Tuesday, May 19, 2015


At the beginning of the last week of his life, Jesus returned to Jerusalem in what is known as "The Triumphal Entry," a day that is now celebrated throughout much of the Christian world as Palm Sunday. The event is one of the rare stories actually recorded in each of the four Gospels.

When I was growing up, the painting below was the image I had of this event: Christ riding on a little white donkey, men and children waving palm fronds, women reverently placing their cloaks on the ground in front of the procession:
Christ's Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem by Harry Anderson (a devout Seventh-day Adventist painter who
was commissioned by the LDS Church in the 1960s to paint this and at least two dozen more paintings
of Christ, many of which hang in just about every chapel and temple owned by the LDS church)
When we were in Egypt later on in our trip, on several occasions we saw boys riding around on donkeys, and what struck me was 1) how feisty the donkeys were, and 2) how bouncy the ride was. Riding a donkey is not like riding a horse. 
Egyptian boy on a donkey
The traditional telling of the nativity says that Mary rode a donkey into Bethlehem, although that is not scriptural. (However, my husband says it is in the Protoevangelium of James.) If it is true, it could not have been a comfortable ride. And yet, there is something symbolically symmetrical and touchingly ironic about a pregnant Mary entering Bethlehem on a donkey just before she gave birth, and Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey just a few days before his crucifixion. 

In any case, it is thought that Jesus and his entourage traveled from the home of his friends Mary, Martha, and Lazarus in Bethany, up the Kidron Valley, and to Jerusalem. John (11:18) says, "Now Bethany was nigh unto Jerusalem, about fifteen furloughs off," which would be a little less than two miles, a walk of less than an hour. Jesus entered the city through the Golden Gate, which at the time would have been the main entrance to the Temple area (Matthew 21). The original gate was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD and later rebuilt. The new Golden Gate, seen below, was walled up by conquering Ottoman Turks in 1530 AD.
Picture taken from the Mount of Olives
Muslims, who call this gate the Mercy Gate, also consider it to be a holy place. According to the Koran, on the Day of Judgment the just will pass through this gate. So why was it walled up? Well, the Jews believe that the Messiah will enter Jerusalem from the east--and this gate faces east. Ottoman Arabs decided to prevent any possibility of that happening. Not only did they wall it up, but they put a cemetery right in front of it to further discourage the Jewish Messiah from entering here.

Arabs presently consider this gate to be theirs and only theirs, but the prophesy is that when the Messiah returns, he will walk from the Mount of Olives and through the Eastern (Golden) Gate. For all its apparent peacefulness in the photo below, this is still one of the polarizing areas of the city:
There is some disagreement as to which events fells specifically on which days, but the basic chronology of what has become known as "Passion Week" is this:

At the end of that day that had started with the Triumphal Entry, Jesus returned to Bethany, most likely to spend the night with his friends. The next day (our Monday) he returned to Jerusalem, cursing the poor fig tree (Mark 11) and weeping over the city on his way (Luke 19), and then cleansing the temple for a second time (John 2) before returning to Bethany.

The next day (Tuesday on our calendar), as Jesus made his way once again to Jerusalem, he came upon the withered fig tree and taught about faith and forgiveness (Mark 11), He went to the temple and was aggressively challenged by the Pharisees, scribes, and Sadducees (Mark 11 and 12), who wanted to find justification for arresting him. He responded with conciliatory words like these:
"Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleaness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto me, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity" (Matthew 23: 27-28).  
In stark contrast, he tenderly pointed out the widow giving her mite--all that she had--as an offering to God (Mark 12). From there, Jesus and his disciples crossed the Kidron Valley to the Mount of Olives, where he delivered what has come to be known as the Olivet Discourse, a prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem. At the end of this very long day, he most likely returned to Bethany.

And he stayed there for almost two days. On what would be Wednesday on our calendar, we have no record of any activity. I am moved by the thought that Jesus's last "regular" day was spent in the company of his friends and closest disciples, We can only speculate what happened during that day, but Jesus must have been resting, drawing strength from those who loved him.

On Thursday, the final events were set in motion when Jesus instructed Peter and John to go ahead of him to Jerusalem to secure and prepare a room for a Passover feast (Mark 14).  The Gospel accounts provide almost no information about the location of the site of this Last Supper, other than it was in an "upper room."

On our way to the location that has been determined to be a possible candidate of the Last Supper, we passed this beautiful building, the Dormition Abbey, also known as the Abbey of Hagia Sophia Sion, built in the early 5th century.
So many beautiful, ancient sites. I wish we would have had time to go in all of them.

The Last Supper church is located directly above what since the 12th century has been thought by some to be the tomb of David (but most likely is not):
King David plays his harp near his tomb
Beneath the floor of this present building are Byzantine and Roman pavements that date at least as far back as the 2nd century. It is thought than an active Christian church existed on this site in 130 AD, which would make the site a good (but not infallible) candidate for where the original building with the Upper Room once stood. It could also be the site of Pentecost, which also happened in an "upper room" (Acts 1:13).

This room was filled with more tourists than almost any other place we visited in Jerusalem (except Church of the Holy Sepulchre), and it was hard to stretch the imagination enough to picture Jesus and his Twelve Apostles seated and eating around a low table, or to envision Jesus washing the feet of the men who had walked and taught with him. 
As every tourist probably wishes, I would have liked to be here with just a few people, maybe at dusk when light was still filtering through the windows. THEN I could have imagined the sacred events that may (or may not) have occurred in this air space.
In addition to what few details are given in the scriptures, my mental images come mostly from art, beginning with the most classic of Last Supper depictions, DaVinci's, which we saw in Italy in 2002:
It doesn't look much like the Upper Room we visited in Jerusalem.

One of my favorite paintings of the Last Supper is this one (which we saw hanging in a church in Cusco, Peru), in which the meat on the table is cuy, or guinea pig:
Another favorite is this silver one in the Central Cathedral in Oslo. It was created in 1930 by Italian artist Arrigo Minerbi: 
 The depth of character for each person is astounding. Each figure has a very distinct personality:
 I do love the practice of tucking notes (prayers of some sort, I assume) into crooks and crannies:
Christ (on the right, above) looks young, unblemished, and serene.

The Last Supper is one of the most popular subjects for Christian painting, and we've seen a lot of representations. Here are a few more favorites from our travels:
Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, Charleston, South Carolina

St. Mary's Church, Lubeck, Germany

The Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Zagreb, Croatia

My favorite of all is this beautiful wood carving that my son brought home from his LDS mission in Poland. (Note Judas sneaking out behind the others on the right.)

No, this Upper Room didn't give me the same warm feelings all this art does. Perhaps part of the problem is that for a while the Upper Room was a mosque. In the picture on the left, note the mihrab, or niche that indicates to Muslims what direction they should face to pray, and the Arabic writing on the blue square by the door. The stained glass windows, beautiful as they were, did not evoke any spiritual feelings. Perhaps if I could read the Arabic writing it would help. It includes verses from the Koran extolling the virtues of King David.

One thing I did like, however, was this group of singers. Everywhere we went in Israel, groups of Christians were singing worship hymns. The scriptures say that Jesus and his apostles sang a hymn together before they departed for the Mount of Olives (Mark 14:26), and so it seems especially appropriate to have some singing in this upper room. In my church, this song is entitled "Israel, Israel God is Calling," an appropriate choice. I wonder what their words were?
Before Jesus and the apostles sang a hymn, however, Jesus washed the feet of his apostles (still twelve of them at that time, according to John). Our lecturer Michael Wilcox pointed out that service and sacrifice are how we show love. There is no service so demeaning that the greatest shouldn't do it. Did Jesus wash Judas's feet? He must have. Then John tells us that Jesus was "troubled" (John 13:21). No wonder. He sent Judas on his way, he warned Peter he would deny him three times, he knew the others would leave, and he knew what suffering lay ahead. Michael reminded us that in spite of all this, it was Jesus who comforted the others, who said "Let not your heart be troubled," who offered the peace of the Comforter. The lesson, said Michael, is about what to do when you have a troubled heart: Reach out and serve or comfort others. Look outward, not inward. On the cross, Jesus worried about his mother, then the thieves, then those who crucified him ("Father, forgive them").  He looked outward.
After we'd had our fill of the Upper Room that wasn't actually the Upper Room, we started on the same walk Jesus took after that Passover meal was over. Surely the weight of what was to come had already begun to settle on him as he and his eleven disciples crossed the Kidron Valley and made their way to the Garden of Gethsemane.


  1. I think of all the places we visited in Jerusalem, the Last Supper room was my least favorite. It was crowded, it had no ambiance, no ornamentation that really signified anything about the Last Supper, it was very bare and mostly unadorned.

  2. Yep the room was a disappointment. I suppose it was an ordinary room when it was used for the Last Supper, but it just felt like any other room. On the other hand, the Polish last supper depiction is fabulous! I'm booking a trip to Poland to find one for myself!!

  3. My favorite part of this post is all the different depictions of the Last Supper that you include--including the one from Poland. I have one from Peru that I love, and set it out during Easter week. I'll bet they were singing "What a Friend We Have in Jesus," which is the same tune as "Israel, Israel."