April 7, 2016
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.
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