the Temple Mount, or as Muslims call it, the Noble Sanctuary. This is the holiest of holy places in both traditions, as it is where the Temple was until it was destroyed in 70 CE. It is now the place where the Dome of the Rock and Al-Asqa Mosque are. Unfortunately it is also the place of a lot of the current tension in Jerusalem.

Our class was supposed to go there last week, but there was an incident just as we arrived and we didn’t end up going as part of St. George’s. However, we could go on our own, so that is what a small group of us did. Security is tight to get up to the Temple Mount, and there were many heavily armed soldiers. When we finally got there…wow. It had so much meaning to me, knowing how important this place was to our spiritual ancestors, and knowing how central a role the Temple played in Jesus’ life and death. I found it very powerful to be there, to walk around, to picture Jesus there. Several parables that we have heard in the lectionary this fall are ones Jesus told at the Temple the last week of his life. Also, the Dome of the Rock is stunningly beautiful, and it was something to look out at the Mount of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemane, where we will be tomorrow.

The afternoon trip was to Bethany, or in the Arabic, Azarya (meaning Lazarus). The trip from Jerusalem to Bethany is two miles, just as the gospels say. But because of the wall of separation it is a 17 mile trip by a circuitous route, through the checkpoint, into the West Bank and finally to Bethany.

This is the place where an unnamed woman anointed Jesus (see Mark 14). It is also the town of Mary, Martha and Lazarus. There is no site or church that commemorates the anointing, but we read the scripture and remembered her as Jesus suggested. We also read the story of the raising of Lazarus. The church there is built over what is thought to be Lazarus’ tomb. You can go down steep stone steps and slither through a narrow opening in the rock (it feels birth canal-like) into the tomb area itself. It is pretty cool. And another “Jesus was here” moment, which I have appreciated throughout the course.

Big day tomorrow, as we immerse ourselves in the stories and places of Holy Week, starting first thing with Bethphage and Jesus’ entry in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.