Today is our last day here in Israel-Palestine. We are awake early and finish our packing before going down to breakfast. Our flight home is not until 7.20 p.m this evening, although we have to be at the airport by 4.30 p.m. The big at taxi is coming to pick us up at 3.00 p.m. so we plan to make best use of our remaining time here. We can leave our cases in a secure room until the taxi comes for us, which leaves us free to do what we want for a few hours.
We are planning to visit the Garden Tomb which is only a short walk from our hotel. It is an alternative to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre as a possible site for the crucifixion and burial of Jesus. Julia and I have been before – eight years ago when we were last in Jerusalem. We love this place. Whether or not it is the actual site of the death and resurrection of Jesus, we cannot say. But then, neither can we be sure that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is the genuine site either. The Garden Tomb has a lot to commend it. It is a next to rocky mound that really looks like ‘the place of the skull’ (John 19:17) which we know was used as a place of execution long before even the Romans arrived in Palestine. The garden itself would appear to have once been some kind of vineyard, and seemingly once belonged to a rich man who had a tomb built for himself within the garden. The whole place has such a wonderful atmosphere, and conveys a very real sense of the events of that first Easter, which is a direct contrast to the abject awfulness of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
We walk to the Garden Tomb in blazing hot sunshine and discover that there are lots and lots of people there already. In addition to the various tours that have booked in for today the Garden Tomb is having an open day so that anybody can pop in whenever they feel like it. Apparently a lot of Jewish people come in on these occasions, and it is the same today. We are made very welcome, and we have a very good guide who takes us around and explains things to us. He takes over to the far corner of this compact, but beautifully laid out, site where we have an excellent view of ‘skull hill’ as he calls it. It is right next door to the Garden Tomb site, at the back of the bus station, and it really does look like a skull. Our guide explains that where the bus station now is, the main road used to pass by, and that Jesus would not have been crucified at the top of ‘skull hill’ but at the bottom where passers by would have clearly seen how Rome punished criminals. From ‘skull hill’ we are taken to the site of the empty tomb. Our guide tells us again the familiar story of that first easter morning … and then we all go in and see for ourselves that the tomb is indeed empty! As the sign on the door reminds us, ‘He is not here for he is risen!’
We then take ourselves off as a group to a quiet corner of the site and share Communion together. Phil leads us in a very thoughtful and helpful way, and it is a wonderful way to conclude our sabbatical time together. After Communion we spend some time simply walking reflectively and prayerfully round this beautiful site. We go into the Garden Tomb shop to buy last minute presents if we need to. We don’t need to … but then we see a beautiful olive wood flask of anointing oil that would be great for the Prayer Team to use at Dorchester Baptist Church when we pray for the sick … It would be better than the WD40 we normally use?! I jest of course! We take the flask to the pay desk .. and on the way we pass a stand with lots of beautiful handwoven bags on it … and of course Julia just has to have one! In fairness it is really nice and looks great with her ‘outfit of the day’.
After everyone has finished in the shop we go our various ways. Most of the group go to the American Colony Hotel for coffee, but Julia and I head back to the old city. We walk round the walls to the Jaffa Gate. We are heading for Christchurch where, we are told, we can get a really good cup of coffee, at a reasonable price, in a nice setting. We went to the American Colony Hotel yesterday so we don’t want to go again today. We want to use the little time we have remaining to see some of the things we have not seen. We find Christchurch … and the Orthodox Synagogue in the Jewish Quarter … and the Cardo, an ancient Roman street. I am stopped twice by people who ask me directions. They think I am Jewish … it is the sun tan and the nose that does it, I guess. The first person who stops me asks me for directions in Hebrew. Since my knowledge of Hebrew only runs to ‘Amen’ I am unable to help her. The second person is an American tourist who asks me if I speak English? I tell him that I do. He is impressed how good my English is for a Jewish person. He becomes even more convinced that I am Jewish when I tell him that I can’t really explain the directions to the Western Wall, although I obviously know where it is, but I will ask my wife and she will explain how to get there to him!
After a lovely walk through the Souk back to our hotel, we eat our picnic lunch, retrieve our luggage, and board the big taxi. The driver gets us to the airport in record time, even though we don’t really have to be there until 4.30 p.m. We drive along by ‘the wall’ and note that on the Jewish side is has been rather nicely faced with variated brick? But whatever it looks like on her outside it is still a wall that divides these two communities that both have a claim to the land.
We have along wait at the airport, firstly to have our baggage checked, and then to check in. Our plane has been delayed on it inbound flight so we will be running some 20 minutes late. We are flying by easyJet again and we don’t have ‘speedy boarding’ again, and when we eventually get to the boarding gate we are right at the back of the queue. But there is no need to worry … Chris and Margaret have ‘speedy boarding’ and they ‘reserve’ two seats for us when they get on board the plane. We have a pleasant flight, largely spent watching a soppy movie I have downloaded … Snow White … just the thing for a five hour flight! We gain an hour on the way back to the UK because we are changing time zones … we gain another hour because the clocks go back tonight. If we had been any nearer to the UK we may well have arrived back before we started?!