Another 08.00am start for a trip to the village of Bethany and a visit to the Church of the Tomb of Lazarus. The story of the raising of Lazarus (John’s Gospel chapter 11) is one of the most moving in the Gospels. Verse 11 is the shortest verse in the Bible and consists of just two words: ‘Jesus wept.’ (It is, incidentally, also a difficult passage to preach on because there are so many strands raised by it! You can’t take it superficially.) We had the opportunity to go intothe traditional site of the tomb, but because the space is so restricted we had to go in no more than six at a time.
Once we completed our visit there it was back on the coach for our visit to the Jeel al-Amal Boys home in Bethany <http://tinyurl.com/p6qz2c7>. This was founded in 1972 by a remarkable couple Alice and Basil Sahhar. Although the boarding part is restricted to boys the school is co-educational and although the Sahhar family are Christian Palestinians most of the staff and all the children are Muslim. Alice and Basil are now both dead, but the work is carried on by their family. It was a visit both encouraging and moving. The children are clearly very happy there, though they have very little by our standards. They clustered round us, eager to talk and practice their English. Some of us were able to sit in on a singing lesson and the choir sang for us.
The boys’ dormitory rooms each had about six beds, and in the ones I saw each duvet cover featured Spiderman! Through the whole school the ethos was “You are all special” – a slogan that was painted on the wall in the reception area, accompanied, somewhat incongruously perhaps, by a large cartoon Garfield.
Visit over it was back to the coach and a return to Jerusalem Old City, which we entered by the Lion Gate and on to the Pool of Bethesda. Saeed, our guide, told us that for many years scholars had discounted the story of Jesus’ healing on the Sabbath here because John’s account (chapter 5) mentions that the pool had five porches, and there was no place that could be thus identified. Until, that is, an archaeological investigation had uncovered a complex which included a Pool, and a colonnade of five arches together with a vast cistern for the collection of water for the city. This is one of the places where we could definitely say Jesus had been – not at all ‘traditional’!
Lunch today was at the Ecce Homo Convent, built above the Lithostratos a first century pavement close to the Antonia Fortress, the headquarters of the Roman army in Jesus’ time. Here Bishop Stephen celebrated the Eucharist in the chapel, and we prepared for our afternoon programme – to walk the Via Dolorosa