Day 7, May 7, 2017
We began today with Sunday Mass at Christ Church in Nazareth. We are living between the Roman Catholic Church, about a block to the north of us, and the Episcopal Church, about a half a block to the south. How symbolic as I live my church life with one foot in each camp. The more I join Julius in the Episcopal liturgies, the more I pray that one day, Roman Catholicism can be where they are. The Episcopal Church isn’t perfect but it is a long way ahead of the Roman Catholic Church overall: all are welcomed to the Eucharist; everyone, clergy and laity, has a decisive voice in the governance of the church; women can be ordained to ministry; gays are openly welcomed (at least in the U.S.). This morning, I had yet a new experience in the Episcopal liturgy. The regular congregation is Arabic. With 29 of us Americans added to the congregation, the priest combined languages. So we prayed and sang in two languages simultaneously – Arabic and English. To an outsider, it may have sounded like we were speaking in tongues. It didn’t sound like babble though. The sounds were congruent and brought me to an even greater realization that, as we recited the Nicene Creed or the Our Father, we are all One Body in Christ. (Pic 1)
This afternoon, we headed out to explore the rather recent excavations going on at Zippori National Park. (Pic 2). What is being uncovered are beautiful 4th-century mosaics (Pic 3). While this area is never mentioned in the bible, it is assumed that Jesus must have come here and, before his public life began, had the opportunity to learn other languages here in the larger city of Sepphoris. The temple is construction going back to the 1st century evidenced by Roman stone making up the foundation (Pic 4)
I had a provocative conversation with one of the other pilgrims this morning. He is an engineer and likes to be told, as he put it, “the nuts and bolts of things.” He’d like to know this is the exact spot where Jesus hung on the cross or that is the very tomb where Jesus was buried. And that is not what we’re receiving on this journey. I’ve had time to reflect on this and realize that, as a pilgrim, I have different expectations than I would as a tourist. There is historical fact, oral tradition, and historical speculation. I mentioned that we are staying in a convent here in Nazareth. This evening we were given a special, very private tour of what is underneath the convent. No tourist would ever be taken here. As we crawled through the ancient rock setting, what I witnessed with my own eyes was a first century home evidenced by the type of stones and confirmed by archeologists (Pic 5). Historical fact is that about 200 to 300 people lived in Nazareth at the time of Christ.
Oral tradition has identified Mary’s home as a young girl growing up about a block to the south of the convent – the Basilica of the Annunciation that I mentioned earlier (Pic 6). Speculation is that, with only a couple of hundred people living in this town at the time of Christ, everyone knew everyone and visited one another. This home in which we stood underneath the convent could well have been the home of the Holy Family. Or if not their home, a home visited by them. It is also historical fact that family members were buried not far from their home. We saw two tombs close by the house (Pic 7) We speculated: might Joseph have been buried there? Bodies were left in a tomb, history reports, for a time. Then the bones removed and another body buried in the same place. I can’t even begin to describe the awesome feeling to be standing there – not surrounded by crowds of people – just a handful of us.