Day 6: Pre-Dawn Via Dolorosa, Garden Tomb, Mt. of Olives, Garden of Gethsemane, Yad Vashem, Farewell Lunch

Continuing my journey with Ecclesia Houston and Pastor Chris Seay via the always-innovative tour company Breaking Bread Journeys, day 6 of our itinerary was perhaps the most profound. There are many inspiring moments along the way but there’s something about waking up before dawn and taking a vow of silence only to hear the scriptures related to the path that Jesus took to his crucifixion at each of the 14 stations. We departed from our hotel at 5am to take the short walk to Herod’s Gate and then made the descent to Station One of the Via Dolorosa, or “The Way of Sorrows.”

There in the predawn blue glow of a sleepy Jerusalem sky, we listened with broken hearts as Chris read us the scriptures that chronicled or prophesied of Jesus’s walk to his death. It struck me that many of the stations depict those who loved him reaching out to help him, to do something for their beloved teacher and friend. They did not understand anything he had said about his coming resurrection, so to them, this was just the most awful, dark, miserable thing they could imagine happening. Here was the man who had healed, preached forgiveness of sin, fed the poor, taught a Gospel of a higher love, yet here he was the scorn of man, bruised, beaten, flogged nearly to death, then sentenced to carry his own tool of execution while wearing a crown of thorns.

I cannot imagine anything more profoundly distressing, depressing, confusing, or anguishing than these scenes laid before the very eyes of those who had followed him and loved him. In that dark hour, before the sun had risen, I and members of our group were gripped by the reality of those accounts as we trod over stones sometimes dated to the first century. We were moved to tears as we meditated on those seemingly slow-motion brutal moments of the Via Crucis, or the Way of the Cross.

At the same time, as Pastor Chris read these scriptures, it became apparent that another emotion felt in those steps is a realization of the profound love that God has for us, that while we were yet imperfect people lost in our own ways, Christ died for us because he loved us. I’m no theologian, but I do know a few things about the Bible from years of studying it personally. I believe that when Jesus was buried in his tomb (Station XIV of the Cross) he descended into hell (“Hades”) and conquered death so that we might have the resurrection into eternal life at our bodily death. “Following his death for sin, Jesus journeys to Hades, to the City of Death, and rips its gates off the hinges.” —Joe Rigney.

After this intense experience, we visited a much brighter place called the Garden Tomb, a location just to the north of the Damascus Gate believed to contain the empty tomb of Jesus, a site many historians believe to be the place of Jesus’ resurrection. The overseers of the location have done an amazing job of keeping the gardens bright and colorful, as a representation of the glory of Christ’s resurrection, symbols of rebirth blossoming all around us. We took communion in that holy space and we all felt a very present touch of the Holy Spirit, a touch of the very palpable hope of the resurrection in that supremely serene garden.

Later in Day 6, we made our way to the Mount of Olives (the location of Jesus’ ascension into heaven 40 days after his resurrection) and then walked down to the Garden of Gethsemane, another important scene in the story of Jesus’ path to his death. It is very revealing to me that Jesus prayed in the garden the night before his crucifixion, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” This reveals his humanity, that he knew the fight for the salvation of the world was before him, and in that humanness, perhaps he did not feel he could bear it, and thus he prayed for God to take it. Yet in his humility and submission to God the Father, he relents, “yet not my will, but yours be done.”

The olive trees we saw there were at least descendants of the trees that would have arched their embracing arms in sadness over Jesus on his last night before his death (some say they are saplings of those trees that provided rebirth for the trees to carry on, as is the manner of olive trees to regenerate in their same location for thousands of years– either way, a beautiful symbol there, too). So many touch-points for us to feel, see, and experience these places where he walked, where he prayed, and where he loved us with an ultimate love unfathomable among mankind.

As if we had not felt enough for the day, we ended our tour at the Holocaust Musem, “Yad Vashem.” There we experienced yet another kind of darkness, one of history’s deepest wounds, the Jewish Holocaust. There are no words to appropriately express the horrors of the Nazi’s deliberate cruelty, a merciless and systematic murder of millions of innocents, in the most unthinkable ways possible. In this contrast to the beauty of God’s love as demonstrated on the Via Dolorosa, we remembered the total depravity of mankind, that we could fall to such a grave brokenness, to an antithesis of love, and the ambivalence of so many who turned their hearts and eyes away from the reality of what was happening all around them in those days. Yet even in those horrible chapters of history, the museum beautifully and thoughtfully documented “The Righteous Among the Nations” — accounts of those who stood up to the ultimate brutality and evil, to rescue and hide Jews who would have otherwise perished.

We then took a much needed time of reflection and prayer on the bus as Pastor Chris led us in a liturgy to help us process all that we had taken in on this inexpressible day. Then Christina Samara and Lisa Moed of Breaking Bread Journeys met us at a farewell lunch and presented all of the group with a small but beautiful gift of certificates of our pilgrimage. We were all so grateful for them and our faithful tour guide, Bassam.

If you’ve read this far, thank you for following along. I hope these images might be inspiring as a visual expression of what I felt this day. God bless you.

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.

Holy Land Day 6: Pre-Dawn Via Dolorosa, Garden Tomb, Farewell

Our final day of the tour started before dawn at 5am. We made our way into the old city via Herod’s 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.

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 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.

Lastly, Christina and Elisa, founders of Breaking Bread Journeys, shared their farewell with us at lunch in East Jerusalem. We are grateful for their vision.

Click/Tap any photo to start a slideshow. 

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: 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: Jerusalem Old City, Garden Tomb, Jerusalem Wine Expo

Today on the fifth day of Ecclesia Houston’s tour with Breaking Bread Journeys, we were up early to beat the crowds in the Old City. We enjoyed eerily empty passageways in the Muslim Quarter as we made pilgrimage through the Stations of the Cross on the Via Dolorosa. Our journey on “The Way of Sorrows” ended at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. We then made our way to the Armenian Quarter where we learned that the quarter traces its history back to the Armenian pilgrims who moved to Jerusalem in the fourth century. 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 site of the burial and resurrection of Jesus. We ended the evening by enjoying wine tasting at the Jerusalem Wine Expo featuring 40 of Israel’s best wineries. Here’s some of what I captured along the way.

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