Day 8: Pre-dawn Via Dolorosa, Garden Tomb, Holocaust Museum, Farewell Lunch

Our final day of Ecclesia Houston’s tour with Breaking Bread Journeys started before dawn at 5am. We made our way into the old city via the Damascus Gate to find nearly empty streets surrounding the Via Dolorosa. Only one or two eager shopkeepers were out opening their shops. As we journeyed through “The Way of Sorrows”, Pastor Chris led us in a solemn progression through what is traditionally believed to be the actual path that Jesus walked on the way to his crucifixion, and the stations there, the actual places the events occurred.

At each Station of the Cross, Pastor Chris read us the corresponding scripture describing what happened at that station. As we had taken a sort of “vow” of silence while we followed the path, the words of Scripture rang a bit louder in void of any other voices at the early hour. We ended at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher a little after sunrise.

Next on our schedule was a tour of the Garden Tomb, a rock-cut tomb in Jerusalem which was unearthed in 1867 and has subsequently been considered by many Christians to be the more historically accurate site of the burial and resurrection of Jesus. The site has some of the most beautiful gardens in Jerusalem, in my opinion. That’s why you’ll see me sharing several photos highlighting the garden in addition to the empty tomb itself. Pastor Chris led us in a very contemplative communion at the completion of the tour.

Next we arrived at the The World Holocaust Remembrance Center (Yad Vashem). It was my sixth visit and I still have not been able to fully process the deeply horrific and saddening events of the Jewish Holocaust as represented in this unfathomable museum. It is always a profoundly disturbing experience as we acknowledge one of history’s deepest wounds.

Overall this day of the tour is quite a heavy one spiritually and emotionally. I will close my last blog post of this tour with an equally simple summary of what I’m feeling. This scripture sums up the day quite well. We are besieged with many sorrows in the reality of our fallen world on this side of eternity (Via Dolorosa, Yad Vashem), but we have a hope in the resurrection (Garden Tomb, Spring, flowers that blossom from apparently dead seeds).

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
Mourning no more, crying no more, pain no more,
For the first things have gone away.
Revelation 21:4

To beautifully celebrate the official closing of our journey, Christina Samara, one of the founders of Breaking Bread Journeys, shared her farewell with us at lunch in East Jerusalem. We are grateful for the vision of this bold and wonderful tour company.

Not documented: Friday night we enjoyed the experience of a Shabbat dinner ceremony in a local Jewish home (thanks to a group called “Shabbat of a Lifetime”). We learned so much from our gracious hosts. They patiently answered our endless questions about their faith and traditions. Needless to say, the food they generously served us was out-of-this-world delicious.

And thus the bookends of our tour were incredibly fitting: Day 1 of our official itinerary we were served a beautiful and sumptuous meal prepared by Palestinian Muslims in Nablus, and for our final meal together, we were served an elaborate and festive meal by traditional Israeli Jews. It underscored how much we leave the holy land realizing there’s much more that we don’t understand about the deep tensions of this land than we thought we did when we arrived. We depart with a renewed burden to pray for all of God’s people who reside here; the vast majority of whom long for peace.

Predawn Via Dolorosa, Holy Sepulcher, Garden Tomb, Yad Vashem

Our final day of the tour started before dawn at 5:15. We made our way into the old city via the Damascus Gate to find nearly empty streets surrounding the Via Dolorosa. As we journeyed through “The Way of Sorrows,” Pastor Chris led us in a solemn progression through what is traditionally believed to be the actual path that Jesus walked on the way to his crucifixion, and the stations there, the actual places the events occurred. At each Station of the Cross, Pastor Chris read us the corresponding scripture describing what happened at that station. We ended at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher a little after sunrise.

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Next on our schedule was a tour of the Garden Tomb, a rock-cut tomb in Jerusalem which was unearthed in 1867 and has subsequently been considered by many Christians to be the more historically accurate site of the burial and resurrection of Jesus. The site has some of the most beautiful gardens in Jerusalem, in my opinion. That’s why you’ll see me sharing several photos highlighting the garden in addition to the empty tomb itself. Pastor Chris led us in a very contemplative communion at the completion of the tour.

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The gardener of the empty tomb…

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Almond blossoms…

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Next we arrived at the Holocaust History Museum which is always a profoundly moving experience, acknowledging one of history’s deepest wounds. Photographs are not allowed inside the museum so I have simply added a few of the outside architecture to remember our visit by.

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Ecclesia with Breaking Bread Journeys: Via Dolorosa, Garden Tomb, Garden of Gethsemane, Holocaust Museum, Ein-Kerem, Razzouk Tattoos

On our final day of the tour, we started our morning early with a predawn visit to the old city to walk the Stations of the Cross on the Via Dolorosa. Pastor Chris Seay and Pastor Greg Holder led us through the scriptures that match the traditional Stations of the Cross, on “The Way of Sorrows” which ended at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. In Jerusalem, the Via Dolorosa is traditionally believed to be the actual path that Jesus walked on the way to his crucifixion, and the stations there, the actual places the events occurred.

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Next on our schedule was a tour of the Garden Tomb, a rock-cut tomb in Jerusalem which was unearthed in 1867 and has subsequently been considered by many Christians to be the more historically accurate site of the burial and resurrection of Jesus. The site has some of the most beautiful gardens in Jerusalem, in my opinion. That’s why you’ll see me sharing several photos highlighting the garden in addition to the empty tomb itself. Pastor Chris led us in a very contemplative communion at the completion of the tour.

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After the tour of the Garden Tomb we took the bus up to a scenic overlook of the old city from the vantage point of the Mount of Olives. From there we made it to the base of the mount for a visit to the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus prayed with his disciples the night before his crucifixion. The olive trees in this garden are well over 2,000 years old.

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Next we arrived at the Holocaust History Museum which is always a profoundly moving experience, acknowledging one of history’s deepest wounds.

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Next we took a break in Ein-Kerem, “Jerusalem’s Ancient Village” … I managed to get a few context shots of the neighborhood where we had lunch.

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Last but not least, we ended the night with a visit from Palestinian Christian Wassim Razzouk, whose family has been in the tattoo business in the Old City for over 700 years. It has been a longstanding practice for Christian pilgrims visiting Jerusalem to get the Jerusalem Cross tattooed as a commemoration of their pilgrimage. Several of the members in our group did just that. To read more about the fascinating history of the Razzouk family business, you can read an article here.

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Ecclesia with Breaking Bread Journeys: Jerusalem, Holocaust Museum, Gush Etzion Winery, Garden Tomb

Wow what a week! We wrapped up our last day with another full itinerary that took us through a wide range of emotions.

We started with a morning visit to St. Anne’s Church and the ruins of the Pools of Bethesda, entering into the Old City through the Lion’s Gate…

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The gardens at St. Anne’s Church were quite spectacular…

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Our group sang to enjoy the famous acoustics of the church, which many choirs make pilgrimage to from all over the world just to perform there.

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The sun rising over the top of the church produced a lens flare the likes of which I’ve never quite seen before…

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We then walked over to the Garden of Gethsemane and The Church of All Nations. Along the way we met this kind man…

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Entering in to the garden where Jesus prayed the night before his crucifixion…

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The garden is home to olive trees believed to be 2,000 years old…

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Pastor Chris shared with us from Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 26 which is the account of Jesus’ time in the garden where we stood…

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Inside the neighboring Church of All Nations, which contains beautiful depictions of Jesus praying in the garden…

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Next we visited the Holocaust Museum… my second visit, a very sobering reminder of one of history’s deepest wounds…

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After that we definitely needed something lighter to lift our hearts… So we visited Gush Etzion Winery just south of Jerusalem, and were treated to an enlightening tour of the winery, wine tastings and a very delicious meal…

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Pastor Chris was invited to sign a cork and drop it into their collection. Here he is with the founder and owner of the winery…

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As if that were not a full enough day, we then made our way to the Garden Tomb, which has the most archaeological and historical evidence for being the actual place of Jesus’ crucifixion, burial and resurrection…

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The society that preserves the site does a wonderful job of maintaining a serene space with beautiful gardens…

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The tomb…

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We were honored to meet a Muslim man who was visiting the tomb because he said that his faith honors Jesus as a prophet and he wants to know more about him…

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After that we attended a traditional Shabbat meal in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City. We ate on a rooftop overlooking the Old City and Mount of Olives. Our hosts were most gracious and welcoming. We were not allowed to take photos but the images will be forever etched in my mind as one of the most breathtaking experiences of my lifetime.

Some of our group left very early the next morning, but these were the last of the group I said goodbye to, along with our amazing tour guide Shafik and bus driver Mahmoud…

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And that was the end of the tour of a lifetime… Hope you enjoyed following along! Next up… Nepal and India.