I didn't know what to expect as our tour bus headed up the road towards Jerusalem. I had read in my history lessons that Jerusalem was the primary pilgrimage place for Muslims, Jews, and Christians and that throughout the centuries people had a hard time (to put it lightly) getting along. Reading about people and places in a book is one thing, experiencing them first hand is something else! For one thing, I was not prepared for the sights, smells, and sounds of this Holy City.
Jerusalem is a walkable city with cobblestone paths that meander too and fro without rhyme or reason. You could be walking along a street and then all of a sudden find yourself lost in a labyrinth of twists and turns. I made sure to stay within eyesight and earshot of my fellow pilgrims as we walked along the Via Dolorosa (Way of Sorrows) and in and out of the many Churches. There are people everywhere from everywhere, Japan, Nigeria, Australia, United States, France, Russia, all sizes, shapes, colors, and creeds. I did not expect such a vast diversity of people in such a small area. The walled Old City of Jerusalem is one square mile by one square mile which is not that large when you consider the local population plus tourists and traffic.
Strange sounds wafted through the air, some English, Arabic and Hebrew of course, then the occasional Spanish word or two. I was reminded of the great feast of Pentecost as the Holy Spirit descended on the apostles, they later began preaching in various tongues and languages. This combined with cars honking, ringing Church bells, and the merchants in the Old City yelling "good price, sale, sale, come in come in please" would give anyone a headache.
Strange smells too. For one, lots of roasted lamb, and the occasional pilgrims doused with too much cologne or in some cases not enough! The delightful smell of fresh baked bread and good wine and since we were there in May, the smell of Spring flowers in full bloom.
Ironically not much has changed. Archaeologists and Biblical scholars tell us that the Passover feast that Jesus and his disciples celebrated would have included many of the sights, smells, and sounds that we encountered too. Jews would have been running here and there buying the needed provisions for their Passover feast of roasted lamb and flour, herbs, and wine for their meal. Pilgrims from the upper Galilee from as far away as Syria needed a place to spend the week, and their beasts of burden; horses, camels, and donkeys needed food, water, and shelter too. Passover was certainly not a peaceful and calm time, it was crazy.
This is the Jerusalem that Jesus knew. It was here, in the heart of Judaism, the place of the Temple, the Sanhedrin, the Pharisees and Sadducee's where Jesus ended his earthly ministry. But it would be from Jerusalem too on that first Easter Sunday where the disciples first proclaimed the gospel that He is Risen!