Places like Jericho grew out of such springs of fresh water. (And Ein Gedi, et al) It's also one reason why these places were fought over during the last six millennia. Fresh water meant life. It's the very reason God sent Israel into this place to begin with, and why God used the symbol of water to get them there. Through the Jordan River the children of Israel would pass to get to the promised land. Through the waters of baptism John prepared the way for Jesus. Interestingly, these events happened in the very same place, near Bethany beyond the Jordan, just East of Jericho below the Mountains of Nebo.
It's no coincidence that John baptized here. Whether he had ever been a member of the Essene sect matters little, what does matter is that John chose a place that would have an eternal significance, where God had saved Israel through the water following a great leader, Moses, John expected the Messiah to lead the people and passed them through the water of baptism, a purification (just like in the waters of the mikveh) for what was to come...and He did come.
Today, we found ourselves at Qasr al-Yehud, a monestery on the boarder of Israel/Jordan, and the site of Jesus' baptism. Here we spent time reflecting on the meaning of our baptism, that we are called children of God, that we are the beloved of God and that there is nothing that anyone or anything can take us away from that. We belong to God. So we entered into the water together (after waiting our turn following a large group of Japanese pilgrims), where David, Susan, Teri, and Karen all were immersed to remember their baptism. Following this simple but beautiful ceremony, I offered a renewal of baptism to the rest of our group with a simple sign of the cross on the forehead. A moment of serendipity happened as another group fell in line behind our group and came to me for a renewal as well. What a beautiful moment of the beauty and grace of God, and a great privilege to share in this powerful symbol of grace with some sisters from Africa, whom I will probably never see again until we read heaven.
As we left the Jordan River, we went a few hundred feet south and entered another monestery where the baptism of Jesus and John were remembered. Another group of ancient mosaics were discovered here and many more added over the years. It's one of the network of Greek Orthodox monasteries and churches around the Holy Land.
From there we visited Qumran, the ancient center of the Essene sect of Judaism that spanned from 250BCE to just after the middle of the first Century CE. (250BCE-50CE) This is the group that separated themselves from the Temple and society in general and who created the Dead Sea Scrolls.
FAfter a tour of the grounds we stopped for lunch and shopping before heading down to the Dead Sea for a dip in the mineral rich, healing water. (I still taste of salt, too.) It's here that floating comes easily with 36% mineral content of the water, 10 times that of any ocean. And dead means dead. Nothing can live in this mineral rich water. (Which is one reason I believe it has healing properties.) They say that 15 minutes in the Dead Sea makes you 5 years younger. So we should be good for an additional 10 years or so.
Then it was on to Jericho, the lowest and oldest city on earth. We stopped by the old sycamore tree that we are sure (wink, wink) that Zaccheu himself climbed up just to get a glimpse of Jesus. Here we read the story and remembered the amazing grace of Jesus towards a sinner like him. In Jerricho a part of a city was discovered from 11,000 years ago. It's the oldest known man-made structure in the world. (At least that is still standing.) So Jericho was already an ancient city before Joshua every walked around it. Interstingly, a recent exvacation has uncovered the location of the walls of the city from Joshua's time. We could easily imagine the setting in this famous story because as we read from Joshup 7, a group of Chinese pilgrims could be heard shouting and blowing their trumpets as loud as they could from a rooftop not far away. After looking around the site quickly because of the stifling heat (it was 108 today and 115 yesterday!), we escaped into the Temptation Restaurant and Gift Shop for some refreshment and of course some more shopping.
The road from Jericho to Jerusalem is famous. It's called the Jericho Road because it was the main road to get down from Jerusalem. It's also the setting Jesus used for his famous parable of the Good Samaritan. It's also the setting of the wilderness experience of Jesus, when he was tempted. On the side of the mountain overlooking Jericho is a monestery that remembers the temptation story. (Luke 4)
Following a part of the ancient road, we made our way to Jerusalem, and to our new hotel, the Olive Tree. We are all tired this evening and are planning for a full day between Jerusalem and Bethlehem tomorrow.