We left off Biblical history with Moses rejected as leader into the Promised Land, and Joshua anointed to carry out the task of herding the Israelites into Jordan. Filled with the spirit of wisdom from the hands of Moses, Joshua was the best of the rest to guide them across the Jordan River to Jericho, where more things happened. It is the oldest city in the world, still surviving (dated 1000 BC) in this area and as we crossed the border into Israel (a long process) we had breakfast in a Jericho restaurant called Temptation, which may have been appropriate since we were hungry. We had used the VIP service which did everything for us and there were vehicles waiting to get us to the proper point of entry, but still it was mid-morning before we saw a breakfast offering.
It was here that I discovered a lemon whose juice alone is as sweet as lemonade made with sugar. It made me happy. And we were served such a spread that it made me want to change my style of eating to the Middle-Eastern way. Laid out in small bowls were fresh hummus (chickpeas in olive oil), home made baba ganush (eggplant, garlic, pomegranate syrup), labanh – fresh yoghurt drained of water so it becomes a cheese; Turkish salad (chopped; onion, tomato sauce with spices); mankoshe (pita flat bread with olive oil, thyme and sesame seeds); tabouli (parsley, green onions, mint, cucumber and anything green, – some add tomato and some don’t but one does add lemon juice and olive oil); bandonseah (chopped parsley with tahini sauce made with lemon and water;) all the dates you could ever dream of – the kind off giant fat trunked palm trees – and fig marmalade (fresh figs in season now), then my introduction of fresh -squeezed pomegranate juice, which is offered as a welcome gift everywhere, even in the markets when venders want to get your attention. I could survive on this for a whole 24 hours. You can have this again for lunch and for dinner, as we often did.
We took the cable car up Mt. Temptation to the caves where many of the desert people – monks, hermits – may have lived. On stepping off the cable car, there was still an exhausting climb of many many stairs in blistering sun up the side of the white rock cliff to get further up until reaching the Greek Orthodox Church where a rock in the church (which was locked because the Orthodox priest was praying down at the River Jordan) is supposed to be where Jesus stood at some point during the first two temptations by the devil. The third temptation was supposedly thrown at him where now stands the Dome of the Rock (i.e. where Abraham offered to sacrifice his son, and where Mohammed ascended to the heavens). We waited and waited in a slightly cool breeze for the priest, until the caretaker allowed us into one place to have a view of the caves and how high we were. But he could not let us into the church. So I prayed awhile and finally, we decided the priest was not going to return and began the long trek back down to the cable car, where we met the priest climbing up. Bad timing.
We moved on toward Jerusalem to St. George’s Monastery, built into stone cliffs in the sixth century, basically, not a journey we had planned to take (a six hour hike), so we followed a small group of aged Germans whose leader hushed everyone so his clients could experience the “silence” of the desert. I took a deep meditational breath and prayed. It was 9/11 on Sunday. And there was a silent scream in the air around me remembering that day when my son and I were in New York City as the terror woke up the morning on a clear blue sky day. The guide’s hoped for silence was not silent since continually heard, in the silence effort, was the monster bus waiting for the group and keeping the air-conditioning going. Ironic.
As if I wasn’t already a bit discouraged – nothing had been as it seemed – our guide had arrange for us to visit Lazarus’ tomb in Bethany. I was thrilled since, recently I had preached two times on the subject of Lazarus, Mary and Martha, safe friends for Jesus, and I remembered so vividly how the tomb looked, the mustard seed bush opposite it, and the feelings I had felt back in my pilgrimage as a deacon in 1997. The once Greek Orthodox church, now in the hands of the Muslims, we visited and then climbed stairs to arrive on a terribly busy commercial street when suddenly at an empty rock doorway sort of scrunched in between souvenir shops, the guide, said “Lazarus’ tomb.” I was horrified. Vendors in every direction were selling every kind of religious gimmick, the mustard seed bush was long gone, and what beat in my soul was, what would Jesus think. In fact, this became a mantra as I re-visited so many of the historical sites in Jesus’ life, now commercial enterprises, merchant after merchant, Jewish, Muslim, Christians, all making money off tourism. I don’t think this is what Jesus had in mind. It is, to me, a failure to interpret the gospels and live as Jesus told us to live.
We tried to visit the Garden Tomb (one version of the crucifixion spot and empty tomb of Jesus – more realistic than the almost too close to everything rock on which the crucifixion was supposed to take place in the Sepulchral) but it was closed on Sundays. So that meant we could go to the Holocaust Museum, which was one of the most excruciating, yet hopeful experiences I’ve had – equal to the 9-11 Memorial Museum in New York. The contemporary architecture, adjusted in 2005, is so appropriate, hidden yet cutting across the property like a giant razor blade, and one follows the pain, the horrors, the still hopes, the beautiful humans, the disturbed men in Nazi gear who murdered 1,200,000 children and six million adults – just like that – a snap – as if no one had any value at all. I still don’t understand how they got away with it. I still don’t understand where man’s conscience was – hiding in a closet, fearful of political reprisal? I still don’t understand how the strong Christian and Orthodox churches failed to flex their muscle of faith and support those who are the first heirs of heaven. I still just don’t understand.
Go to this Holocaust Museum, which is always packed with uniformed Israeli youth, soldiers, school girls, and more soldiers learning their history, and, holding your heart, continue to the Children’s Memorial, where three permanent flames become 1,200,000 flames right before your eyes as each child’s name is read over and over continually forever. And the Jewish community for decades has been planting the promised 1,200,000 trees to honor the children who were murdered by the Nazis. Yet, it’s comforting to know God opened this possibility on this day 9/11/2016 as a place to pray for all who have died as victims of crimes against humanity. God help us.