Category

Journey to the Holy Land

April 11, 2016

April 11, 2016 – Departure

Dancing to Israeli folk music while on a boat in the Sea of Galilee.

Reading Matthew 6 (“Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow not reap nor gather into barns, and yet your Heavenly Father feeds them.”) while sitting on the hill where Jesus shared the Beattitudes.

Spending 15 minutes in silence in the garden of Gethsemane.

Singing “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” on a hilly field outside of Bethlehem.

Remembering the pain of a people who withstood an attempt to exterminate them.

Experiencing the dissonance of Palestinians who live as separate (but not equal) in the land.

Feeling the tension in our shoulders while walking through the chaos of the Temple Mount.

Bombarded by the sounds of minarets calling Muslims to prayer, of Jews reading the Torah at the Western Wall, and the bells of the Church of Holy Sepulchre ringing in the hour.

Realizing that spirituality is impossible to separate from the reality of politics, that faith is impossible to disentangle from conflict, and that hope almost always grows from the ground of despair.

This has been our experience in a land we hold to be holy.

And not just us.

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From Mount Tabor

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.  Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart…Bind them as a sign on your hand.  Fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-9)

Pen Peery

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sent from my iPhone

April 8, 2016

It has been almost a week since we embarked on this experience and so the novelty of saying “today we go to Bethlehem” has slightly lessened but still I was looking forward to this day as much as any.  We crossed the border into the area governed by the Palestinians and met our Palestinian Christian guide, Eilas, who would take us through the sites of Bethlehem.

 

Highlights of Bethlehem: Jill Olmstead reads Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus while shafts of light stream through the dome of the chapel at Shepherds’ Field, much like the shepherds may have seen the light of the star; our group offers “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.”  We slowly journey through the Church of the Nativity, ducking through the four-foot Door of Humility, waiting for our turn before descending into the grotto where we place our hands on the fourteen-point star marking the spot where tradition says Jesus was born.

 

Back in Jerusalem: we make our way to the Upper Room, curiously decorated by Arabic markings from the time the building was a mosque – so emblematic of the mixed up history of Jerusalem. The room is crowded with groups, one singing Amazing Grace, one reading scripture in Italian, while we read about the Last Supper and sing “Let Us Break Bread Together.”  We view Jewish, Armenian, and Christian Jerusalem all within steps of each other as we make our way to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Sandie Barnhouse, our Catholic representative in the group, helps us to understand the Stations of the Cross and we view the “traditional” spot where Jesus was crucified and buried, along with pilgrims of many countries and beliefs. As we place our hands in the spot where the cross may have stood or rub the stone upon which Jesus’ body may have been placed after death, His presence in this place feels very real.

 

While we long to lose ourselves in the life and ministry of Jesus in beautiful Galilee, Jerusalem awaits to finish the story of terrible death but glorious resurrection. The city still holds this painful/beautiful contrast in balance and I am so thankful to experience it all.

 

Martha Eubank

April 7, 2016

Hello again.

The First Presbyterian Pilgrims are comfortably settled in Jerusalem ,which will be our headquarters for the next several days.  On Wednesday morning, we took a tour of the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum.  It seems in Israel that the past is not really past. The thousands  of years of Jewish history  and traditions are reflected in a current consciousness. Certainly the not very distant Holocaust has had a major role in shaping the Israeli view of the world. The magnitude of the Holocaust horror is beyond words. An especially moving experience for us was the Children’s Memorial part of the museum dedicated to the 1.5 million children that perished at the hands of the Nazis.

After some time for reflection, we journeyed back further in time again. This time we had the opportunity to view archeological evidence of homes dating from the founding of Jerusalem some 3,000 years ago, or approximately the time of King David.

Jerusalem was built on high ground over hills – there is no major waterway that runs through it.  There was only one source of water, a spring, in ancient times. We climbed down deeply underground to see an ingenious tunnel system built by the Israelites during the time of King Hezekiah to safeguard the water supply in times of conflict.

As we approached the Temple Mount at the southwest corner of the old city, images of modern Jerusalem caught our eye. Muslim ladies, heads covered but with faces shown, waiting for a bus – young Israeli soldiers with guns slung patrolling some areas, young Orthodox Jews garbed in traditional black clothing running to appointments, a Roman Catholic monk, a group of American tourists looking, well, American, a lone horse looking oddly out of place, narrow streets looking impossible for our bus to get through. Jerusalem is a rich mix of many different sights and sounds.

Our last stop of the day was at the stairs of the Temple Mount where Jesus entered the temple to cleanse it of money changers and merchants. To have the experience of walking once more where Jesus once walked is to make His life on earth come alive within us. The same experience can be appreciated in the ruins of the nearby marketplace area where you can easily imagine the shops ringing the walkway and the crowds cheering  Jesus as He rode by.

My reflection is similar to yesterday. We all basically the same whether 3,000 years ago, whether Muslim, Christian, or Jewish. You can see it in the faces of the people we have met and in the faces of the people we see on the streets. Yes, the forces at work for evil and for good exist now as in the past all the way back to the creation. But good news is that God loves us all. We can rejoice in the basic truth that in the end, love will prevail. I believe that more now than ever.

 

Bill Stevenson

Greetings from the Holy Land.
Tuesday was a big day.


We made our way from the Sea of Galilee area down to Jerusalem following the  road to Jericho along the Jordan River Valley.  The same path that Jesus took those millennia past.  Just before leaving the Sea of Galilee we visited the recently discovered Magdala archeological site.  The area features a first century A.D. synagogue and marketplace that would have been visited by Jesus. To walk among the remnants of the marketplace and streets where Jesus would also have walked was an amazing historical and spiritual connection for all of us.
As one travels south past Mt Tabor, traditionally identified as the location for Christ’s Transfiguration and where we visited, the landscape changes dramatically from pleasant green rolling fields and wooded hilltops to a suddenly drier, much harsher environment. We entered the West Bank territory at a checkpoint and went to the location on the Jordan River where it is believed John the Baptist baptized Jesus. We immersed ourselves, or at least our lower extremities, in the cool (though surprisingly muddy) water and marveled.
The present and the past mingle freely in Israel. As we passed by Jericho and got closer to Jerusalem we could see some Bedouin shepherds with their flocks and a few camels as well.   It was quite a thrill to enter Jerusalem and then see the City of David for the first time.  We celebrated communion on the Mount of Olives as the sun set and closed in fellowship with “Amazing Grace.” It was a moment of serene comfort. After dinner we were very fortunate to have as our guest speaker the Rev. Kate Taber, a missionary with Presbyterian Church U.S.A. who spoke of the ongoing challenges of missionary work within a very complex cultural and political milieu. Kate expressed a message of hope despite the continual conflict between the Palestinians and Israelis.

Her thoughts  reminded me that on this pilgrimage we have been seen in towns and country the remnants of ancient empires. We have heard the stories of wars, exile, captivity, slavery, cruelty.  Those empires of conquest by the sword – Assyrian, Greek, Roman, Crusader, Ottoman – are dust, the treasures all gone. They matter not. It is the message of Jesus of love and hope and mercy that endures yet here in this Holy Land and in this world and will do so forever. We can see it in the faces of the people here; we can feel it in ourselves.

Bill Stevenson