Sites of Holy Week

In Jerusalem our feet find paths that will be remembered forever.  Over the course of a few days, we journeyed the paths that Jesus took on the last week of his life.

We began our day on the Mount of Olives. The Mt. of Olives is on the other side of the Kidron Valley from the city of Jerusalem. Keep in mind, this isn’t a large distance. From the top of the Mt. of Olives you can see the the Eastern Gate of the City.

View of Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives

From our place on the Mount of Olives, we began The Palm Sunday Path. This is the path Jesus would have taken as he entered Jerusalem.

Jesus stayed with friends (Mary, Martha, and Lazarus) in Bethany, a town 2 miles from the Palm Sunday Road.

The crowds gathered as Jesus approached the road down the Mount of Olives, across the Kidron Valley, and towards the East Gate of Jerusalem. Jewish tradition held that the Messiah would enter the city from the East Gate. This gate stood in line with the gates of the Temple and the Holy of Holies (the central, most holy section).

Beginning the Palm Sunday Path.

There at the beginning of the path, the crowds threw their cloaks on the ground before him shouting, “Hosanna!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Luke 19:37-39).

Along the modern-day path is the Church of Dominus Flavit, the church that commemorates he place where Jesus wept over Jerusalem in Luke 19.

Dominus Flavit

Dominus Flavit is built in the shape of a tear drop in memory of Jesus’ tears. While most churches in the area face to the east, this church faces west so Jerusalem, particularly the East Gate, can be seen by the congregation behind the altar.  There are two significant reasons.  

First, tradition held that the Messiah would enter Jerusalem from the East Gate.  This is likely the gate from which Jesus entered Jerusalem and the reason why the crowds were celebrating as he journeyed towards the city from the Mt. of Olives.  Second, is a modern reason.  Standing prominently above the East Gate is the Dome of the Rock, a significant Muslim holy place that dominates the Jerusalem skyline.  While sitting in the congregation of Dominos Flavit, the cross and the Eucharist on the altar stand in front of the Dome of the Rock.

We can see one of the reasons he wept when we look out at Jerusalem. The Temple Mount had been heavily built up by Herod the Great. It sounds like a great gift to the Jewish people, but it came with a cost.

Adjoining the Temple, Herod built the Antonia Fortress in order to monitor Temple activities. It was an architectural sign of the conflict of culture, religion, and power. Jesus looks out over Jerusalem, the Roman occupation, the religious corruption, and more and he weeps.

From here, we traveled to The Garden of Gethsemane.  On Thursday of Holy Week, Jesus walked this path from Bethany, where he was staying for the week, and asked his disciples to go ahead of him to make preparations for the Passover meal, which would be his last supper.  This passover took place within the walls of the city, just a 15 minute walk from the Garden of Gethsemane.  The current Davidson Center is the place where this supper is commemorated.  The Davidson Center is also the location of the Tomb of King David.  It is believed that the Last Supper took place in an upper room over the tomb of David.

The Garden of Gethsemane

I had the opportunity to give a devotion before we entered the Garden of Gethsemane.  I’ll share that devotion in a subsequent post.  

Gethsemane translates to “olive press.”  The garden is a grove of olive trees that were cultivated and pressed on site.  Today, the garden still hosts olive trees, many of them very old.  One in particular may date back to hundreds of years.

Gethsemane sits on the side of the Mt. of Olives.  As such, it is a rocky garden.  I had never really thought of it this way—I normally think of gardens as flat, cultivated places.  Yet the geography of the garden is quite rocky.  The Church of All Nations sits on the site of the garden.  


The inside of the church is breathtaking.  The church’s altar is built over the rock which is believed to be the place where Jesus prayed, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42).

Pastor Mike reminded us that, just as olives were pressed 4 times to produce different grades of oil, at the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus was pressed for the first time and sweat drops of blood.

As Jesus was in the garden, Judas led the chief priests, the officers of the temple guard, and the Jewish elders to arrest him.  They took him to the House of Ciaphas, the high priest.

The Church of St. Peter in Gallicantus stands over the site of Ciaphas’s house.  “Gallicantu” is Latin for “cocks crow.”  You may remember that it was outside of the house of Ciaphas that Peter disowned Jesus 3 times (Luke 22:54ff).  This is the location of the first part of Jesus’ trial.  Remember, he was tried by the Jewish priests, then taken to Pontius Pilate—the Roman prefect over Judea, and then to Herod Antipas—the tetrarch of Galillee who was in town for the Passover, before finally being sentenced by Pilate.

Luke 23 tells us that Jesus didn’t begin his official trial until daybreak the next day (Luke 22:66).  This means that Jesus was imprisoned for the night (at least a portion of it, depending on how long Jesus prayed in the garden).  Where was he imprisoned?

The traditional answer to this question, defended by archaeology, is haunting.  In the stone floor of the Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu is a hole that peers deep into an small underground cave.  At various places around the church, we see mosaics of Jesus shackled with ropes tied around his torso.  Tradition holds that these ropes were used to lower Jesus deep into the cave below which acted as a maximum security hold for the temple guard.  As the council of priests questioned Jesus and deliberated before and during the trial, they would raise and lower Jesus into this cell.  This deep, dark, isolated cell is the place where Jesus spent his last night.

We went down, many flights of stairs, to access the cell.  It barely held all of us and, looking up, high in the ceiling, is the hole in the floor of the church, just large enough for the frame of a small man.  Inside this dark cavern, we read the words of Psalm 88:

“O Lord, the God who saves me, day and night I cry out before you. May my prayer come before you; turn your ear to my cry.  For my soul is full of trouble and my life draws near the grave.  I am counted among those who go down to the pit….  You have put me in the lowest pit, in the darkest depths.   Your wrath lies heavily upon me; you have overwhelmed me with your waves.  You have taken from me my closest friends and have made me repulsive to them.  I am convinced and cannot escape; my eyes are dim with grief.”

And, just yards away, Peter sat before a fire saying, “I do not know him.”

A rooster crowed.

And Peter went outside and wept bitterly.

Day 5:  Jericho

Do you remember the song?  

Joshua fought the battle of Jericho, Jericho, Jericho

Joshua fought the battle of Jericho

and the walls came a-tumbling down

Jericho is the site of the famous battle in Joshua 5, an early Israelite conquest after they crossed the Jordan River. It is also the home of Rahab the prostitute who was spared in the battle and is named in the genealogy of King David and Jesus. 

It is the place where the prophet Elisha purified the spring with salt. The water is still viable today and the reason that Jericho remains an oasis city. (2 Kings 2)

It is the place in Luke 19 where Jesus met Zacheus the tax collector and invited himself over for dinner.

The tree set apart to remember Zacheus climbing a sycamore to get a better view of Jesus.

Jericho Sits at the foot of the Judean Desert. Close by is Mt. Nebo, where Moses stood and looked out at the promised land. 

Jericho remains an oasis town. The fact that this area remains inhabited demonstrates the power of fresh water in the desert. It is under Palestinian authority and our bus was required to pass through check points to get there. 

We arrived the Tel of Jericho, an archaeological site discovered in the 1950’s. The excavated town dates back to Biblical times with finds that date back to 8,000 BC. Interestingly, the found the remains of wall, though it actually dates earlier than the time of Joshua. It should be an exciting find, but the excitement is tempered with the mystery: where is the location of Joshua’s wall?

The road from Jericho to Jerusalem is also a meaningful place in scripture. It is the place where Jesus set the parable of the Good Samaritan. It is also believed to have been called the Valley of the Shadow of Death as it is a highly dangerous path. 

Pilgrims on their way up to Jerusalem would have traveled the Jericho road in caravans. A monastery has been built over the old road and new roads have taken its place. 

Day 5: Songs of Ascent

Jerusalem sits at the heart of the world’s three major religions. For Jews, it is the city of David, the place where the temples stood, the site of David’s tomb, etc. For Muslims, it is the site where Abraham nearly sacrificed his son (in the Muslim understanding, this son would have been Ishmael instead of Isaac) and the site the Mir’aj, where Muhammed ascended into heaven and returned with instructions to pray the 5 prayers. For Christians, Jerusalem shares the importance that it does in the Jewish faith, but it is also the sight of the crucifixion, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ. 

Jerusalem is not only the home of these sites, it is also the cradle of the central differences and conflicts between cultures and religions. I’ll share more about this in my post about our visit to the Temple Mount. 

Jerusalem has been an active city since its founding by King David over 3,000 years ago. It is a living tel, built up over years as one society builds upon the ruins of another. 

For the same amount of time, Jerusalem has been an holy site and destination for pilgrims. 

In the Book of Psalms, there is a segment of Psalms known as “The Psalms of Ascent,” Psalms 120-134. These Psalms are songs sung by ancient Jewish pilgrims as they ascended to Jerusalem for the three pilgrimage festivals (Passover, the Feast of Weeks or Pentecost, & the Feast of Tabernacles).  The are travel songs. Songs that take the soul on the same journey that the feet take–the journey up to the holy city of Jerusalem. 

Whether you were traveling from the north or the south, you would ascend to Jerusalem as it is built at a high elevation. 

As we rode our tour bus towards Jerusalem, we read from the Psalms of Ascent and sang hymns of joy. 

I rejoiced when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.” –Psalm 122:1

It was unexpected, the way it came over me. It had been a long ride with a number of stops along the way. My mind was on the agenda for the day and what dinner would be. 

Money Mike, our wonderful bus driver, turned on another song just as we approached a tunnel. “Jerusalem, Jerusalem,” it sang in the darkness of the tunnel. As we emerged into the light in the other side, the city stood there with its bright white limestone. The Temple Mount coming into view. And from nowhere, tears came. 

Yes, the day has come when we worship not in this mountain or that but “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:21-24).  But this is the land  the Lord walked. The city of his Passion, Resurrection, and Ascension. 

I wept because it seems my soul has taken the same journey that my feet have taken. A journey that puts all else aside and seeks to draw close to God. 

Day 4:  Blessings, Ministry, & the Sea

Mount of Beatitudes

The Sermon on the Mount is one the major discourses or teachings of Jesus recorded in Matthew (chapters 5-7).

The Mount of Beatitudes, on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee, is the site of this teaching.

The mountain offers gorgeous views of the valley below and the mountains that surround them. Mt. Tabor, one of the believed sites of the Transfiguration, is visible right next to the Nazareth Range where the city of Nazareth is visible.

Our team in worship on the Mount of Beatitudes.

One of the most moving experiences of my life was having the opportunity to read the Beatitudes aloud for our group on the Mount of Beatitudes.

Church of the Multiplication

Each gospel contains the story of the feeding of the 5,000. The Church of the Multiplication, also known as the Church of the Heptegon (Seven Springs), stands in an approximate area of this miracle. This site has stood in memory of this event since the time of the earliest Christians.

Under the altar is the rock that tradition remembers as the one where Jesus put the baskets down. In front of the altar is a Byzantine era mosaic of the fish and the loaves.

Primacy of Peter

This church marks the location and memory of Peter’s reinstatement in John 21. At the foot of the Mount of Beatitudes, this area was also a highly productive fishing area.

A large rock marks the site where Jesus and the disciples had breakfast. The rock itself continues into the church.

The Sea of Galilee

Up to this point, we have spent our entire trip around the Sea of Galilee. Our hotel, located in Tiberias, sat on the shoreline. Every morning, we saw the sun rise over the sea.

We capped off our experience by boating on the Sea of Galilee. From the boat, we saw the mountains and lands that we had visited throughout the week.

In 1986, the Sea of Galilee had low water levels. Two brothers found some Roman nails in the uncovered mud. This led to the discovery of the remains of a 1st century fishing boat of the type that Jesus and the disciples would have used on the Sea of Galilee. After painstaking excavation, the boat was unearthed and preserved in a museum.

Day 4: Remember Your Baptism

The passages about Jesus’s baptism are by far the most meaningful passages in my life. For many reasons. 

Recorded in Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11 and Luke 3:21-22, each account tells of Jesus being baptized in the Jordan River by his cousin John the Baptist. When Jesus came up out of the water, the Holy Spirit descended on him like a dove and the voice of the Father spoke from heaven saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

We visited two sites on the Jordan River–one close to where the Sea of Galilee flows into it and the other further south, in the desert, where it is likely that Jesus was baptized. The river is much smaller than I’d imagined, having grown up on the St. Marys and Crooked Rivers in South Georgia. It’s also muddier than I expected. I had always imagined Jesus being baptized in crystal clear waters; not muddy waters. There are some good lessons in that. 

No matter my preconceptions, these ancient waters reminded us all of our baptism and the voice from heaven that speaks of our belovedness in Jesus Christ. 

At both sites, people from many Christian traditions were being baptized and remembering their baptisms. Priests sprinkled and sprayed congregants with hyssop branches dipped in the river. Pastors immersed. Others poured and sprinkled from the shore. 

A light-hearted debate arose on the group about whether or not Jesus was immersed. The scripture does, after all, say that “he went up out of the water.” Interestingly much of the ancient art that we have seen so far illustrate Jesus standing upright in the Jordan with John pouring water over his head. Similarly, we saw people being sprinkled while standing in the river. Guess what they had to do afterwards? They had to come up out of the water!  

It really is a light-hearted conversation for many of us because United Methodists, despite popular belief, recognize all 3 modes of baptism: sprinkling, pouring, and immersion. 

Either way, at Jordan River, we felt the weight and glory of our baptism and joined together in a service of baptismal remembrance and reaffirmation. 

Why a service of baptismal reaffirmation and not simply getting baptized again?

Our United Methodist understanding of baptism holds that baptism is effective when it is administered and is not repeated. I’ll save the long explanation for later, but even if we are baptized as infants or have fallen short of our baptism, our baptism still holds true. While we may often fail our covenants and promises to God, God never fails God’s promises to us. And in baptism God makes the promise that we are his beloved children and a part of his family known as the church. 

As we shared in this service, some chose to remember on the shore. Some in the river. I had the joy of sharing the service with the Revs. Mike Ricker, Meg Procopio, and John Haney. 

At the end of the remembrance service, I was able to share a special and holy moment with Mike as we led each other in remembering our baptisms–pouring water over the other while standing on the Jordan River. 

Our group didn’t see any birds that day. No doves. But we did remember the voice that speaks continually into our lives: “You are my children, whom I love; in you I am well pleased.”

Day 4: Galilee’s Gospel Triangle

Jesus spent the beginning of his ministry in the northern region of Galilee, named for the Sea of Galilee which is the largest body of fresh water in the Middle East.

After Jesus’ temptation and a tough homecoming to Nazareth, Jesus made his home in Capernaum (Matthew 4:13).

We visited the site of Capernaum, a town mentioned many times in the scripture. For example, Mark 1:21-34 tells of Jesus casting an evil spirit out of a man in the synagogue. He then visits the home of Peter’s mother-in-law, whom he heals of a fever. After the sabbath ended that day, the whole town gathered at that house, bringing the sick to be healed.

The remains of the synagogue still stand in Capernaum. The building that currently stands is built upon the foundations of the synagogue that stood in Jesus’ day. Some of the foundation is still visible.

What is striking to me is that the house of Peter’s mother-in-law is mere yards away. The remains of a first century insula, or common family home, still stand. An octagonal church was built over the site by the Byzantines. A modern church is built over this site today. It is unique in style, built high above the ground with glass in the floor to see the stones of the house on which crowds stood as received healing from the Lord.

We visited the remains of the town of Korazim, spelled Chorazin in the New Testament. It was one of the three cities or villages where Jesus taught, known as the “Gospel Triangle” (also Capernaum and Bethsaida). Built in the Sea of Galilee, the buildings were made of a black basalt.

The Moses Seat of the Korazim synagogue.

Korazim is mentioned in Matthew 11:21 where Jesus pronounces word in unrepentant cities.

Day 3:  Cana

Cana of Galilee is the site where Jesus attended a wedding and turned water into wine. This was the first of his signs and miracles, according to the Gospel of John. This story is told on John 2:1-11.

We visited the Sanctuary of Our Lord’s First Miracle. Unfortunately, it had to unexpectedly close early. That didn’t stop a bunch of cunning pilgrims from finding a way to take a few photos!

Since the church was closed, Louie, our guide, pulled some strings with a few friends and found some space for a special and sacred moment: the renewal of marriage vows. 

Rev. Procopio led the couples on our trip in a moving service of renewal. 

It doesn’t matter that it was in an alley behind a shop or with chickens and dogs in attendance. It was done in the sight of God and in Cana of Galilee where Jesus once graced a wedding.

Day 3:  Mt. Carmel

Mt. Carmel is the site of the prophet Elijah’s contest with the prophets of Ba’al. The story is told in 1 Kings 18. 

Israel’s king Ahab has the great distinction of being known as the king who “did more evil in the eyes of the Lord than any of those before him.”  Ahab’s wife, Jezebel, from the foreign kingdom of the Sodinians, set up temples to Ba’al and worshipped him. Jezebel also began to kill off the Lord’s prophets. 

Mt. Carmel is the place where Elijah challenged the prophets of Ba’al to see whose god would send down fire on the sacrifice. The 450 prophets of Ba’al called and called but no fire came. Elijah called out to God and God sent fire!

The Carmelites are the only Roman Catholic religious order that is headquartered in the Holy Land. Their chapel is a beautiful place for prayer. 

Statue in the courtyard depicting Elijah slaughtering the prophets of Ba’al after their defeat.

Day 3: Nazareth

Nazareth sits up on a hill, a city of white buildings visible against the green of the mountain. When Jesus says, “a city on a hill cannot be hidden,” I can’t help but think he had this in mind. 

Nazareth is the site of Jesus’ boyhood home. He spent 25 years of his life here before he began his public ministry. These years are known as the missing years as the scriptures don’t give us information about this time. 

During Jesus’ life, Nazareth was a small village of about 200-350 people. It was a country town with little reputation. You might remember Nathaniel asking, “What good can come from Nazareth?”  Now, more than 75,000 people live there. It is said that Nazareth has the largest population of Israeli Arab Christians in the country. 

Our first stop was at the community of the Sisters of Nazareth, a French Roman Catholic order. The church and school were founded in the 1800’s. The sisters were told by local residents that the church was built over the grave of a just and righteous man. This was regarded as a nice piece of religious folklore until archaeological evidence was found under the church. 

The short story is that they found the remains of a Crusader era church built over the remains of a Byzantine Church that was built over the remains of a 1st century home. That home had a tomb underneath it, which is very unusual as tombs inside the towns were limited to prophets and important people. 

They had found the grave of the legendary “just man.”  Given all of the evidence, a compelling case can be made that this was the house of Joseph. Either way, we were able to witness amazing archaeology, a first century home (including a manger), and a 2st century tomb (complete with a round stone).  Clear as mud, right?

Altar of the Byzantine church.
Remains of a 1st century house discovered underneath three churches–the Byzantine, Crusader, and the modern Sisters of Nazareth church.
The tomb. Dated during the Roman era due to the round stone rolled in front. This adds insight into the kind of tomb in which Jesus would have been buried.
Inside the tomb.

The tradition and memory of the church is a gift from God. Imagine–over 1,800 years, Christians remember that a venerated grave sat in that spot. They held that memory and tradition long after concrete evidence faded away. And it was vindicated as true in the late 19th/early 20th century. 

Christian memory is a gift from God. We have a long memory, held intact by the Holy Spirit. 

The Church of the Annunciation
The Church of the Annunciation is a short distance from this site. The Church of the Annunciation is built over the ruins of a 1st century  that is believed to be the home of Mary, mother of Jesus. This tradition has great weight as it has been held from the earliest of the church. 

The Church of the Annunciation remembers the angel Gabriel announcing Mary’s pregnancy. It is the largest Christian church in the Holy Land. 

Doors of the church depict scenes of Jesus’ life.

The remains of Mary’s house.
The first floor of the church is sparsely decorated. It is built around the remains of Mary’s house. There is an altar just in front of it. 

The second floor of the church is abundantly decorated with art from all over the world. 
The art of the church can be described as 

  • Marian (or centered around Mary)
  • Multi-national. Nearly every country submitted art and iconography to be displayed at the church. 
  • Modern
  • Mysterious 

This piece, submitted by the United States, is displayed in the second floor sanctuary.

Sacred Art Links Lyons and Nazareth

The stained glass windows in the sanctuary of the Lyons First United Methodist Church in Lyons, GA have a unique and modern style.

Stained Glass at Lyons First UMC

They are made in a style called faceted stained glass. They resemble mosaics, with impressions of images roughly fashioned with chunks of chipped glass.  

During our journey through Nazareth, we stopped at the Community of the Sisters of Nazareth and at the Church of the Annunciation. I was struck still in both places when I saw their stained glass. I did a double take every time. 

In both churches, both built on 1st century holy sites, both likely built on top of the homes of the members of the Holy Family, are faceted stained glass windows. The windows aren’t the same as the ones in Lyons, but it felt like a piece of home in the Holy Land. And now it will feel like a piece of the Holy Land at home. 

I thought you would like to see them. When you look at the glass in the sanctuary of Lyons First UMC, you can recall the connection that we share through sacred art with these two churches of Nazareth in the Holy Land.