Ten years ago, Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish lost three daughters, Bessan, Mayar, and Aya, and one niece, Noor, to an Israeli tank shelling of his home in Gaza. It happened just before he was scheduled to do a phone interview on an Israeli TV station, which then broadcasted his grief and cry for help in the wake of horrific violence.
Jerusalem is a Sacred Place for Christians, Jews, and Muslims
There are many religiously hallowed places throughout the world—Saint Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, the Great Mosque of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, the Kashi Vishwanath Temple in Varanasi, The Golden Temple in Amritsar, and the Mahabodhi Temple, Bodh Gaya in India, the Ise Grand Shrine, Ise, Japan—all intangible cultural treasures. Jerusalem, however, stands alone as a sacred place for Christians, Muslims, and Jews.
The ancient, mountainous walled city is considered a holy site by three of the world’s largest religions, which means it’s sacred to more than a third of the world’s population. The holy city is a major pilgrimage site for all three great monotheistic religions of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.
To Christians, it is the site of Christ’s death and resurrection; for Jews, Jerusalem is the Temple site (now in ruins except for the Western Wall), and for Muslims, it’s the site of the Prophet’s night journey to heaven.
Jerusalem’s Significance to Christianity
Although Bethlehem is recognized as the birthplace of Jesus, Jerusalem is irretrievably linked to Jesus. It’s the site of meaningful Christian events that took place. It was there that Christ preached, ate the Last Supper with his disciples before his death, was crucified, and resurrected. Through the resurrection, Jerusalem became the core of the Christian faith and religion; in essence, Christianity’s birthplace. For Christians, Jerusalem represents deep sorrow but also hope and redemption.
Biblical teachings say that Jesus arrived in Jerusalem shortly after his birth and was raised there. Consequently, Jerusalem hosts some of the Christian world’s most sacred sites. Jerusalem is home to the Cenacle, also known as the “Upper Room,” where the Last Supper is said to have taken place. The Cenacle is located on Mount Zion, just outside of the Old City of Jerusalem.
Jerusalem is also home to Golgotha, the historic site of Christ’s crucifixion. The Golgotha is presumed to be located at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the location of Christ’s death and the place where he is said to be buried. The compound that houses Golgotha and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is one of Christianity’s most sacred sites.
Jerusalem’s Significance to Islam
Jerusalem is considered the third-holiest city in Islam after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia. Its religious prominence is derived from being the first Qibla, the initial direction toward which the Prophet Muhammad and the early Muslim community turned their faces in prayer. The direction was changed a year and a half later to Mecca by “divine command.”
It’s also significant due to its association with Prophet Muhammad’s miraculous nocturnal journey to the city and his ascension to Heaven. This event is mentioned in the Koran in the first verse of chapter 17. According to Muslim tradition, Muhammad was transported one night on a winged horse from Mecca to Jerusalem, where he led Abraham, Moses, and Jesus in prayer.
Jerusalem’s Significance to Judaism
For 3,000 years, Jews have turned towards Jerusalem for spiritual, cultural, and national inspiration. After the Romans first destroyed the city almost 2,000 years ago, a succession of conquerors ruled Jerusalem—Roman, Byzantine, Persian, Arabian, Crusader, Egyptian, Turkish, British, and Jordanian.
Jews face Jerusalem when they pray three times daily, and Jewish prayers contain numerous references to Jerusalem and Zion. Jerusalem became the spiritual and national capital for the Jews in the 10th century BCE when King David made it his seat of judgment and brought the Ark of the Covenant to rest there. Jerusalem hosts two of the most important sites for Jews: the Temple and its Western Wall (“the Kotel,” in Hebrew).
The Temple’s central role traces back to the Old Testament as it housed the sacrificial system by which Jews kept the laws of the Torah and the covenant. In the Jewish worldview, the Temple Mount was the site of the Garden of Eden. Melchizedek, the king of Salem—which Jews suppose to be Jerusalem—worshiped the God there and blessed Abram.
Join Us to Support Religious Freedom & Accessibility in Jerusalem
The holy land of Jerusalem has been historically at the center of many conflicts, often hampering the opportunity for religious freedoms centered around the city’s sacred sites. Churches for Middle East Peace recognizes Jesursalem’s religious importance to Christians, Jews, and Muslims and focus on protecting religious freedom for all people.
If you were aware that there was an issue in your society regarding the arrest and detention of children, how would you respond? Palestinian human rights lawyer, Farah Bayadsi, has decided that this is a critical issue she cannot walk away from. Growing up near Haifa in a town called Baqa al-Gharbiyye, Farah grew up a citizen of Israel with Arabic as her mother tongue. She studied for her Bachelor of Law degree at Shaarei Mishpat College in Hod Hasharon near Tel Aviv, where she became aware of the growing gap between the theoretical aspect of law and its application; that what is on paper is not necessarily what is practiced, especially regarding criminal law and political arrest cases. This led her to move to Jerusalem to pursue her LLM in International Law and Human Rights at Hebrew University.
Sarah Linder is a collector of stories. A current resident of Israel originally from Denmark, Sarah was also raised in France, Switzerland, and Belgium. With a Danish mother and Israeli father, she brings a unique and multilingual perspective to storytelling that has helped build bridges within Israeli society. After moving to Israel in 2006, Sarah developed her interest in storytelling through her undergraduate studies in Government, Diplomacy, and Strategy, at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya (IDC). She then pursued a Master’s degree at Tel Aviv University in Middle Eastern History. Through her studies, she noticed that most dialogues concerning policy-making was male-dominated, with a distinct lack of a female perspective.
While staying with them, Jesus ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
Before ascending into heaven, Jesus told his disciples to remain in Jerusalem, for it was there they would be baptized in the Holy Spirit. Shortly after his ascension the day of Pentecost came, and the Holy Spirit descended, first like a violent wind, then as divided tongues of fire. As each tongue rested on them, they began to speak in other languages that were not their own. While this is miraculous in and of itself, it is also a profound statement of the power of the Holy Spirit to allow us to understand those who are other, those who are not like us. To speak another language is to catch a glimpse into another person’s mind.
On March 23, I had the opportunity to join over 7,000 runners of all ages gathered in Bethlehem’s Manger Square, awaiting the signal to cross the starting line to begin the 6th annual Palestine Marathon. Established in support of Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that, “Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each State,” the route of the Palestine Marathon begins in front of the Church of the Nativity and runs through two refugee camps. In order to demonstrate the restrictions to freedom of movement within the West Bank for Palestinians in their daily lives, runners journey alongside the eight-meter-high separation barrier and around the guard towers posted in various parts of the wall’s route.
Then Jesus said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”
Hallelujah! He is risen! He is risen indeed! Throughout this Lenten season we have walked with Jesus as he performed miracles, taught in parables, and wept over the city of Jerusalem. We have also taken a closer look at the city of Jerusalem today—why it is considered holy by the three Abrahamic religions, and its contemporary political situation. It is only fitting that we reflect on Jesus’ command after his resurrection, when he appeared to his disciples.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
Today, on Holy Saturday, the sacred light or “Holy Fire”—the fire that lights the tomb of Christ in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem—comes out into the world. The fire from the tomb is spread from candle to candle all over the church and throughout the streets of the Old City—a powerful symbol of the way that Christ’s light is spread into the world. However, many of us still feel as though we are in darkness, and that Christ’s light has not yet come to us.
It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, while the sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Having said this, he breathed his last. When the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God and said, “Certainly this man was innocent.” And when all the crowds who had gathered there for this spectacle saw what had taken place, they returned home, beating their breasts. But all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.
A common African American spiritual sung on Good Friday goes, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord? Were you there when they crucified my Lord? Oh sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble. Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” Of course, none of us were there, yet we remember this event, today. Some of us will hear readings of Jesus’ seven last words found in the Gospels. Others will sit in candlelit churches and feel the darkness creep in as each candle is extinguished. Many will sing hymns, as music has a way of capturing the deep emotions we often struggle to articulate.
Jesus came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples followed him. When he reached the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not come into the time of trial.” Then he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down, and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.” Then an angel from heaven appeared to him and gave him strength. In his anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground.
Today marks the point in Holy Week when we enter more deeply into the Passion narrative, the story of Jesus’ arrest, trial, crucifixion, and resurrection. As we continue to pray for the peace of Jerusalem, these devotions will turn our attention more directly to the Passion story, focusing on events as they are recounted in the Gospels, and how they are remembered and celebrated in Jerusalem today.