Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Rocks, Water & Other Spiritual Stuff

In the last 2 days we began our journey in the Holy Land. We started in the most traditional way, with a  trip aboard a boat across the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee). Somewhere in the middle of the Sea, we stopped to consider the stories that happened literally all around us, read the story of Jesus walking toward his disciples on the water and invited Jesus aboard with us.

From there we visited the Valley of the Doves between the main road/path between the Sea of Galilee and Nazareth, a way known very well by Jesus and walked many times. We journeyed up the mountain believed to be were Jesus preached his most famous Sermon on the Mount before stopping by Chorazim, St Peter's Primacy and Capernaum. It was in these places that Jesus healed, taught with authority and raised all kinds of people to new life.

Then on Saturday we drove to the Northern boarder with Israel to a town called Metula, it is here that we saw the border of Lebanon/Israel. Then hiking at Dan, Caesarea Philippi/Banias and at Mount Bental (one of the extinct volcanoes of Israel.).  We visited the great waterfall at Banias, the great waters of Dan and the Jordan River.

But what is really interesting about each of these sites is that which is the same between them, namely rocks, water and other Spiritual Stuff.

Most of the sites we will see in the next week will be mostly the same. Some have great history attached to them. Others have great tradition. Most are still here because someone is still touching with them.

One more significant difference is that while Jesus visited many of them, he's not there. Not now, not even then or at any time in the 2000 years since his resurrection. "He left and went..." somewhere else, eventually in the story...well you most likely already know.

So what does it all mean? What's the reason for our investment in a Holy Land Trip? What are we going to find in all these places?

Rocks, Water and Other Spiritual Stuff. There are rocks everywhere in Israell and they go back centuries. There is water at most sites because people usually gathered, teravelled,

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Jesus Trail 2016 Last Day

Well today is a sad one. We finished our journey as we boarded the plane from Tel Aviv towards Newark. It is here that we separated from the Iowans as we made our way home. I'm writing this while still on our transatlantic flight, so barring any unforeseen exciting details, this will complete my reflections for this trip.

We said good bye to Ginosar after breakfast and headed west toward the coast to the town of Akko (Acre). Peggy and I had visited here a few years ago on our own, so it was good to get a better picture and a guided tour of the old crusader city. It's been around for much longer than that and was at one time the largest harbor of this part of the Mediterranean. On our tour of the old city walls, the mosques, and the suk (Turkish market), we stopped by a shop to visit Wafa, a shop owner we met years ago. She was so happy to see us, remembering many details about us and our visit. (Honestly she remembered Peggy more than me at first. Kind of humbling.) After a little time of reacquainting, we shopped for a bit in her shop and grabbed a Turkish coffee from her husband next door. After saying our good byes (and getting a half dozen hugs from Wafa.) we headed back on our tour, but not before getting a couple of pictures together!

Leaving Akko, we followed the natural harbor around to Haifa, the 3rd largest city in Israel and Israel's major port. It also sits on the side of Mount Carmel, the site of Elijhah's confrontation with the 450 prophets of Ba'al and the 400 pagan prophets. God provided the fire for Elijah's sacrifice and proved that God was real, powerful, and the only true God! 

On the mountain side is a B'hai temple and gardens. It is a beautiful and well kept site that sits above the German part of Haifa. We stopped by the Carmelite Monestery, built over the caves where Elijah had lived for a time, but it was closed for Mass,. So a few pictures of the beautiful panoramas of the Mediterranean Sea and harbor would have to suffice.

We made our way down from Haifa to Tel Aviv for our overnight stay. Taking Highway 2 that hugs the Sea, we were able to glimpse Caesarea again, some other parts of the aqueducts, and much of modern Israel which is growing by the day. Hundreds of high rise apartments, condos, and hotels are being built all throughout the country, but then again, they have plenty of rocks to build from. The number of immigrants to Israel is staggering with the population growing exponentially every year.

Our afternoon in down town Tel Aviv was uneventful. After checking into the Metropolitan Hotel (in which we were upgraded to suites), Peggy and I headed out for a stroll on the beach. They have built a promenade along the beach that extends for several miles and it was filled with walkers, bikes, scooters, skateboards, etc. along with thousands of beach goers enjoying their holiday (Shavuot). Our stroll didn't take us to the water's edge mostly because of the number of people, but it was fun to sit and watch the activities that included a group of young men try to throw and catch an American football (it was comical), lots of paddle ball, volleyball games, soccer games, and several people showing their skill on some tightropes tied between some Palm trees. 

Our evening finished with a late dinner and the news of the Orlando shooting. We paused at our table and prayed together for the people and families involved including all the first responders. It's hard to fathom such violence, especially in a place that generally is filled with so much joy. it is one more reminder that our world is suffering and needs the grace and good news of Jesus Christ more than ever. While we are not ready to return home (and Abed invited us several times to stay.) we know that we return with plenty of work to do in the kingdom.

This morning we packed up our things and after breakfast made our way to the airport where we tried to empty our pockets of shekels before boarding our plane on our first leg toward home. We said good bye to Abed, who encouraged us to stay, or at least come back and visit him especially, as well as Micah. While we had our differences, he still guided us well and safely delivered us where we needed to be every day. We are already discussing our next journeys both back to the Holy Land and our next one following the Missionary Journey's of Paul hopefully in 2018. (Watch back on my website for updates)

It's been a pleasure sharing this unforgettable journey with you. I'm grateful for all of you who have kept up and journeyed along with us from afar. Whether it has sparked an interest in joining us next time, or fulfilling your desire in case you can't travel yourself, thanks for being with us, especially in prayer. We have been blessed and can't wait to share more stories when we return.

Peace ><>
Pastor Chris

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Jesus Trail 2016 Day 4

We've completed the Jesus Trail! 

Well, not exactly. Rather, we decided to forego the last leg of the journey for many reasons, but mostly because the trip from Magdala (or from Ginosar where we are, next door to Magdala) to Capernaum we've already done. While we did not walk the entire way, we have visited every site between here and there and decided that there were other places we would rather spend our time seeing. Another reason is that we would all be able to do it together. (Plus it was hot!)

So, we began by heading north again toward the Hula Valley in Upper Galilee to the Hula Nature Reserve. This is where thousands of migratory birds stop on their long trips going both ways between Africa, Asia, and Europe. While we missed the migration season, we were able to spot several different species than we've seen and it's simply beautiful, and similar to what Jesus would have known. We pictured it as a rest stop for He and his disciples on their way north to Caesarea Philippi, considering that many times the scriptures give us gaps in Jesus' journeys. We pondered what those gaps were filled with: more stories, healings, questions, conversations, and more, in locations that are never mentioned. Today was a "gap" day for us, too.

After watching the corpu (think short, fat otters), catfish (big ones!), carp, turtles, storks, cormorants, doves, bee eaters, ibis (white), glossy ibis (black), common terns, and about a dozen others, we boarded the bus for places north to the very northern tip of Israel where it meets Lebanon and Syria called Metula. It's a beautiful community, high in the Hermon hills, where got a great perspective of the beauty of all 3 countries. It's sad that there is so much strife between peoples there. With so much history and archeology both countries would be excellent places to visit, but I don't see that happening within my lifetime.

Leaving Metula, we traveled to Banias, eastward in the Hermon hills, where the springs from Caesarea Philippi become mighty waterfalls as they flow down the valley to meet 2 other springs to become the Jordan River. Banias Falls is one of the most beautiful falls in all of Israel, and the one with the most water, often called the Niagra of Israel.

From here we grabbed lunch at our new favorite spot in Israel called Aroma before heading to the ruins and nature reserve at Dan. One of our favorite spots in Israel, the springs of Dan (another Jordan River source) being cold and beautiful as they rush down the hills. The vegetation is lush and thick and looks very different than most people would think about Israel. This place has the sound of rushing water every place you go. On the many acres of this site, which includes the ruins of the old city of Dan, fresh water springs up nearly everywhere, so you are always walking over a stream or around a small pond. It makes for a relaxing stroll.  

The ruins of Dan are as impressive. The walls found here date back not only to the Israelite period, but also to the time of Abraham! The old city gate recently discovered is the oldest standing city gate in the world. To think that there are still structures standing that date back to a story from Genesis 14:14 still boggles the mind! (4000 years ago!)

We traveled back toward our guest house in Ginosar where I took my last opportunity to take a dip in the Sea of Galilee. In all of the times I've traveled here, this is the first time I've actually swam in the sea. I've waded many times before, so this was a new experience. I did discover with my first step, though, that I can't walk on water! (Which should come as no surprise to just about everybody!)

A nice dinner among a wedding reception prepared us for an evening of rest as we begin our journey toward Tel Aviv in the morning, and then home on Monday.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Jesus Trail 2016 Day 3

We began with a lovely breakfast at Kibbutz nof Ginosar, then boarded the bus to begin our trek. We started by climbing (via the bus) to Mount Arbel and stopped for a few minutes at the Arbel Synagogue, one of the earliest ones every found. It was an active synagogue in a large community during Jesus' lifetime, and one that he no doubt visited on at least one of his many trips from Nazareth to Capernaum. We discovered this place when we were on our sabbatical and stayed near here, so we would come down here for devotions and just to poke around the excavation. It was good to come back here as it brought back lots of memories.

We then went on to the peak at Mount Arbel and the amazing vista it provides of nearly the whole of the Sea of Galilee and especially the area where Jesus practiced most of his ministry. On our way back to the bus we met a couple of guys who had just left Moshav Arbel and who were also walking the Jesus Trail, Rev. William Hild from Sarasota Florida (fellow archeolog and Holy Land Addict) and a friend whose name we didn't get. There were so many things Bill and I had in common. They had stayed the night with Bennie & Carmel at the guest houses Peggy and I stayed at a few years ago (in the same cottage even); he was on a sabbatical from his church (I took one in 2010); he collects artifacts (my collection keeps growing, too); we both worked on the dig at Bethsaida (although a few years apart); and we both travel to the Holy Land as often as we can so we can share the power and story of Jesus in a different way. (By the way, we also discovered that Bill had stayed in the very same room as Kathy & Steve at Ginosar.) The similarities were fun and amazing. It's always great to meet someone passionate about the same things. We could have stood there and talked all morning, but we both had journeys to continue, so we shared a couple of pictures and we went on our way.

We started our trail hike in the Valley of the Doves just below Moshav Arbel where the trail descends into the valley via the blue path (which parallels the Jesus trail in many places.) This part of the Jesus Trail is an alternative to the path down from the peak of Arbel that hugs the cliffs and goes past many of the caves that were dwellings and escapes for those getting away from the Romans. This path is a bit scary with narrow paths and shear drop offs that are not for the faint of heart. I chose to use the alternative path mostly because it's the one that would have been the common path for those traveling to/from the Sea of Galilee to places west toward Nazareth and Cana.

As we descended on the trail we immediately came to a fork in the road which had no markings, so after a few minutes of walking on the left fork, we decided to turn back and take the other. Only after a few feet on the other path did we discover the markings we needed to continue down the path. 

(Okay, so this isn't the whole story. Our Guide, Micah, led us down the left path and when it continued to go west and up along a fence row that had no gates and led us into a field of pomegranate trees, I decided to turn around. Micah, went on and found a makeshift gate which he unwired and called us to join him. I told him we were going back to the other path which I believed was the right one. He argued with me that he "found" us a way to go and we should follow him. I simply told him we would see him at the bottom and I turned our group toward the other path. For the rest of the morning, Micah tried to convince me and everyone else that he had found a better, easier path, which none of us believed. Once again, the Jesus Trail Guide Book that I took with me didn't let us down and led us to the right path.)

The Valley of the Doves was as amazing as expected. The path was rocky at times and littered with cow patties as it was a regular grazing spot, but offered plenty of respite points where the trees grew into little cave-like groves where we could all gather for some shade and a water break. The sun was very hot and while we got some breeze at times, it was only sporadic so getting into some shade was important when we could find it. On either side of us were Mount Arbel and Mount Nitai. These prominent cliffs stood at attention all along the way, forming a perfect funnel that would lead us to they end of the valley and the town of Magdala. While walking through here we couldn't help but think of the times Jesus and his disciples had passed by the same way, looking also for the shade of an oak where they could sit and talk more about the day, the ministry, the miracles that had taken place. We picked up a few pieces of broken pottery and kept searching for some lost coins, but we didn't find any. We do know that the stones on the path could tell stories of what they had heard and seen.

Magdala is a thriving village a few hundred yards away from the Sea of Galilee. It's ancient origins are mentioned in the scriptures, but the first century town Jesus had visited and from where Mary Magdalene was from, had never been found...that is until recently. Down near the edge of the sea a new hotel was being built and as they dug the foundations, voila, a synagogue was discovered and soon after the town of Magdala (from before, during and after Jesus' time) was found. Ongoing excavation is taking place around the site and a new church has just opened that is built over the foundation of a church established soon after the resurrection. 

It is beautiful Church, with a chancel/Altar view that surpasses any I have ever seen. This picture doesn't even begin to show it's beauty. Just outside the window is a reflection pool that makes it seem that the boat is floating on water. I'm afraid if this were the view in our church, no one would ever listen to anything that was said! 

The afternoon at Ginosar was a welcome time of quiet. After returning after our long walk, we decided to take a walk along the shore of the sea (and maybe find a cool drink). Instead, we found Karlene and Richard doing the same thing, so I showed them a quiet spot in the shade behind the museum where we sat and talked for over an hour while watching the birds at the shore and the wind surfers on the sea. It was a restful afternoon and we needed it.

Our evening after dinner was spent chatting about the days experiences and planning the next day's adventures. It was another great day on the Jesus Trail.

Peace ><>

Thursday, June 09, 2016

Jesus Trail 2016 Day 2

We started early, long before breakfast, as we hopped aboard our bus back to Cana where we began our walk for the day. Through the old city, we seemed to travel up the hill back and forth forever. Just around every corner we think we see the crest and then we discover another rise and another anchor to follow. (We also watched for the white & red "flag" with the orange dot. That signifies one of the national trails and the Jesus Trail respectively.)

We made it over the rise, finally, and our way out of Cana toward the Horns of Hittim. It's a meandering set of paths that weave their way passed olive groves and a variety of other farms. The path also follows an old Roman Road, that would have been a regular thoroughfare. But it wasn't long until we discovered that our path was no longer marked with the distinguishing features we were supposed to be following. The anchor arrow and the red/white flag were not to be found. Our guide was leading us, so we just followed and after nearly an hour of wandering, we stopped in an olive grove for our breakfast. (The hotel was kind enough to pack us each a nice breakfast with veggies, cheese, cold cuts, and an apple, which we had to lug along the journey and then had to carry the boxes out. We decided that while it was nice to start early in the coolest part of the day, we'd rather not have the extra hassle of carrying boxes all day.)

The location for our meal was nice, though. Sitting in and among the old olive trees made us wonder how many times Jesus did the same thing. We were also grateful that I had Google Earth so we could find out exactly where we were and how to get back to the path. And while Micah still believed he had a better plan and easier route which was supposed to constantly be downhill after Cana, we found ourselves on an almost constant incline for another hour. Finally, we found our way back to the path and our way to a stopping point before lunch. Abed picked us up on the highway and we traveled back to Cana to visit the Cana Wedding Church (which was closed when we passed it at 6:30 in the morning.) 

This is a church the commemorates the story of Jesus turning water into wine at a wedding. We visited the church (the foundation being from a church as early as the mid 4th century) and read the story from John 2. We talked briefly about Jesus' first miracle compared to the ones to come later in his ministry. First of all his mother, Mary, is the one who pressed him to do something. (It even sounds like something a mother would say!) It was almost like she was expecting or anticipating something happening soon. Jesus already had disciples at this point and Mary had known his potential from the Angels stories before his birth. 

What is common among his miracles is that they were not done for the miracle itself, rather for some other purpose: to tend to the grief of a mother or father, give someone back their lives and dignity, to be a witness and to change people's lives. What is unique about this story is that it wasn't about the wine here, rather it was to keep the groom, and his family, from being embarrassed for running out of wine. It was an act of kindness that was hidden to all except the few who witnessed it.

After a nice lunch in Cana, we headed back to the trail (skipping a short section) where we started from the base of the Horns of Hittim. An ancient, dormant volcano (or two) created a unique formation of two great peaks that provide a key landmark in the lower Galilee. They tower above every other hill and mountain in this part of the country and the old Roman road passed right by them. Our journey took us to the top of the largest one. One of the traditions is that this might be the location of the transfiguration story. (One of three possible locations.) A nice granite monument was erected that told the story written in Hebrew, English, and Arabic. Unfortunately, we discovered it defaced by someone using a grinder to dig into the granite cover all the text on all 4 sides. Micah reported the damage, but it is unlikely they'll find the culprits. 

The climb was a difficult one and only 5 of us attempted it. Karlene decided to sit this one out and it was the right decision as it was even more challenging that we imagined. Once we climbed to the top of the first plateau, we found ourselves working toward the top of the cliffs in the center of the mountain, which had a nice bench and panorama of the whole lower Galilee.
(That's the Sea of Galilee in the background and Mount Arbel in the center of the picture. You'll get a better idea of the perspective and height in tomorrow's blog!)

After our short break at the top we couldn't find the path to continue so for the next 20 minutes or so, we scoured the top of the mount until we finally found our path markers. It was fortunate too, as Micah had "found" an alternative down the side of the cliff which could have been disastrous! I will say, the official path down was not an easy one either. But we made it! Mostly safely. (We did have two minor incidents with Kathy and Steve, both of whom took spills. Except for a couple of scrapes and some thorns to pull, all that was really hurt was a little pride.)

Looking back up the mountain was a moment that filled me with pride. I stopped Peg and made her turn around to look and I told her, "You did it!" And with her own sense of accomplishment she replied, "I did, didn't I!") She faced a great fear, but it didn't stop her. She kept going, slowly at times, but never quitting. We took a quiet moment of celebration and praise before catching up with the others. We still had a lot more steps down before this part of the trail was finished! (They just weren't as treacherous.)

At the bottom (eastern side) of the mountain is a Druze Community called Nebi Shueb that houses one of their most sacred shrines, the tomb of Jethro (the father in law of Moses). We made it down into the community with just enough time to visit the shrine before it closed. Then we boarded the bus for our next stop, Kibbutz Nof Ginosar, where we would be for the next few evenings. We cleaned up and gathered for dinner before turning in early. But Peggy and I slipped out early from dinner to head into Tiberius for probably the last time this trip.

W had hoped to see our old friend Zuran at Marina Sunrise, one of our favorite restaurants on the promenade in downtown Tiberius. Unfortunately, Marina Sunrise had a different name and a different group of people running it. While the menu had changed, the food was still excellent and the view outstanding. We sat overlooking the Sea at a spot we had sat in nearly a dozen times before. It was bittersweet with the changes, but mostly because we know our time here is quickly coming to a close. 

We fell into bed exhausted, but blessed after a great day on the trail of Jesus.

Peace ><>

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Jesus Trail 2016 Day 1

Today I began a journey that's been on my bucket list for quite some time. I'm walking the Jesus Trail from Nazareth to Capernaum. Now I have to admit that I will not complete the full 40 miles or so, but there is good reason for that. The most important part is that I will be walking along the road that Jesus himself walked along often. I'll be sitting in the shade, considering my past, present, and future in ministry, I'll be sharing with others who are walking with me, and I'll have an opportunity to teach in a very similar fashion to how Jesus taught his disciples.

We left our hotel in Jerusalem and traveled the hour or so by bus to Nazareth to settle into our new hotel, the Golden Crown in downtown. Outside my window the Church of the Annunciation is clearly seen. After a quick turn around, we walked out of the hotel and began the hike. 

Starting in Sepphoris, we headed toward Cana along the ancient Roman road. It was hot, around 90 today, but there was ample shade we could stop under for a breather. We walked nearly 6 miles today past both new and old fields of olive trees, new pine forest, ancient rock formations and modern towns. 

When I first booked this extension, I expected some younger fellow travelers. Instead, I've been blessed with my Mother and Father in Law, once removed, and her brother and his wife. (That's my brother, Chad's wife, Rebecca's parents, Richard and Karlene, and her brother and his wife, Steve and Kathy.) I just called them family. While they may have slowed our pace at times, they have inspired me. Karlene is 76, had several recent health issues including open heart surgery, and is keeping up with us very well (and in fact, sometimes, leading us!). This group has made us shorten the days a bit, but we'll still get to to experience the Jesus Trail and it's key sites along the way.

Today was a start, and a test. Tomorrow, we begin to see the real trail and its features, and challenges. 

Peace from Nazareth ><>

Holy Land 2016 Day 9

It's a bittersweet day as we end one part of our journey, say good bye to some good friends, and begin a new journey. We've made some great friends this past week. Colleen and Keith Treman, new hosts in training with EO. They met us at our hotel in Tiberius, travelled with us several days and then made their way to Jeusalem on our bus. Today, they said good bye to a group they were taking to the airport and heading back to the Galilee to be with some more groups. Recent retirees from the Michigan Conference, Keith and Colleen are a great addition to the EO staff and will be lifelong friends.

The morning began at the Garden Tomb (Gordon's Calvary). It's a site that was discovered only about 100 years ago, but has a rich history that was found with it. On a major road out of the Old City of Jerusalem sits a simple hill of rock, the face of it has the look of a skull. On top is a cemetery and below it was a garden with a single tomb carved in its side. While we have no record of the owner, it had to be a prominent and wealthy person, like Joseph of Arimethea, who gave up his new tomb to place Jesus in it. Even the biblical descriptions fit the location and the setting, including the place inside where he had once laid. A tour by Omer, our Scandavian guide, took us to both Calvary and into the tomb. Then we gathered in one of the beautiful worship settings, read the story, prayed together and shared in the Lord's Supper. 

We then entered the city via the LIon's Gate (St. Stephens Gate) and began our journey through the streets of the Old City of Jerusalem. St. Ann's Church was our first stop. A beautiful Crusader Church still standing and still holding its charm and acoustics. We sounded like a great choir as we sang in front of the altar. A Japanese group entered while we sang, just to listen, and then quietly exited. Around the corner we read the story of Jesus healing the man at the pools of Bethesda. Those pools are right outside the church. It's a simple story with a simple, yet provocative question, "do you want to get well?" Some went deep into the pools cistern (an ancient quarry for the stones of the temple and the rest of the city.).

The Via Dolorosa begins just a few feet from here. It's where the Antonia Fortress once stood, where Jesus was beaten, tried, and convicted for crimes he did not commit, but for a purpose that goes well beyond our understanding. It's the path for the stations of the cross that end at Jesus' tomb. We stood on the "stone pavement" or the Lithostrotos; we walked under the Ecco Homo arch, we walked humbly by each of the stations where the cross fell, Jesus fell, Veronica wiped his brow, and others until we stepped into the church of the Holy Sepulchure, climbed the steps to Calvary, touched the stone where the cross was placed and then entered the tomb where his body was laid. 

The church is massive with chapels of prayer carved in little corners of the building. The lower levels contain ancient mosaics, wall art, and thousands of carved crosses right into the walls. The deepest part of the church is a grotto where we see an early church, or at least a place of worship where faithful people still find a moving place to pray.

After leaving the church we stopped for Lunch in the square right outside the courtyard. Fresh falafel or shawarma were on the menu .(except for one who had to have a pizza!) Then we entered the Jewish Quarter on our way to the Western Wall., On the way we passed the Cardo, a part of the first century city marketplace, and a massive wall built by Hezekiah in the 8th C BCE.

We gathered at the Western Wall to offer our own prayers. Some offered their own, others prayed for the peace of this city. I was privileged to carry the prayers from Newburgh UMC and place them in the wall as I prayed over each one of them. If you handed me a prayer, it went into the wall, where it will be prayed over for many days!

Just south of this wall which stands from the time Herod built the second temple is an archeological park called the Southern Wall Excavations. It reveals many of the lowest foundation stones of the Temple Mount, the teaching steps at the entrance to the Temple, and the first century Main Street where many shops and activities took place during the time of Jesus. We stopped on the teaching steps for a time of listening to the words of Christ, just like many did in his day.

Out the Dung Gate we climbed the hill towards the church built where Caiphas house once stood. It is the place where Jesus was held after his arrest, and where Peter denied him. The stone stairs that lead to the temple are still there to this day. Called St. Peter Gallicantu, the church reminds us to be true to Christ, even when it's difficult.

Returning to the Olive Tree Hotel, we said good bye to our guide, Shraga Bin Joseph. He has been a friend for nearly 10 years and he led us very well. Seeing his passion for his people and his nation, hearing his own story, how the holocaust affected his family directly and tragically, how his experience in the liberation of this nation from their neighboring enemies (6 day war) left impressions on all of us. He has been an excellent protector, teacher, and guide...and he will always be my friend.

After a quick dinner, we said good bye to our fellow Travelers on their way back home. As they left for the airport, the rest of us boarded a bus to Israel Museum with our old friend and guide Mike Tahan. He took us around to see the 1st C model of Jerusalem and explained how the city was built. Then we toured the Dead Sea Scrolls, some key biblical artifacts from several periods, and then a new exhibit, 
Herod's Tomb (Sarcophagus & facade pieces). We were at the Herodian just a few months after Herod's burial site was found several years ago. It was a privilege to glimpse what they discovered.

At the end of the day, we fell in to bed exhausted and ready for our journey on the Jesus Trail.

Monday, June 06, 2016

Holy Land 2016 Day 8

On our first morning in Jerusalem, we found a cool breeze accompanying a bright sunshine. A welcome change in the weather from yesterday. There is a big difference between 115 and 65, but we were far from complaining. After a great breakfast, we journeyed up to the Mount of Olives to the Seven Arches Hotel (parking lot) for a vantage point talk with Shraga and a group picture. While there we read the Palm Sunday story from Luke 19, as that was the path we were about to take.

Down the winding and steep path we passed the ancient and modern Jewish Cemetery where rocks placed on the graves were both a testament to a visit, and a hope that no stones of this city will ever be knocked down again. Just a few feet farther we entered the compound of Dominus Flevit, the Chapel of the Tear where Jesus wept over Jerusalem. It's in this courtyard that grows a type of thorn tree that may have been used for the crown of thorns.

On down the path we entered the Garden of Gethsemane. Here Jesus prayed his passionate prayer for God's will, not his own to be done, and he was so filled with anguish that "his sweat was like great drops of blood". Many of the olive trees are older than the story which means they were witnesses to this event. We spent time on the steps remembering the story and then in the Church of All Nations to pray at the same stone where Jesus wept and prayed. 

This was one of the many moments of blessing today. While there had been a crowd around us as we entered the Garden, by the time we gathered in the church, we were nearly the only ones left, so we had ample time to pray. It's almost as if God went before us to prepare our way with no crowds to interfere with our experience. I can say from my own experiences, this was unusual and welcome. It's also a testimony to the number of pilgrims coming to the Holy Land (Terra Sancta). Over the past few years the numbers have dropped drastically, which is an unfortunate and tragic reality for the people of this place who depend on the tourist industry.

We boarded the bus and traveled up toward Mount Zion where a complex of buildings houses a variety of things and remembers several events and people. The Dormition Abbey is the landmark, near the southern Zion Gate of the Old City of Jerusalem, that was built to remember the eternal sleep that Mary (the mother of Jesus) began here. Next door is the Upper Room, a room dedicated to the remembrance of the Lord Jesus' Last Supper and the place where the Disciples experienced Pentecost. Next to that is the tomb of King David, above which is a Christian Chapel, and above that is a Muslim Mosque. It's the only known building in the world where the 3 of the world major faiths are housed together in one place. 

We read about the Last Supper in the Upper Room, considered the death of Mary in the Abbey, and had time to pay our respects at David's grave. In the latter, a young Jewish man called me over to the side of the grave where he prayed with me and for me a blessing over my family. He gave me a branch of hyssop as a sign of the forgiveness of sins. We shared words of blessing and of peace before departing. It wasn't the first time I've had such an encounter...I pray it is not the last such in Jerusalem.

We left Jerusalem for Bethlehem, just a few miles south, entered through the security checkpoint and the "wall" before heading to the New Store for some shopping. What we didin't expect was a tour of the olive wood carving factory where all of the pieces in this shop are made. While most of them are started on a large hand-operated duplicator, each piece is hand finished through a 12 station detail "production line." 
Our host at the store, Johnny and his grandson Majd, gave us a tour of the shop and then left us to shop. Afterwards we gathered for lunch at the Nissan Brothers Restaurant which sits just up the hill before heading off to the Church of the Nativity with our temporary Guide, Farraj. 

The Church of the Nativity is undergoing major renovations right now which are supposed to be completed by the Christmas season. (It looks like there is still a long way to go and I doubt it is completed by then.) The scaffolding, while covering up the interior on nearly every wall, didn't cover the significance of this amazing and world's oldest church. From the humble doorway to the simple staircase into the grotto, the holiness of this place is palpable. With no line (yes, I said, no line), we casually made our way down the 14 steps were we were able to touch the stone floor, read the story and sing Silent Night without any distractions from other groups. We were also able to tour the other caves and the beautiful Catholic Church where we read the rest of the story and sang another hymn. It was the best visit to this church we have ever experienced.

Just a few miles from here, outside of the modern city, is a series of fields still used by shepherds, watching over their flocks. Somewhere in these networks of caves is where the Angels visited the shepherds that night so long ago, and announced the birth of the Messiah. It announced more that that too, as it brought this good news to a surprising group of people, thought to be at the low end of the socio-economic spectrum, shepherds. That means this event was for everyone, and these shepherds became the very first evangelists, telling the story of the Good News to everyone they met! 

We finished up the day back in the modern city of Jerusalem at Mehane Yehuda Market, an active shuk that brings together vendors of just about anything you can imagine, especially fresh fruits, vegetables, fish, meat, along side bakeries, coffee shops, pubs, micro-breweries, and candy stores all in one large city block. It's an experience that isn't easily forgotten. It is also the market where Peggy and I shopped regularly when we lived just a few blocks from here during our sabbatical. It was a pleasure walking among the shops again, and sharing it with our group.

After dinner some shopped, others rested, and Peggy and I took a walk to the Old City. It was a beautiful cool evening for a stroll along the streets of Jerusalem. We stopped for a Turkish Coffee at a Muslim Market, paused a the Damascus Gate for a picture or two and then headed back to the hotel to rest for our last day as one large group. We have another amazing day in store tomorrow as we enter the Old City and walk along Jesus' journey to the cross. 

And now that the Turkish Coffee is wearing off, it's time to rest myself.

Peace ><>