Archive for March, 2006

My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius…

30 March 2006
OK, so I couldn’t resist that one, but standing in the Coliseum this afternoon almost left me speechless. The stadium is literally colossal. The tour guide said that it held 70,000 people. That is the equivalent of Arrowhead Stadium – except that they built it 1900 years ago. It felt like being at Arrowhead except it was all made of stone instead of concrete.

The emotions it evoked are hard to describe. It was a mix of awe and horror. As a feat of engineering, it is absolutely amazing. But when you think of what happened inside its walls, it was profoundly sad. Death as entertainment is almost unthinkable to the 21st century North American mind. And yet for almost 500 years it was the norm in Rome and in some parts of the world the practice (at least animal killing) has survived to this day. The whole experience was a little overwhelming.


Vatican and St. Peter’s Basilica

30 March 2006
We started our day in the heart of the former empire by touring the Vatican Museum, the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica. The odd part of the tour was that you were more aware of the creations of some of the world’s most famous artists (Michelangelo, Rafael and Bernini) than you were of being at the center of Christianity for most of the past two millennia – Jenni, you would have loved it. The paintings on the ceiling of the Sistine were amazing. As usual, I wish we had had more time to just sit and soak it in. Our pace today was pretty brisk and I felt rushed most of the time.

I’m usually not that impressed with churches, but I have to admit that standing in the largest church in the world was impressive. The Basilica of St. Peter is two football fields long inside and you just feel dwarfed by the size of the whole thing. The Greek and Latin writing that runs around the top of the walls near the ceiling has to be three or four feet high because it looks large from the ground and has to be 30 feet off the floor.

Michelangelo’s sculpture of Jesus and Mary was incredible to see. If I understood our tour guide correctly, it is carved out of one piece of marble – not an easy feat. It was worth seeing for its artistic value, but I can’t say that it moved me on a deep level. I suppose I don’t have the eye for art that others do. Maybe if I’d spent more time there it would have sunk in a little more. I’ll stay longer next time.


28 March 2006
From Galilee in the north to the Dead Sea in the south, Herod the Great has his fingerprint all over Israel and the fortress at Masada is no exception. How in the world they were able to build such an extensive military outpost on top of such an isolated hill is beyond me. Herod himself had a three-level palace built complete with bath houses and places to entertain guests. The rooms were covered in marble in some cases and mosaics in others.

The fortress is most famous for the battle fought there between the Jews and Romans in the second century. After the Romans had crushed the majority of the Jewish rebellion that started in Galilee, they were left to fight the last band of rebels who had holed up at Masada. After an extended siege, the Romans finally breached the gates one night. They decided to wait until morning to enter the fortress and take the Jews as slaves. During the night, the Jews decided that rather than live as slaves they would die as free men.

So they killed everyone in the fortress except ten men. The remaining men drew lots and the one who drew the shortest had to kill the rest of the men and then commit suicide (a terrible sin in Judaism). When the Romans arrived the next morning the fortress was silent. They did find two old women and a baby. The women supposedly told the story to Josephus and he included it in one of his histories.

When Israel became a nation again in 1948, the military started a new tradition. After their six months of basic training (and we wonder why their military is so good) each soldier climbs the snake path (about an hour climb) as the sun rises and when the get to the top they promise to never let Masada fall again. It is an incredible story about the human desire to be free.

Holocaust Museum

28 March 2006
We spent an hour at the Holocaust Museum this morning. I’ve never cried at a museum before, but I got misty-eyed a couple of times at this one. The museum is both beautiful in its construction and haunting in its content. “Crime Against Humanity” just doesn’t quite do justice to what happened to the Jewish people. At times I found myself angry at the people who perpetrated the crimes and at others I felt both sad for the victims and ashamed that the rest of the world, including many Christians, waited so long to do anything. The time there felt very heavy and disturbing. At the same time, I highly recommend the experience to anyone.

Wailing Wall

27 March 2006
This afternoon we ended our tour of the old city at the Western or Wailing Wall. A Jewish historian explained to us that the wall itself is actually not part of the temple, but part of the wall surrounding the temple and the surrounding courtyards. It is, however, the closest point to the holy of holies that the Jews have access to and so they go there to pray.

As I stood watching the orthodox Jews pray I had a different reaction than I did my first morning in the city. Rather than wanting the Muslims to be thrown out so that the Jews could have their temple area back, I found myself thinking of John chapter 4. It is the passage where Jesus tells the woman at the well that the location at which one worships God is irrelevant since God Himself is not a localized being. He is spirit and must be worshipped in spirit and truth. Although it was neat to be able to pray at such an historical site, I found my self very thankful that God hears my prayers and accepts my worship in Kansas just as much as He does here in Jerusalem.

Garden Tomb

27 March 2006
For the second time on the trip I got choked up this morning. We started the day at one of the two proposed sites of Jesus’ burial – the one known as the Garden Tomb. Our guide through the site was right proper English gentleman who made a really good case for this being the likely site. Whether it is or not, it certainly looks more like what the original site must have been like (translation – there isn’t a church built on top of it).

At one point during his presentation he said, with tongue in cheek, that we had come all the way from Kansas for nothing. He quickly assured us that what he meant was that the tomb we were going to see was empty. It was at that point that I stared to get misty-eyed. To be in a garden with a tomb in it at least somewhere near the actual site and to be reminded that Jesus had not only been buried but raised from the dead was moving. There is no body. He is risen from the dead. He has no equal in all of history. And because He is risen we have hope for new life now and eternal life after death. Being there was amazing.

Via Dolorosa

27 March 2006
Walking the route that Jesus likely walked from his beating to the place of His crucifixion and supposed burial at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher was a good experience. But like about half of the experiences on the trip so far, it went by too fast and there wasn’t enough time to stop and appreciate each of the stations of the cross. Part of that had to do with the fact that for the locals, life has to go on. So the streets are packed with merchants and shoppers alike. Occasionally, a taxi rumbles down streets that are barely wide enough for it to squeeze through. The noise and busyness make reflection difficult at best.

That said, walking the route was cool and I’m glad I had the opportunity to do it. I’m also very glad that my mother was able to walk it with me. It is long and uphill most of the way, but she hung in like a trooper and did great. I was really excited for her. I know it is something she will remember.