February 18: Today was all about the Temple Mount. We went on top, we went around, and we explored a variety of recently excavated tunnels underneath the Western Wall.
First we went on the Temple Mount. It was hard not to have mixed emotions while we were up there. The Mount is controlled by Jordan, and the Muslim religion dominates every aspect of the Mount with the Dome of the Rock sitting right on top of where the Temple once stood. There are 11 gates, 10 which are accessible by Muslims, and one to be used by everyone else. There are Israeli soldiers standing guard at every gate, and in other locations on the Mount. (After the Six-Day War in 1967, Israel handed administration of the site back to the Waqf under Jordanian authority.) In order to try to maintain peace, the Israeli government has banned prayer on the Temple Mount by non-Muslims.
So, we prayed silently to ourselves. We walked around and imagined the place where the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob once dwelt in the Temple to be closer to His chosen people. We touched the stones that were still standing from the Herodian Temple Period, and imagined what this place once looked like. It was a time of quiet reverence, and expectation knowing that one day Christ will return to this place and things will be set right.
The building survived the Israeli War of Independence and the Six-Day War intact and continues to function as an Anglican church with several English, Arabic and Hebrew speaking congregations. Many Jewish Christians attend church here. Its mission has always been to spread the love of Christ to whomever needed that love. It has served as a sanctuary and hospital to both Muslims and Jews who needed assistance at various times of struggle in Israel.
Rector Pileggi preached on Luke 6 – stressing that we must let Jesus have Lordship over our hearts. We accomplish this by really listening to him…by being disciples and living a daily lifestyle of repentance. Then we can begin to experience the blessings (unburdened and peaceful living) that is contemplated in the Beatitudes. It was a hugely uplifting start to our day. The church service was Anglican and liturgical, but also contained Hebrew prayers and worship songs. The music was both traditional and contemporary, finishing with a raucous hand clapper that kept playing as we all filtered out of the church. Holy Communion was served, and prayer warriors stood to the side to pray for whomever needed some extra help.
It’s no wonder David chose this place, and others like it, to hide out from Saul. We read aloud 1 Samuel 24 while we were here, and it helps bring the story to life. We could imagine the entire scene being played out right in front of us. Jesus also wandered not far from here, as he spent 40 days in the wilderness being tempted by Satan, fasting and preparing for his ministry. The park was just so beautiful and lush, it was hard to believe it was all happening within a ravine that is surrounded by harsh desert. It was truly an oasis, and our first example of how God’s creativity is pretty darn perfect. The same now as it was 2000 years ago.
Next we went to Masada. Masada is like a giant mesa rising out of the desert with a flat plateau top, perfect for building a fortress. There is a zig zag slope that the ancient inhabitants, and adventurous modern-day visitors use to climb to the top. Herod the Great built two palaces for himself on the mountain and fortified Masada between 37 and 31 BCE. According to Josephus, the siege of Masada by Roman troops at the end of the First Jewish–Roman War ended in the mass suicide of 960 Sicarii rebels and their families who were hiding there. Of course, most of us hiked to the top, but some of us took the cable cars to get an early start to the adventure on Masada. King Herod, who built impressive structures all over Israel, decided to build a palace on top of Masada. And it was awesome.