Happy Easter!

Happy Easter!We’ve just returned from a week in Jerusalem visiting a friend who lives out there, and had a fantastic time. The weather was perfect; the atmosphere was amazing; the public transport was suitably unpredictable because of the religious festivals and holy days on both sides… The streets were bustling with pilgrims and locals all assembling to worship – Jews, Muslims, Christians – and many tourists simply there to see the sights. This made it difficult to get through the Old City at times which added to the atmosphere a lot. The old city is absolutely beautiful – I definitely recommend it!

The day we arrived was Palm Sunday (9th April), and after going with our friend to a service at her church we were then able to join the Palm Sunday procession with thousands and thousands of people from many different countries, all walking up the Mount of Olives waving palm branches and olive branches, singing and dancing and shouting with joy. It was a real highlight of the trip – an amazing experience, being surrounded by pilgrims doing a ‘walk of witness’ through the city in vast numbers and with immense volume. What an atmosphere! Various groups would sing over the top of one another, Christian worship songs in their own languages. And there were so many languages and colours and such variety in clothing…! Many clergy were there in their dog-collars (and some robed), and many monks and nuns too. There were African groups too, dressed in traditional outfits and singing in their languages. And so many more – all walking together and all there for the same purpose. Amazing!

The following day was Ben’s birthday! We first visited the shop where our friend volunteers, and then went on a Sandemans Tour of the Old City which was fantastic. We were talked through some of the history in each of the ‘quarters’ (Jewish, Muslim, Christian and Armenian), and were told about the significance of many of the sights. After that we visited the church of the holy sepulchre, then tried out one of the famous local sweet shops and had a delicacy called Knafe (k-naf-eh) which was melted cheese with pastry drenched in syrup. A wonderful birthday treat, and one we’d certainly recommend!

The next day we packed a lot in – we visited the ‘room of the last supper’ (supposedly); Absalom’s tomb as Jehoshaphat’s tomb; the Garden of Gethsemane (again supposedly); Dominus Flevit (another nearby garden which could well have been the site of Gethsemane); the Jewish Quarter again; Temple Mount (which was certainly a highlight!); Christchurch coffee shop and their beautiful walled garden; Yemin Mosche garden; Sucott Hallel (a Christian 24-7 prayer house with views over Jerusalem); Montefiore Windmill. Lots of walking that day!

Then the next day we left Jerusalem for the day and visited Bethlehem. We saw Manger Square; the Church of the Nativity; a wonderful olive wood factory and shop with great panoramic rooftop views; Connect cafe; and Manhane Yehuda Jewish market. The following day we visited St George’s Cathedral (in which we found kneelers that had been embroidered by many different churches across the UK including churches we knew!); the Garden Tomb which was absolutely stunning and a very peaceful place; St Anne’s church (where supposedly Mary the mother of Jesus was born, and her mum ‘Anne’ lived…!); and the pools of Bethesda (amazing!). After this we could rest, having seen all the sights that we had planned to see and that our friend had recommended. 

Our final two days were wonderfully restful (except for being five minutes away from where the 23 year old British woman was stabbed, and hearing all the sirens for an hour! That was quite a shock. Prayers for her family and friends…). We sat in cafes and gardens, went for walks, and went to a Good Friday church service. We went for a walk through a forest in a valley near where our friend lives, where we came across gazelles, many hyrax, a tortoise (!), many butterflies and a Finnish lady! (During the week we had also met Korean Kazakh ladies, reminding us of people we stayed with a year ago, and also an American girl from the same village as our friends whose wedding we attended in Chicago just before Christmas! Small world.)
On Easter Sunday (yesterday) we attended a beautiful service in the Garden Tomb (about 1000 people there, of many different nationalities again), and then a bring-and-share lunch at our friend’s church. We wandered around the Old City for our final few hours (and discovered a beautiful little art gallery called Levantine Gallery – do look them up on FB and visit the gallery if ever you’re in the area!), and then flew home overnight. We’re just returning to Gloucester now by train, hoping our car will be fixed and ready to drive again tomorrow….

It was a really lovely week away, and we met some inspiring people. The highlight was of course seeing our friend there, but it was fab seeing the sights too and simply being in such an amazing, historic place, so full of character and life. It was great to get away for a week too – a little distance helps give new perspective for life and work and home situations, and we returned to England inspired and very refreshed. There are many more things I want to say about Jerusalem but cannot – some things came as a shock to us, but it would not be appropriate to write about them here. 

Now, back to home and work and ‘normal life’! 

This Friday is the launch night for my art exhibition in Cinderford, FOD, and so I’m very much looking forward to that. We’re also looking forward to an upcoming church weekend away next month, which should be very pleasant. Not much else to report… Happy Easter all!

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