Our morning began with an unexpected rain shower and a brief but meaningful communion service at the Garden Tomb. This site, discovered and developed in the late nineteenth century, and managed by British volunteers, is on the north side of Jerusalem, just outside the Damascus Gate.
Though historians can’t say with absolute certainty that this is where Jesus was crucified and buried, an ancient tomb carved into the rock, a large cistern, and a wine press from the late Second Temple Period do suggest this was a rich man’s vineyard, and a skull-like rock formation fits perfectly the biblical description of Golgotha.
Back on the motor coach we went, and off to a forest, where we each planted a tree, leaving a bit of ourselves behind in Israel and doing our tiny part to help restore the land. Despite the overcast skies and muddy ground, this turned out to be an unexpected highlight of our trip.
Next we participated in a midday wine-tasting (though, to be honest, most of us sipped glasses of water), while we enjoyed fresh bread with superb local cheeses. We studied the story of Manoah’s wife, the mother of Samson, from Judges 13:1-25, as we gazed at the landscape where “the angel of God came again to the woman while she was out in the field.” Judges 13:9
As the afternoon drew to a close we returned to the Old City and welcomed the Jewish Sabbath by walking to the Western Wall and praying on the women’s side. Very moving, to touch that ancient stone.
Taking photos at the wall itself on Shabbat is not permitted—this one was taken the previous day from a distance. Now imagine this holy place at night, brightly lit with spotlights. Hundreds upon hundreds of people tucked prayers into crevices in the temple wall, then slowly backed away, continuing to face the wall. History was beneath, above, around, in the air, in the hushed voices, in the gentle weeping.
Our evening continued with a traditional Shabbat dinner, hosted by a charming Jewish couple and their kids, who stood at the door and counted us as we came into their home. Michelle and Natanel Cohen have created a unique ministry, sharing their traditions with visitors every Friday night: http://www.shabbatofalifetime.com
The food was wonderful, the information they shared fascinating, but I confess my favorite part was the exuberant singing and the way this young father blessed his children with his smiles and kisses, then sang the closing lines of Proverbs 31 to his lovely young wife. It truly was the “Shabbat of a Lifetime.”
“We’re not putting on a show,” they assured us. “This is how our family enters into Shabbat. Welcome.”
By evening’s end our hearts were full, and our senses on overload. Only one more day in Israel remained. Time to pack, time to pray, time to think about saying good-bye to three dozen sisters who’d become true friends.