Archive for March, 2020

Tuesday, March 31, 2013

John 20:1-10

open-tomb[1]And he saw and believed . . .

As we continue our journey through a pandemic, we visit Easter Week post reflections from 2013. God guides and protects. Christs visits and heals. The Spirit comforts and abides.  

The details that appear so simply in John’s accounting of the open tomb call us into the scene.  We are invited to notice small, tangible points that tell the story so well that none have since forgotten it.

Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark . . . She must have fretted most of the night, unable to sleep, anxious to return to the place where his body was laid.  We follow her down into the abandoned quarry that now serves as a cemetery and we see that the open tomb, the heavy stone moved, no soldiers and no body.  Even in the darkness Mary knows that Jesus has gone.  She senses, more than sees, that he has gone. But where?

So Peter and the other disciple both ran, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter, and arrived at the tomb first . . . Being younger than Peter, John arrives first on the scene once the women alert them.  A thousand possible scenarios surge through his brain. He tries to process them but he lets those thoughts go unprocessed. His only thought is to stand in that tomb to see for himself.  Yet he holds back, waiting for the panting Peter who goes into the tomb without pausing.  As the light curls across the morning sky Peter and John squint into the darkness, sensing, more than seeing, that Jesus is not there.  But if not here, then where?

Grave Clothes[1]They saw the burial cloths there, and the cloth that had covered Jesus’ head, not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place . . . This peculiarity does not escape them and they try to make sense of what they see. They quickly speculate a number of reasons for this small detail but they do not want to be drawn away from the bigger question: where has Jesus gone?  They sense, more than know, that his message at the Thursday evening supper might just make sense.  Is this what Jesus meant when he said those confusing words?  If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be.  Where does Jesus intend to take them?  Where are they to meet him so that they might go together?

Then the disciple who had arrived at the tomb first, saw and believed . . . They search one another’s faces then shift their gaze back to the cloths.  The winding-sheet folded carefully as if by an attendant, the face cloth neatly rolled nearby.  An image of the Christ pausing to lay the rolled cloth aside before he leaves the tomb begins to take shape in the disciple’s mind; slowly a knowing begins to form and John allows himself to smile as his eyes move from face to face, then back to the cloths.  Abruptly the first rays of morning light filter into the empty tomb and the apostle is seized by a mixture of joy and fear.

They did not yet understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead . . . They know not what is to come.  They know not where they will go.  They do not know how or when Jesus will return but a truth beings to form within just as the early dawn brings light into the empty quarry cave.  Jesus has not died.  Jesus lives.  Jesus has not abandoned them.  Jesus will return.

And in that flash of a moment they see and they believe.

Let us rise up with Easter joy as we examine the story before us.  Let us run to tell what we now know.  Let us say to anyone who will listen that we too, have seen.  And that we too, believe.

For an interesting reflection on the possible significance of the folded cloths, click on the image of the burial cloth above or visit: http://marcohara.blogspot.com/2013/03/the-linen-burial-cloth-of-jesus.html

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Van der Weyden: Descent from the Cross

Van der Weyden: Descent from the Cross

Monday, March 30, 2013

John 19:38-42: Sepulcher

Today we reflect on our world, its intercultural connections, and the stress that a pandemic can bring to us. In this re-post from Holy Saturday 2013, we have an opportunity to rest in Christ as he moves from the cross to the tomb. We have the opportunity to allow God to enter the holy space of our being.

Joseph of Arimathea, secretly a disciple of Jesus for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate if he could remove the body of Jesus. And Pilate permitted it.  So he came and took his bodyNicodemus, the one who had first come to him at night, also came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes weighing about one hundred pounds.  They took the body of Jesus and bound it with burial cloths along with spices, according to the Jewish burial custom.  Now in the place where he had been crucified there was a garden, and in the garden there was a tomb, in which no one had yet been buried.  So they laid Jesus there because of the Jewish preparation day; for the tomb was close by. (John 19:38-42)

Our lives are fast-moving, quick marching toward an invisible completion; and in the busyness of our days and nights we forget that the tomb is always close at hand.

Our calendars are full of commitments or appointments, comings or goings, chores and tasks; and in our hurriedness we put aside the gentle reminders that the tomb is always nearby.

Our work life, our play life, and our prayer life call us constantly to disparate messages that inevitably weave into one another; and in the complexity of our days and nights we muddle the message that the tomb is always a short step away.

Our lives are but a quick-spiraling wisp in God’s time and space; yet we are eternal and ever-present in the promise of Christ’s risen, mystical body.  Our conflicts and breaches are all healed with Christ’s descent into death and his rebirth into life; each of us will traverse this same road with Christ by our side.

Our modern world shuns death and eulogizes longevity, doubting the miracle offered to us by Jesus’ willingness to take us with him on his resurrection journey as his sisters and brothers. Rather than reject the nearness of the sepulcher, let us welcome the presence of the tomb that is always close at hand. Let us allow our Good Friday sorrow to rise with Christ in Easter joy. Let us celebrate the presence of the sepulcher, the only road to eternal life. And let us always remember that the tomb is at all times near at hand; the tomb is forever . . . quite close by.

To spend some time with the painting by Van de Weyden, click on the image above or go to: http://www.artbible.info/art/large/323.html or http://www.visual-arts-cork.com/famous-paintings/descent-from-the-cross-weyden.htm or http://music-and-art-45.hubpages.com/hub/Rogier-Van-Der-Weyden-Descent-From-The-Cross

This image is from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Descent_from_the_Cross_(van_der_Weyden)

Many of Christ’s faithful believe that the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in the Old City of Jerusalem is built over the places where Jesus was crucified and buried. As we open our hearts and minds to Christ’s presence, we lay ourselves in the tomb. We may want to visit sites that tells us interesting information about this church and these stories, go to: http://www.churchoftheholysepulchre.net/ and http://www.timesofisrael.com/the-church-that-never-sleeps/

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Fifth Sunday of Lent, March 29, 2020

John 13:30: And It Was Night

Modern Jerusalem at Night

Modern Jerusalem at Nightfall

We have believed a promise pledged in total honesty.  We have believed in the integrity and authenticity of a vow given freely and openly.  We have relied on a belief to such an extent that we have become completely open ourselves, fearless and yet completely vulnerable.

And then . . . it was night.

We have acted in full confidence of words we took as truth.  We have followed one who cured and healed and called us out of ourselves.  We have stood up, we have owned problems, we have held off naysayers, we have remained faithful through narrow gates.

And then . . . it was night.

We have followed the one who spoke truth.  We have forsworn easy living and have taken the road less travelled.  We have emptied ourselves, built bridges, entered into the work of the kingdom; we have stood at the foot of the cross.

And then . . . it was night.

img0486-2[1]All that we once held closely and shared openly as eternal truth appears to have vanished so easily and so quickly.  What did we miss?  How did we arrive at this darkness?

The black emptiness that grips the heart feels everlasting and we are frozen in this spot and time, waiting for the night to lift, hoping that the promise has not faded.  And yet each time we draw aside the curtain to catch a glimpse of the world as it is we see only the night.

Karl Heinrich Bloch: The Burial of Christ

Karl Heinrich Bloch: The Burial of Christ

Our bodies somehow function yet our thoughts freeze with incomprehension; we feel strangely locked in time as we follow the quiet, little procession to the waiting tomb where we will bury the last of our hopes.  How can something we thought so immense become so small?  Why can we so easily carry this body to its resting place?  Where is the shoulder that bears the heavy yoke?

How is it that this night can be so dark?

It is night yet tucked inside us we feel the fluttering of something that will not give up; some small memory of a healing touch and word persists.  The night feels heavy, intense and infinite and yet we know that there is the promise of the moon below the horizon.  We light candles and hang lanterns in imitation of the stars we know spangle the night sky that is veiled from our view by low-slung clouds.

This night is so intense.

jersalem wall at nightAnd yet as we scan the darkness again we feel the small fluttering of the promise take wing for a passing moment.  Perhaps the intensity of our waiting has opened some small door to the light.  Perhaps the words and touch given in pledge still hold their truth.  Perhaps the light beyond the lowering clouds will at last break through.  Perhaps . . . but for now we roll the stone across the entrance to the tomb and we wait in the darkness.  Perhaps . . . but for now . . . it is the night.

A re-post from March 29, 2013. 

To reflect with the poem Dark Night of the Soul by the 16th Century Spanish mystic St. John of the Cross, go to: http://josvg.home.xs4all.nl/cits/lm/stjohn01.html

Images from: http://www.imb.org/main/downloads/page.asp?StoryID=9460&LanguageID=1709 and http://www.khaces.com/jerusalen-de-noche/1143388 and https://fineartamerica.com/featured/burial-of-jesus-christ-carl-heinrich-bloch.html?product=shower-curtain and http://velvl.blogspot.com/

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Saturday, March 28, 2020

Psalm 55: An Intimate Companion

Fyodor Bronnikov: The Head of Judas

It was you, my other self, my comrade and friend, you whose company I enjoyed, at whose side I walked in procession in the house of God. 

Betrayal at the hands of an intimate friend.  Terror and violence within the city walls.

For they will not mend their ways; they have no fear of God.  They strike out at friends and go back on their promises.  Softer than butter is their speech, but war is in their hearts.  Smoother than oil are their words, but they are sheathed swords. 

Treachery, deceit, mischief and evil.  Oppression and fraud.  Death.

If only I had wings like a dove that I might fly away and rest. 

Rocked with grief, his heart pounding, the psalmist retreats, full of fear, shuddering and trembling into himself.

Far away I would flee; I would stay in the desert.

No one goes to the wasteland. Surely there will be no one to betray him there.

I would soon find shelter from the raging winds and storm.

The horrible events that encircle the psalmist will not follow him to the wilderness.  Perhaps there he will be able to collect himself into prayer.

At dusk, dawn and noon I will grieve and complain, and my prayer will be heard.

On this Holy Thursday we commemorate the Last Supper of the Lord, a meal in which he shares himself most closely with his most intimate friends.  And yet one of these has already made the decision to betray Jesus.

If my foe had viewed me with contempt, from that I could hide.  But it was you, my intimate friend, you, whose company I enjoyed, at whose side I walked in procession in the house of God. 

Jesus faces his foe head on, sharing a meal with him on the evening before his death, handing a morsel of bread, of himself, to this close companion (Matthew 26:20-25, Mark 14:17-21, Luke 22:21-23, John 13:21-30).  The evangelist John closes his accounting of the exchange with these four word: And it was night.  Betrayal at the hands of an intimate friend.  Terror and violence within the city walls.

Jesus withdraws to the gardens on Gethsemane in prayer.  Jesus hands himself over to the plans of his creator.

At dusk, dawn and noon I will grieve and complain, and my prayer will be heard.

It is likely that each of us will suffer an act of betrayal at the hands of an intimate friend.  Perhaps we have been the betrayer in a trusted relationship.  God does not promise that he will keep us from such deep deception but he comes to each of us in the person of Jesus to instruct us how we might act and how we might behave.  He remains with us in the person of the Holy Spirit to comfort us and to teach us wisdom.

If only I had wings like a dove that I might fly away and rest.  Far away I would flee; I would stay in the desert. I would soon find shelter from the raging winds and storm.  At dusk, dawn and noon I will grieve and complain, and my prayer will be heard.

And so we pray.

When trouble stalks us, let us retreat into the Lord.

When we suffer at the hands of an intimate friend, let us pray at dusk, at dawn and at noon.

When we believe that all is lost, let us remember that our prayer will be heard.


This week we have been looking at the story of Jerusalem to see what the events of the city’s life might tell us about our own. Today we spend time reflecting on the effects of betrayal and how we might recover from both internal and external division.

Image from: http://www.wikipaintings.org/en/fyodor-bronnikov/the-head-of-judas-1874

For other reflections on Betrayal, enter the word in the blog search box and choose a Noontime. 

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Friday, March 27, 2020

Isaiah 50:6: The Universal Message

He gave his back to those who beat him, his cheeks to those who plucked his beard.  Isaiah 50:6

Jerusalem: The Jaffa Gate

Jerusalem: The Jaffa Gate – For a panoramic view, click on the image and use the tools

What a strange movement this Christ and his followers have begun.  Jesus tells us that we must give so that we might receive, we must die so that we might live, and we must love everyone, even those who wish to see the end of us.  We have a startling newness mixed with an old fidelity. The ancient Shema calls God’s children to give themselves over totally to the God who created them.  The new Law of Love requires only one action of us: that every thought, word and deed come from God’s love alone.  The prophet Isaiah foresees great conflict but it leads to great joy.

Jerusalem has witnessed the arrival and departure of many who would be great.  She has sheltered the dispossessed and given over her citizens to determined raiders.  She has seen dreams rise and fall.  Her walls have held invading hordes at bay and her gates have fallen open too easily, succumbing to the enemy from within.  She has been the epicenter of the world and she has been a trash heap impossible to traverse on horseback.  There is nothing that she has not seen, no fear she has not felt in her belly, no hope she has not lifted to heaven.  And so we find, as we first thought a few days ago, that Jerusalem is a larger than life version of our own lives.  There is no sin she has not committed, no incident she has not tried to hide, no celebration she has not proudly shown to the world and still she persists, held closely as a sacred place by three great religions . . . and it is this universal Jerusalem that plays out the story of our lives, this Jerusalem that shows us – if we look – how we might find redemption beyond suffering.

Paging through this long story of Jerusalem can bring us closer to God; the city offers us herself when she holds up a mirror so that we might see our own defects and virtues, our vices and hopes.  She brings us a universal message of fall and rise – a message we do not want to miss in this most holy of weeks.

For a panoramic view of the Jaffa Gate, click on the image above or go to: http://www.samrohn.com/360-panorama/jaffa-gate-jerusalem/

For more on the ancient Hebrew prayer, type the word “Shema” into the blog search box and choose a reflection. 

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Thursday, March 26, 2020

John 13:21: Collapse from Within

Jesus was deeply troubled and testified, “Amen, amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me”.

Jesus and his apostles

Jesus and his apostles

Not all betrayals come from alien people or places.  Not all deception arrives from beyond.  Often, perhaps too often, betrayal springs from within, from the roots of denial we plant early in life, from a core of duplicity and infidelity that we consciously or subconsciously nourish.  We are quick to blame others for our downfalls, slow to admit responsibility for our actions.

The southern kingdom of Judah took in refugees from the north when the kingdom of Israel was overrun by infidels from the north.  They foolishly did not see their own fall that the prophet Micah predicted for them; they stayed their course of iniquity and kept to their corrupt ways believing that their vices were well-hidden.   Jerusalem’s walls expanded to take in the exiles; the city welcomed home those they judged as fallen yet even this apparent act of generosity did nothing to soften hard hearts or weaken stiff necks.  The people of Jerusalem ignore all the warning signs that she will become uninhabitable once their southern kingdom is taken.  Like us, Jerusalem is quick to criticize others for their misdeeds while we quickly ignore our own.

I am always stunned by the candor with which Jesus speaks about Judas’ impending disloyalty. (John 13, Matthew 26:14-25) He mentions no names but hands a morsel to Judas, plainly giving the apostle permission to follow his corrupt heart.  Jesus knows that this closest of companions has already turned against him.  Betrayal cuts deepest that cuts so close.   Disgruntled with the kingdom as he sees it, Judas is quick to blame Jesus for what appears to be a lack of willingness to take a stand . . . and slow to see the mystery of the kingdom in the person of Jesus.

Hezekiah's Jerusalem

Hezekiah’s Jerusalem

We have signs before us each day, telling us where to go and what to say and do; yet we – like the people of Judah – pride ourselves for not falling away from the rules as they believe the Israelites have done.

We are given warning signs regularly, recommending that we mend our ways, and soften our hearts and minds; yet we – like the people of Judah – believe our defenses and resources are formidable as the Israelites do.

We are given permission to hate or to love; we are treated with tenderness and care, and yet – like the apostle Judas – we choose the quick and comfortable route to temporary comfort . . . while we leave behind genuine and infinite happiness, while we too frequently betray the very love that would save and protect us.

Today as we reflect at noon, we might choose to spend time with the story of Jerusalem following the fall first of Israel in the north and then Judah in the south.  Or we might choose to spend time with John 13 to contemplate our own potential for collapse from within.

Images from: http://sortlab.blogspot.com/2011/04/tuesday-of-holy-week.html and https://thelonghaulwithisaiah.wordpress.com/tag/pekah/

To read another Holy Tuesday reflection, click on the image of Jesus and his apostles above or go to: http://sortlab.blogspot.com/2011/04/tuesday-of-holy-week.html

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Wednesday, March 25, 2020

John 12:1: Resting in Bethany

Six days before Passover Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 

Cornelis Engenbrechtsz: Christ in the House of Martha and Mary

Cornelis Engenbrechtsz: Christ in the House of Martha and Mary

We know that we must balance our lives with activity and reflection; Jesus teaches us this by his example and by his word. Too much work makes us anxious, resentful, and forgetting of God.  Too much reflection makes us indolent, uncaring, and forgetting of others. We must interweave our intent with our deeds and through Lazarus’s two sisters, Martha and Mary, Jesus shows us how we are to act and what we are to do.

He entered Jerusalem and went into the Temple area.  He looked around at everything and, since it was already late, went out to Bethany with the Twelve.  (Mark 11:11)

Jesus visits his friends before he goes up to Jerusalem – he knows what experience is about to unfold.  Jesus allows himself to be anointed – he knows that he will need special blessings to allow the coming days to teach humanity’s greatest lesson.  Jesus does not draw out his enemies – he knows that even he must adhere to God’s plan.

We have need of our rest in Bethany and so we must take it.  We must store up, revive, take stock, and recuperate from the work of the world.

We have need of balance and pacing and so we must execute it.  We must plan, reflect, pray, be still, and prepare for the next leg of our journey.

We have need of a circle of friends and so we must rest with them.  We must ask, we must listen, we must abide, and we must allow others to tend to us.

C_Werner_Bethany_525[1]We must rest and restore in Bethany for Christ awaits us there before he journeys to the cross.  Let us choose a chapter in Jerusalem’s story and abide awhile as we do with an old friend.  Let us relax and listen.  Let us revive and receive.  We have miles yet left in our journey . . . so let us rest awhile in Bethany in the arms of the one who loves us so well.

Images from: http://truthbook.com/index.cfm?linkID=1380 and http://www.awesomestories.com/assets/christ-in-the-house-of-martha-and-mary

For an essay that examines a Martha and Mary life, read Mary and Martha Revisited at:  http://caroleduff.wordpress.com/2013/03/18/mary-and-martha-revisited/

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Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Zechariah 9:9

Seeing the Summit as Plateau

Rejoice heartily, O daughter Zion, shout for joy, O daughter Jerusalem!  See, your king shall come to you; a just savior is he, meek, and riding on an ass, on a colt, the foal of an ass.

James Tissot: David Brings the Ark to Jerusalem

We reflect today on King David’s Jerusalem, examining our own lives for those times when all seemed right, when we felt our most competent, when challenges were met and breaches mended.  We look at a welcoming plateau in our lives when we reached what we thought was an ultimate summit.  We leaf through memories of warm relationships when decisions were reached easily and when we found a common bond with others who were anxious to fend off the common enemy.

In 2 Samuel 6 David enters Jerusalem bearing the Ark David, girt with a linen apron, came dancing before the Lord with abandon, as he all the Israelites were bringing up the ark of the Lord with shouts of joy and to the sound of the horn.  David’s success brings both elation and jealousy from others.  David’s entry into Jerusalem marks both beginning and an end

Today we recall Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem as a hero. People swarm after him hoping to catch a glimpse, perhaps hoping for a cure of some disease or heartbreak.  His followers, jostled by the crowd, either rejoice with pride or grumble with aggravation.  But as Jesus descends from the Mount of Olives, he, his disciples and the crowd all move forward inexorably into the city. They roll along powered by their enthusiasm and joy.  They have no idea that within the week some of them will have betrayed him.  Some of them will have jeered at him.  Some of them will have denied or condemned him.

Picture2When we exert great effort and take great risks to do as God asks, we celebrate as we reach what we perceive to be a pinnacle; but we must learn to collapse into the refuge of the plateau that God offers us rather than consider that we have reached the end of our journey.  Today we look at Jerusalem when David enters bearing the presence of the Lord and in that moment we see both happiness and envy – we know the stories of the events that follow.  Today we look at Jerusalem as Jesus enters in victory as the presence of God among us and in that moment we see deep happiness tinged with sorrow – for again we know the stories of the events that follow. Today if we look closely at our own entry into Jerusalem as a follower of Christ we see that we bear both our gifts and our pain to the Lord.  We have struggled to reach an impossible victory yet we know that there are untold stories yet to tell.

Pietro Lorenzetti: Jesus Enters Jerusalem and the Crowds Welcome Him

We know that this mountaintop is not an end experience but a high point in our journey home.  We need not see this gain as a loss for we are Easter people who live in Christ who tells us that the wonder and miracle of the Easter story that is about to unfold is true.  We know that each time we discover that a new conquest has been followed by a new defeat . . . we also discover that God is with us to carry us home.

When we find that our mountain victory is simply a plateau on which to rest we must rejoice . . . for we know that God is with us.

Spend some time today with King David’s Jerusalem as you make connections to your own Jerusalem experience.

Tissot image from: http://www.jesuswalk.com/david/08_david_ark.htm 

Lorenzetti image from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triumphal_entry_into_Jerusalem 

King David’s Jerusalem: https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/myth-and-reality-of-king-david-s-jerusalem

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Monday, March 23, 2020

Jeremiah 4: Jerusalem’s Story as Our Own


When people gathered in on a western hilltop above the Jordan River sometime between the years 4300 to 3300 B.C.E., the city of Jerusalem came into being; her early artisans were known for their stone and copper work. During the Middle Bronze Era (3300-2100 B.C.E.) the people fortified  the city then known as Jebus and her people in the surrounding hills, known as the Jebusites (1 Chronicles 11) began to form a confederation with other peoples in the area.  It was this tribe that fought against Joshua and the Israelites (Joshua 9).

In the Late Bronze and Iron Ages (1600-332 B.C.E.) Jerusalem’s people increased the city walls and size that changed only slightly and remained until the time of Nehemiah (about 445 B.C.E.)  The city was a 12 acre site just south of today’s Temple mount bordered by the Kidron and Tyropoeon Valleys when captured by David; King Solomon nearly tripled the city to an area of about 32 acres when the temple-palace complex was built over a converted threshing floor. Jerusalem’s city and Temple become a center of worship, trade, culture and power until she was taken by the Babylonians and many of her people sent into exile.  Re-built by Nehemiah she struggled to return to her former fame but was taken by Alexander the Great in 333 B.C.E. and later by the Romans.  She was again destroyed in the year 70 C.E.

Jerusalem: The Damascus Gate

Western history records the centuries of struggle between Christians and Muslims for control of Jerusalem until 1948 when the state of Israel is formed and the Jewish people are called “home,” but Jerusalem today still remains a city in conflict, divided and troubled yet also united and renowned.

As we move through the Lenten season, we are invited to visit with Jerusalem for a short time each noon to explore her days of glory, her times of trial, her humiliations and her celebrations.  In so many ways her history might be ours.  Born out of a desire to flourish, nurtured by a hope for the eternal, and struggling through faith and doubt, Jerusalem offers us a tour of her life; she brings us her story full and open.  Last week we prayed as we went up to Jerusalem.  Now that we are within God’s holy precinct, let us offer our own lives back to the Creator.  Let us spend time with God as we examine the life of Jerusalem as our own life in macrocosm.   And let us return to God honestly, fully and openly . . . to examine the story of our own lives.

Each day this week, visit Jesus’s last journey at: https://www.thebiblejourney.org/biblejourney1/6-jesuss-last-journey-to-jerusalem/

Damascus Gate image from a Times of Israel blog at: https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/jerusalem-then-and-now-a-journey-in-photos/ to visit Jerusalem then and now.

“The Jebusites.” and “Jerusalem.” ARCHAEOLOGICAL STUDY BIBLE (NIV). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2005. Print.

For atlas references visit: http://bibleatlas.org/jerusalem.htm

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