Day 5, Part 3: Mount of Temptation, Qumran Caves, Dead Sea, Jerusalem, Church of the Holy Sepulchre

This is my 8th holy land tour group to shoot for, and our itinerary generally follows a similar path. I will say that this day of the itinerary is usually the most intense, as we cover so much ground in one day. As a result, it’s the day that provides the most photo opportunities. It’s like packing three days into one (thus 3 posts to cover this one day). Probably the hardest part of publishing this blog is narrowing down the photo choices! From this day alone I’m publishing over 200 photos.

My devotional thought for Day 5 focused on the transitory nature of time and life. By the time we reached Jerusalem, many of us remarked something to the effect of, “Wait, we were just on the Sea of Galilee this morning?” I have often reflected on the power of a photograph to freeze time and capture a fleeting moment, and for this single moment, at least a thousand words could be written to describe what was felt and experienced within that frame. Then you stop to think of all the countless trillions of images like this which are accessible to God at any given time, and that he knows each one, feels each one, and has books written in his heart for each of us, lovingly journaling all that we have seen, felt, celebrated, and suffered. God sees all and knows all. Just a few pages ago, Jesus was being baptized by John, and in just a few page-turns in our story, we will be in the glory of heaven with God. “You see, the short-lived pains of this life are creating for us an eternal glory that does not compare to anything we know here. So we do not set our sights on the things we can see with our eyes. All of that is fleeting; it will eventually fade away. Instead, we focus on the things we cannot see, which live on and on.” (Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, chapter 4:17-18).

As it is recorded in John’s gospel, Jesus assures us, “My Father’s home is designed to accommodate all of you. If there were not room for everyone, I would have told you that. I am going to make arrangements for your arrival. I will be there to greet you personally and welcome you home, where we will be together. You know where I am going and how to get there.” (John 14:2-4). This idea of pilgrimage extends not only to a visit of the holy land but of our entire lives. We are on a journey, and God, in his ultimate love for us, has shown us the way to live it and promises that he prepares a final home for us at the end of this long journey. What is beautiful is that, while the journey is often full of sorrows and intensity, he has given us fellow sojourners to share the burdens along the way. We have experienced that on this journey here in the holy land. Just a few days ago we were a group of strangers. Now, already, especially after a day like today, we are already starting to feel like family. We have access to so much in the Body of Christ if we only choose to open our arms and receive the love and life-giving support that is available. While my life has had its share of heartbreaking moments and plenty of loss, I am grateful for all the ways I have found strength through God’s promises and all of my brothers and sisters whom God has gathered around me on this pilgrimage; both this week and in the grander pilgrimage of life.

To start out this post, we take a trip up to the of the Monastery on the Mount of Temptation for incredible views of the areas around Jericho. After being baptized by John the Baptist, Jesus fasted for forty days and nights in the Judaean Desert, through which we journeyed today. The Gospels tell us that during this time, Satan appeared to Jesus and tried to tempt him. It is thought that he endured these temptations at this location.

From there we made our way to the Qumran Caves, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered by a shepherd boy in 1947. We learned that The Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in eleven caves along the northwest shore of the Dead Sea between the years 1947 and 1956. The area is 13 miles east of Jerusalem and is 1300 feet below sea level. They have been called the greatest manuscript discovery of modern times. There are now identified among the scrolls, 19 copies of the Book of Isaiah, 25 copies of Deuteronomy and 30 copies of the Psalms. The Isaiah Scroll, found relatively intact, is 1000 years older than any previously known copy of Isaiah. In fact, the scrolls are the oldest group of Old Testament manuscripts ever found.

We then headed to the Dead Sea where members of our group were able to experience the extremely buoyant properties of the highly salinated water. We learned from our tour guide Bassam that most seawater contains 5-7% salt, but that the Dead Sea contains approximately 27-33% salt.

We then journeyed west through the mountains that divide the dessert from the coastal plain and reached Jerusalem in just 30 minutes. Pastor Chris guided the group into the holy city through the Damascus Gate. We arrived at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre just in time to see the famous event many come to watch each evening: the locking of the church doors. The key is held by a Muslim family in a symbolic gesture of interfaith cooperation. There’s an interesting article about the key you can read here.

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: Jordan River, Mt. of Temptation, Qumran Caves, Dead Sea, Jerusalem by Night

On day 5 of our journey we covered a lot of ground. We started our day at a baptismal site believed to be the closest to where Jesus was baptized. It’s a beautiful area with nothing else around it except for what’s across the river on the Jordanian side, you’ll see a couple of orthodox churches.

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From there we went on to Jericho for some camel rides and a trip up to the Mount of Temptation on the cable cars. The views from the mount’s sheer cliff dropoff are breathtaking.

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Next up was the Qumran caves, where the Dead Sea scrolls were discovered.

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Next we heard from a representative of a local water conservationist NGO (EcoPeace Middle East) who showed us how far water levels were dropping. She took us to a previous resort that is now closed and abandoned because it is no longer at the shoreline of the Dead Sea.

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After that we visited Kalia Beach on the Dead Sea where we experienced the peculiar sensation of extreme buoyancy and the rejuvenating effects of the mineral-rich Dead Sea mud.

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We packed up and then made our way to Jerusalem. We enjoyed wine and pizza in the old city at Pastor Chris’ favorite spot, Jacob’s Pizza. Then we were able to make it to the Holy Sepulcher before closing time. We entered the old city through the Jaffa Gate…

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Afterward we saw the generations-old tradition of the locking of the doors of the Holy Sepulcher, something I personally had never witnessed in any of my five visits here.

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We walked onward through the Muslim Quarter to the Western Wall in the Jewish Quarter. Pastor Chris was invited by some orthodox Jews to dance with them as they sang songs at the wall. Quite a night!

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Ecclesia with Breaking Bread Journeys: Sunrise on the Via Dolorosa, Jerusalem

Because day 6 of our tour was so jam packed, I’m breaking it into two, maybe three blog posts. I will keep this one simple and let the photos do most of the talking. Suffice it to say that that we made it to the Damascus Gate before sunrise to begin our journey on the Via Dolorosa, ending at The Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Jerusalem’s old city is sublimely empty and serene at that hour of the day.

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Ecclesia with Breaking Bread Journeys: Jordan River, Qumran, Dead Sea, Jerusalem

August 5, 2015. Today seemed like 3 days packed into one. We started before sunrise and we covered so much ground. We began our journey from Tiberias to a new baptismal site on the Jordan River, right at the Jordanian border. Sunrise over the Sea of Galilee greeted us with the serenity fitting for such a meaningful day.

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We arrived at the new baptismal site situated right on the border of Jordan and Israel. The river was surprisingly maybe only 20-25 wide. It was a very isolated location, extremely quiet with a warm breeze from the desert. We’ll never forget the experience of white doves suddenly coming from the Jordanian side of the river, flying right over our heads as Pastor Chris was baptizing.

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After everyone commemorated their baptisms, we made a quick snack break where some of us enjoyed a camel ride…

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Next we made a quick stop to learn about the Dead Sea Scrolls which were found at Qumran.

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Next on the itinerary was a visit to the Dead Sea…

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Next we finally arrived in Jerusalem at our beautiful hotel, The American Colony, and walked into the Old City for a visit to the Holy Sepulcher and the Wailing Wall.

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Closing time… and that was a day!

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