The morning air was cool as the noise of the awakening village began to build. Smoke from cooking fires drifted heavenward. Songbirds sang from the olive groves nearby as the sun rose slowly warming my back. Many like myself had rested here for the night, weary from trekking long dusty roads from the north. Travellers and pilgrims alike were readying themselves for the final stage of their journey from Bethany down into Jerusalem for the Passover. A few eager souls were setting off early in good spirits and fine voice, tramping up the road towards Bethphage before descending into the holy city. It is the journey of a lifetime, spending many days on the road from Galilee in the north. I only wish my father was here. He had been looking forward to this pilgrimage, but he was not well enough to do the journey. I had enjoyed his stories of his childhood visit to Jerusalem from Nazareth, often repeated, but I hadn’t minded. As I took one last look over the western horizon I wondered what lay ahead for me, would I see anyone important? Indeed I had heard of someone from my hosts at dinner last night, they spoke of a Rabbi from Nazareth called Jesus.
I turned and walked from the hillside back into the village and thanked the family who had accommodated me last night, treating me as one of their own kin. I had been fed well and told many stories of Jerusalem and the temple. But only one story was still on my mind this morning, it was of Jesus the Rabbi from Nazareth. I had heard many tales already about him and his followers from pilgrims on the road south. My hosts story was of a man from the region called Lazarus who had died, he was in his tomb for some time when Rabbi Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead.
I had smiled politely at the tale, but my hosts were not smiling, they looked at me seriously. I had heard of religious men doing great deeds before, but I had to admit raising a dead man with many witnesses was on a different level.
As I waved farewell to my hosts and headed for the hill road last nights story came to the front of my mind again. For some reason I just couldn’t shake it from my thoughts this morning. I took a deep breath of mountain air and strode out excitedly, knowing I was nearing my final destination. My steps were pain free despite the many days of walking I had done up to this point. I greeted fellow pilgrims as I passed them, the sunshine seems to have lifted everyone’s spirits. The smell of the olive groves and the drifts of wild flowers make it a pleasant walk. Up ahead I could see the outlying houses of Bethphage where there was a large crowd gathered. The closer I got I became aware of the sound of cheering and shouting from the crowd, it was a sizeable gathering. I was curious as to what was the reason for this excitement.
The mountain path flattened out as it became a wide street in the village, there was no easy way to pass the thronging crowd. There was a crescendo of shouts of “Hosanna to the Son of David!” along with “Hosanna in the Highest!” pierced the air, while others sang and waved tree branches in the air. Children ran around excitedly and some climbed trees to get a better view. Through the crowd I saw a donkey and young foal having coats laid on their backs and a man was helped onto the donkey. The crowd cheered their approval and the man gave them a wave and a smile, my mind returned to the previous night’s story, was this Him? I saw a number of men circle Him as they led the way down the street with the crowd following enthusiastically. Those close men must be disciples, I was convinced that this was Rabbi Jesus. There were a group pharisees standing at the side of the procession shaking their heads and chastising children who were singing of Jesus, the Son of David. As the village ended the horizon came into clear view, everybody stopped singing and took in the sight of the distant rooftops of Jerusalem. The towering golden roof of the temple shone like a beacon in the sunshine, even from this mountain top. Rabbi Jesus was visibly moved by the sight and was heard to pray, even though I could barely hear through the bodies but I did hear His distinctive Galilean accent. The previously boisterous crowd stood reverently quiet taking in what for many was their first view of the City of David. I lifted my eyes to the heavens and muttered a psalm in praise to the Almighty, a small flock of birds circled overhead soaring on the currents down towards the city.
Suddenly as it had ceased the procession began again, as did the jubilant chanting and singing. The crowd grew bigger as we descended the Mount of Olives picking up more pilgrims on the way into Jerusalem. People began draping their cloaks before the donkey and colt, a memory of my father teaching me about Messiah entering Jerusalem on a donkey came into my mind. Was this what I was witnessing now? There was something special about this Rabbi, even from the back of the crowd I could not take my eyes off Him.
Crossing the Kidron valley and climbing up to the Golden Gate the way narrowed, it became difficult to keep Him in view. The singing of the procession was now drowned by the frantic city hubbub. Temple officials and Romans watched from prominent positions as our procession made slow progress. Jesus and His disciples passed beyond the Golden Gate, but I was frustratingly stuck behind the slow moving queue. Entering through the gate the vast pillars and facade of the temple seemed to reach to the sky itself, I gaped at the marvellous site that I had longed to see. I was lost in the moment and had lost sight of the Rabbi Jesus. In such a huge milling mass of humanity I had no way of knowing which way He had went. In the excitement of the morning I had forgotten I was to find my cousins house, as I turned towards the lower city I thought whether I would see Rabbi Jesus again.