Today was a remarkably full day. We are marking Holy Week today and tomorrow, with some exception for geography. So off we went to the Mount of Olives early this morning. Our first stop was the Chapel of the Ascension, one of the exceptions to our Holy Week day. It was suggested that we could we look at this event of Jesus ascending into heaven after his resurrection is as a completion, a completion of the Incarnation. One thing we learned is that the early church marked the Ascension by going to Bethlehem, where Jesus was born, then going to the place of the Ascension, where we were today.
Bethphage is the place Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem began, and that was also a place we were this morning. One thing that is kind of amusing about this site is the Crusader-era stone that purports to be the rock Jesus stood in to mount the donkey he rode into the city. The stone is huge. They apparently were thinking war horse rather than donkey, not surprising considering it was Crusaders. In our reflections our course director Rodney pointed out that this is the moment that Jesus still had choices, whether to go into Jerusalem or not. Of course, we know what Jesus chose, and how it turned out.
Our next stop was a church partway down the Mount of Olives called Dominus Flevit, or the Lord Wept. There are two passages from Luke we read, one the more familiar lament Jesus makes over Jerusalem. He talks about himself as a hen gathering her chicks under her wings. The second passage is one we never hear and I don’t recall studying. It is Luke 19:41-44 and comes immediately after the Luke Palm Sunday reading. It starts, “As Jesus came near and saw the city, he wept over it…”
We finished the morning by going to the Gethsemane church, where tradition puts Jesus praying in the garden while his disciples sleep on Thursday night after the Last Supper. We may think about this as a place apart, but geographically Jesus would have been praying right outside the walls of the city at the foot of the Temple- in the shadow of the power structure that was responsible for his arrest and put in motion the events of his death.
In the afternoon we both heard about the latest violence in Jerusalem and made our way to the place of the Upper Room, where tradition has the Last Supper take place. This area is up on the western hill outside of the city walls (it was inside the walls in Jesus’ time) and was the center of the New Testament church. The same place has been venerated from early on as the place Mary died (fell asleep??) and the place of Pentecost. The Upper Room site is now gothic 14th century decoration that was once a mosque, all built over the earlier site.
Our final stop was down the hill a bit from the western ridge, at a church called St. Peter Gallicantu. That means something like “song of the rooster” and there are a lot of rooster icons, referencing Peter’s denial of Jesus before the cock crowed. Tradition also puts this place as the site of Caiphas’ palace, the chief priest who turned Jesus over to Pilate. About Peter, I think it would be hard to have this place commemorating what was clearly the worst moment of his life. There was some very moving imagery of Peter weeping in the courtyard.
This place is on the hillside and has stunning views of Jerusalem from the west, not far from the Old City walls. Six people died in the city today and there is a lot of tension here and the threat of more violence. All I could think of, looking at the city from where we were, is that it is another vantage point from which to weep over Jerusalem.