I hope that isn’t a blasphemous title, But to listen to the music our driver played as we ascended the mountain up route 1, that’s exactly what it was. This is the route Jesus and all the other pilgrims from the north would have taken, at least three times a year to celebrate Passover, the Feast of the Tabernacle, and some other festival at roughly the same time as Pentecost.
I was stunned at how high the mountain was. I can’t even imagine making that trip on foot, with children and animals. It was obviously hard for the bus to make it up the hill, let alone the walking caravan. Not only that, but it had to have taken weeks to get from someplace like Nazareth to Jerusalem. And three times a year?! Amazing! Brings a whole new perspective to stories like Jesus’ staying behind in the temple to chat with the Pharisees at age 12 (see Luke 2). He would have had plenty of opportunities to do so; did I mention that they did this trip 3 times a year?! I don’t know about you, but my mom would be pretty hopping mad if she noticed at the end of the day (after descending the 5,000 ft mountain) that she had to climb back up over the next two days to find me.
But back to the triumphal entry of the green bus… The driver puts on the “O Jerusalem” song in not one but two versions, and cranks the volume way up. So my ears are bleeding while I watched the terrain get increasingly hilly, waiting with eager anticipation for us to come up over some hill and see a solid gold city nestled in the valley below us.
Instead, it took so long to get there from the moment they started playing the music that to say it was anti-climactic would be a gross understatement. By the time we did start to see signs that we were getting close to the city (you know, buildings instead of rocks), my attention had shifted completely from seeing the city to plotting the death of the bus’s sound system. But eventually, we were surrounded by city, sprawling out over rolling hills and rocky cliffs, on mountain tops and in valleys. The city struck me as absolutely massive, though not nearly as dense as I thought it’d be. There were way more 1-3 story buildings than I anticipated. I guess I was expecting densely packed skyscrapers nestled in a valley. Not so at all. In fact there wasn’t much glass and steal. More stucco and rock and brick. And every roof had the requisite solar heating cells and tank on it.
Between the blasts of “Hallelujah! Jerusalem!”, our guide did explain that getting jiggy on the road to Jerusalem was not a 21st century concept. Even in ancient times, pilgrims would sing songs of ascent as they made their way up the mountain. These are basically Psalms 120-134. Although I can’t imagine the Jews singing “Blessed is everyone who fears the Lord” or “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord” in quite the same way we heard it this afternoon.
Another Psalm that came to mind during the ascent is Psalm 48:
Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised in the city of our God!
His holy mountain, beautiful in elevation is the joy of all the earth,
Mount Zion, in the far north, the city of the Great King.
Within her citadels God has made Himself known as a fortress.
These mountains give a whole new meaning to this psalm. This city and its temple were so amazing in ancient times. It’s actually still pretty sweet, but nothing like it was in the first temple period in terms of being marvelous to behold by the eyes of the day. And the God who dwelled for a time in the temple is more amazing still, preserving this city and this people for Himself. It was breathtaking more to be in this place that God has called special than it was to behold some aesthetic beauty of the city itself.
Once the music died down, we reported to the hotel, ate dinner (the OIL!), and settled in for the night. This hotel – the Ramada Renaissance – will be home base for us for the rest of our trip.