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Day 9, May 9, 2017
Some of us arose and headed to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher at 5:30 so we could beat the crowds. We entered by the anointing table, stopped to pray, and have many items blessed (Pic 1). I placed my wedding ring on the table to have it blessed. From there we went to the place where Jesus was buried (Pic 2).
A Mass was being celebrated inside the tomb area (kind of like the vestibule area). This area was barricaded off for a small private party. I managed to slip through and discreetly join the group. It was a Roman Catholic Mass so I fit right in and joined in the responses. It was exhilarating to celebrate Mass and receive communion in the area just outside the tomb (Pic 3) and then to bend down and climb into the tomb (Pic 4). I prayed there in the place where Jesus was buried and ultimately rose again (Pic 5) for our movement to bring new life to our church and to open the minds and hearts of those resistant to change. I prayed for family and friends and for all who are struggling with conflicts throughout the world. As we’ve had the opportunity to explore various first-century underground caves/homes, we learned that when we hear about the stone of Jesus’ tomb being rolled back, it wasn’t large. Two people could easily roll it back. This is exemplified by a stone we saw under the covenant back in Nazareth (Pic 6).
After breakfast, our first stop of the day in Bethlehem was Shepherds’ field, the place where the angel appeared to the shepherds and guided them to follow the star to the place where the newborn king lay (Pic 7). With no crowds around, our guide directed us down to some underground caves (Pic 8) to help us understand what the “manger” and the “stable” were really like. In first-century homes, the people lived in part of the cave-like house and the animals in another part of the house. The animal portion was the stable. There wasn’t an “inn” as we visualize it. Joseph, who had first lived in Bethlehem, before going to Nazareth most likely to find work, had some familiarity with the town. He found Mary the most suitable place available to give birth to Jesus. The crib was most likely a watering trough for feeding the animals much like we saw back under the convent in Nazareth (Pic 9). We all gathered in the cave where Julius was asked to say a prayer. As the light shown down on him, it felt like a Pentecostal moment.
On the way to the Church of the Nativity, built over the actual place (or close to it) where Jesus was born, we stopped at the separation wall (Pic 11). This is the wall that Israelis have built to protect themselves from Palestinians (Pic 12). One place on the wall says: “built by the U.S.” I wonder if we’d be giving all this money if we could see the “fruit” of our contribution.
The wall is about 3 to 4 stories tall with barbed wire on top and completely imprisons Palestinians inside the wall (Pic 13). In order to go about their daily lives, Palestinians have to go through checkpoints just to live in their own country. I can’t imagine living this way. The media has not given us a real picture of the situation that exists in this country. A one-state solution, a two-state solution? Personally, I don’t see any solution in light of what I see happening here. But in spite of this, we read from Ephesians 2: 11 – 22. “For Christ is our peace, he who has made the two peoples one, destroying in his own flesh the wall – the hatred – which separated us.”
Day 8, May 8, 2017
Driving through the West Bank, we arrived at St. George’s Church in Burgin, one of the oldest churches in the world (Pic 1). It is where the ten lepers were cured and only one came back to say thank you according to Luke: 17:11- 19. The oldest part of the church dates back to the 4th century and was built to include the cisterns where lepers were housed and later where Christians hid during the time of the persecution (Pic 2).
We arrived in Nablus, the site of Jacob’s well. Our group gathered around the well and read the Gospel reading of the Samaritan woman who met Jesus at the well John: 4:1-26 (pic 3). The building of this Greek Orthodox church was begun in 1980 and overseen by Fr. Justin, a man of very short stature with a long white beard typical of the Greek orthodox priests. (Pic 4) He endured 16 stabbings from a Jewish fanatic (every religion has their own extremists) during the years of building the church. It was finally completed in 1995 (Pic 5).
We stopped for a delicious lunch in Taybeh, a town that Jesus passed through on his way to Jerusalem. We also visited the Taybeh Brewery owned and operated by an American Palestinian family. What they have to go through to survive here! As Palestinians, they are not allowed to leave the country from Tel Aviv. They have to go to Jordan – a huge inconvenience. They get 20% of the water of what Israelis are allowed, which makes it extremely challenging for their brewery business. If their trucks take beer into Israel, as Palestinians, they have to go through multiple check points whereas Israelis coming into Palestine are able to come through freely. In Nazareth, Jews and Palestinians live reasonably well together. But Jerusalem has its own set of problems. Even if the sacred sites in Jerusalem were made an independent district, much like Washington, D.C., with a two-state solution, so many people would be uprooted since many Israelis live in Palestine and many Palestinians live in Israel. And a one-state solution will never work unless every citizen – Palestinians and Israelis – is given equal rights. The Israelis have all the power and I have never seen a group with power willingly give it up. (This is the same problem we’re having with getting the laity to have a voice in the Church. The hierarchical bishops and cardinals don’t want to give up their power.) There will continue to be trouble in this part of the world as long as illegal occupation of the West Bank by the Jewish people continues. After hearing so many stories here, as much of a mediator as I consider myself to be, I see no resolution. Prayers may be the only answer.
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.
Day 6, May 6, 2017
After a full day of following in Jesus’ footsteps today, I don’t know how I can share this journey in any meaningful way. I only wish all of you reading this could feel what I’m feeling and experience what I’m experiencing. But let me try.
We headed out from Nazareth early this morning and came to Cana. Our guide told us the story of the Wedding Feast at Cana and, at the end of the day, Joseph had a little too much wine. When they got home, Mary asked Joseph if she could get him anything. He said perhaps some water ... but, please, don’t let Jesus touch it!
Still early in the morning, we arrived at the Jordan River where we renewed our Baptismal vows. (Pic 1). From wading in the river, I can tell you that it’s true: “River Jordan is chilly and cold, alleluia; chills the body but not the soul, alleluia.” We hiked down the hill called Mount Eremos where, overlooking the Sea of Galilee, we celebrated the Eucharist (Pic 2)
Yes, you see a woman presiding at the Service. This is normal in the Episcopal church and hopefully will one day be in the Roman Catholic Church. From there we walked down to where the crowd gathered for the Sermon on the Mount. One of our fellow pilgrims stood up on the hill and read the Beatitudes while the rest of us stood and listened below. Even without a microphone, had Jesus been standing up above, we found it easy to hear a voice coming down from the mount.
Our next stop is known as Peter's Primacy. It is the place where Jesus, standing on a rock from shore, told Peter where to cast his net; then, despite of an entire night of catching nothing, when they caught lots of fish, Jesus fixed breakfast for his disciples. The historical Jesus and the Jesus for pilgrims is not always one and the same. Even though this is not the place where Jesus said: “Thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church,” that is what is attributed to this site (Pic 3). As you see, the altar is built over the rock.
We walked down to the Sea of Galilee (Pic 4) and splashed in the water. I was not alone in feeling a sense of awe that Jesus had been on this very same body of water. After lunch of whole fried fish (not caught in the Sea of Galilee I must confess), we went to Capharnaum (also known here as Caperneum). The natural rock of the first century in this city was black and the city itself was made entirely of black rock. The contemporary Church here is built over what was discovered to be Peter’s home, a rather elaborate home that appears large enough to have housed his family, his mother-in-law, and perhaps his brother and his family. You can see Peter’s home through the glass floor below the Church (Pic 5). The temple was only a stone’s throw from Peter’s house but was made of limestone which had to have been carried in from far away (Pic 6). The implication is that the building of the temple was special and treated with the greatest dignity.
Our next stop was Tabgha where Jesus fed 5000 from only five loaves and two fish. I never noticed until today’s reading that the Gospel says there were about “5000 men besides the women and children.” Hmmm – sounds a little dismissive of the women and children as if they don’t count as significant. We noticed that only four loaves are shown in the mosaic in the Church. Why? Because the fifth loaf is on the altar.
We ended this part of our day’s excursion with a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee (Pic 7). The boat we were in was a larger version of the boat recently uncovered that dated back 2000 years ago. On the ride home, I couldn’t help but reflect on the fact that we were walking where Jesus walked, renewing our baptismal vows where He was baptized by John, splashing on the Sea where He walked on the water. Being here, even for someone not religious, is a moving experience. But we’re fortunate to be here with a group with whom we share a common experience of faith and of deeply-held shared values.
If this day wasn’t full enough, in the evening we had another speaker. This time an Arab, Palestinian, Christian, Israeli. You may say to yourself as I did: huh? He was born in Israel; his parents are Palestinians because they were born prior to 1948; he is an Arab; and his family has been Christian since the time of Christ. He is also an Episcopal priest. If any of us think we understand the situation here between Palestine and Israel, how little most of us really know. I can only tell you that being here has dramatically altered my perspective on the situation.
Day 5, May 5, 2017
I’ve been to the mountaintop this morning and have seen the coming of the glory of the Lord! What a magnificent site overlooking the Judean Desert. Leaving Jerusalem, we arrived there in time for sunrise (Pic 1). You may remember that this is the desert where Jesus was tempted for the first time – tempted to turn the rocks into bread. We celebrated Mass there with local people on their donkeys and camels nearby. Afterwards, they wrapped a scarf around Julius’s head (Pic 2).
Heading on to Jericho, we took a cable car up the mountain (Pic 3) and visited the Jericho monastery where monks live in total silence (Pic 4). I had only one year of silence in my days with the Daughters of Charity and even then, we had breaks in our silence. I can’t imagine living one’s entire life this way.
This evening we are in Nazareth and stopped to visit the Church of the Annunciation which is located over the local well where it is believed that the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary. We are staying in a place that was once a convent (Pic 5) and are just a few steps to the Church over the site where Mary lived as a young girl (Pic 6).
Yesterday, back in Jerusalem, I was standing alone in the dining room when a man walked in whom I recognized as the Archbishop of Canterbury. For those of you who don’t know, he is the head of the worldwide Anglican Church. We exchanged a few words and he asked if I was with the Rochester pilgrims. I told him we were from Nevada, that my husband was a retired Episcopal priest at Trinity Cathedral in Reno, Nevada under Bishop Dan Edwards. Today, we ran into him again in the streets of Nazareth and he acknowledged our group. This is not quite like running into Pope Francis but, for an Episcopalian, it is right up there.