Holy Land Trip
One of the most exciting and disorienting experiences in Jerusalem is the visit to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Walking through the narrow streets of old Jerusalem, up and down small alley ways lined with small shops and friendly vendors, pilgrims are overwhelmed by the sights, sounds and smells of the old city. Emerging from the small street into a larger courtyard, most are unaware of their location and cannot anticipate the power of the upcoming experience. Crossing the courtyard and approaching the church, there is little to indicate that one is about the enter one of the most sacred churches in Christendom. Oddly, there is a set of steps leading up to a landing with no door or entrance, and adjacent to the steps a large door opening into the darkness of the old church.
It is this location which was identified to Constantine's mother as the place of Golgotha and the tomb of Jesus. Immediately inside the door, there is a stone slab upon which, tradition holds, Jesus' body was hastily prepared for burial. Most pigrims proceed from here to the elaborately decorated (Greek Orthodox) tomb which commemorates the location and place of Jesus' tomb. It stands as an ornate 'cube'- a room with external metal beams supporting the structure. One church controls access to the front of the tomb, while another church controls access to the back, smaller portion of the tomb. It is one of the great paradoxes of Christianity and the stewardship of this sacred site: the various branches of Christ's church which control various parts of the Church do not behave very well toward one another!
After a very brief visit into the tomb, pilgrims move around the church to various stone rooms below ground level revealing a variety of burial chambers hewn into the rock. Centuries-old crosses chiseled into the stone indicate the historic witness of pilgrims who have come to this place believing it to be the actual location of Golgotha. Moving around back toward the entrance of the church, visitors are able to see through glass enclosures that a rock edifice rises within the church up toward the ceiling. Climbing a very narrow set of steps reveals a small chapel-like shrine, elaborately decorated with ancient paintings and mosaics surrounding a stone altar table. Below the altar, pilgrims kneel to place their hands through an opening in the floor to touch the very stone which we know as the Hill called Calvary.
First-time pilgrims can hardly be prepared for the experience of being at the place which is so central to our faith, and, very little about the experience offers any familiarity to those who have visualized the crucifixion, the place of the skull, and the garden tomb through years of hearing and reflecting on the Cross and the Resurrection!
My friend and fellow-traveler, Charles Bame, found this wonderful virtual tour of the Church. Visit this site by clicking on the address, and you will more fully understand the experience of those pilgrims who enter The Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
Kay and Chip pose on the Mount of Olives across the Kidron Valley from the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Just over their shoulders between them you are able the see the Dome of the Rock which stands on the site of the first and second Temples. Remarkably, Kay and Chip just happen to be wearing their Wilson's Garage, Pfafftown shirts!
Sunday morning began with a worship service in the Garden of Gethsemane, looking out over the Temple Mount. Our group members read scripture, shared testimonies and thanksgivings, sang hymns and heard a beautiful solo, "In the Garden," by one of our group members. After our service, we went through the Church of the Nations which sits across the Kidron Valley from the Temple Mount at the base of the Mount of Olives.
This was a beautiful day in Jerusalem, sunny with blue skies and a very pleasant temperature. Following our service, we took the bus to the top of the Mount of Olives where we had a group photo, and heard our guide, Pilar, expound on the importance of Jerusalem to Jews and Christians. She taught us about Jerusalem, the Temple Mount, and the Temple- as we looked down on the site from the Mount of Olives. It was a glorious and beautiful classroom on the side of the Mount- teacher and disciples. After the teaching, Kay Lasley and I posed for a photo with the Temple Mount as the backdrop. Amazingly and without any prior planning, we were both wearing our Wilson's Garage of Pfafftown Embroidered T-Shirts!
Boarding the bus, we drove up Mount Zion where we paid respect at the Tomb of King David (traditional sight with no remains) and visited an Upper Room. From there, we walked through the Jewish Quarter and saw the excavated wall of King Hezekiah.
After lunch, we went to the Israel Museum where we examined a topographically correct model of the city of Jerusalem in 66 AD. After this walking tour "above" the city, we visited the museum containing the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Several times today, we were given the opportunity from different locations to take photos of the Temple Mount and surrounding landscape. Today, truly Jerusalem was a light upon the hill, and the beauty of the city was awe-inspiring.
Tomorrow, we begin the day at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It is on the exact location which was identified as the hill of Golgotha when Constantine's mother began her search to identify sites related to Christ's life when Constantine, the Emperor of the Roman Empire converted to Christianity in the early Fourth Century.
Pray for us and know that today we prayed for you!
Very early this morning, we departed Tiberias to travel south through the Jordan Valley down to the Dead Sea and the excavated remains of Qumran. Qumran, you may know, is the place where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. The Essene community which produced the scrolls separated themselves out from all other Jewish folk in order to attain religious perfection. They were so religiously pious that they really couldn't stand to be around other folks, even the religious ones. (This from our guide; Chip's paraphrasing.)
Leaving Qumran, we traveled to Jericho, which is in the area of Palestinian authority. Our Jewish Guide has been prohibited by the government from going into area of Palestinian control. So, the driver and I led the group and we all shared everything that we knew about Jericho and walked over the archaeological site. We had a fun visit with street vendors and all can say that we have been inside the town where the walls came a tumbling down. We also photographed an old, old sycamore tree reminiscent of the one which Zacchaeus climbed. You remember him, a wee little man- an unpopular tax collector shunned by his community- who climbed the sycamore tree for the Lord he wanted to see. Jesus, you recall, passed by that day and looked up in the tree, and he said, "Zacchaeus, you come down, for I am going to your house today!" Jesus was always busting through walls, even social ones.
After Jericho, we traveled up to Jerusalem and dropped off our guide because she was not allowed to travel with us to Bethlehem, again, because the hometown of shepherd and King David is in an area under the Palestinian authority. So, we left Jerusalem for Bethlehem where we were warmly welcomed by Palestinian Christians and greeted with the Lord's prayer in Aramaic- the language which Jesus spoke. But to get into Bethlehem from Jerusalem one must go through a border checkpoint and through a gate which is the only access through a forty-feet high fence- like those sound barricades beside the new I-40 around Greensboro. The walled barrier caused some wide-eyed anxiety among our tender group.
In Bethlehem, we visited the Church of the Nativity which is really three churches: Armenian, Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic. People among us were moved to tears as we knelt beneath the altar to touch the star indicating the place of the Savior's birth. Then up and around the stone wall to the other side of the cave venerated by other Christian folk. The place produced an emotional reaction from others who simply could not imagine that Jesus was born anywhere near such a busy, commercialized and fragmented church zone.
Finally, we were carried to the Shepherd's fields; actually, it is just one of the shepherd's fields with different church groups claiming differing fields in which the shepherds actually experienced the angels frightening announcement of the Savior's birth: "Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth, peace, goodwill to (among) men!"
All of the present-day tension in the land of Jesus, who taught that as we would like to be treated, so we should treat others. This, he said, "is the law and the prophets".
When will we get that?
We began the day by taking an early morning walk along a narrow path into the Arbel pass, the exact path upon which Jesus walked from Nazareth to Capernaum two thousand years ago. The path has changed little and the sense that one was seeing the land just as Jesus did was overwhelming.
We visited the Mount of Beatitudes where huge crowds gathered to hear Jesus teach, and the church at Tabgha which commemorates the multiplication of the fishes and loaves. Down at the shoreline, brother Jerry read the scripture of Jesus' resurrection appearance to the fishing disciples, and Jesus' charge to Simon to "Feed my sheep". In the small chapel, there is the rock outcropping upon which tradition holds Jesus prepared breakfast for the fisherman who were instructed to drop their net on the other side.
At Migdal, we saw the 'Jesus boat'- a first century fishing boat rescued from the muddy shoreline of the Galilee. Then we took a boat across the Galilee from Migdal to the land of the Garasenes on the other side. Along the way, our boat stopped and we spent minutes in silent meditation. Fifty disciples in a boat on the sea of Galilee, and the moments were perfectly quiet and moving. Jesus is the 'master of the sea'. It was as if he had whispered, "Peace...be still".
Down by the river Jordan, we remembered our baptisms. Nine of our bus group were immersed in the cold, muddy waters of the Jordan. All were warmed by the Spirit which enveloped us there.
The Reverend Jerry Webb, Chip's brother, and the Reverend Will Shewey baptize Chip's roommate, Darius Hall in the icy cold waters of the River Jordan. Chip reluctantly volunteered to stay on shore and photograph this experience of a lifetime, so that the three friends would have a momento of the experience.
This was our last day in the Galilee. Tonight, we pack up here in Tiberias to move to our new, temporary home in Jerusalem. Everything that we do here reminds us of Jesus. From this beautiful garden along the shore, we set our eyes upon Jerusalem and we cannot help but recall Jesus' purposeful days as he left this place to fulfill the Father's purposes there.
This morning, we left for Caesarea Maritima- look it up on the Web; it is a magnificent site. King Herod built it.
Then, we went to Megiddo, the crossroads of the ancient world. Left for the Mt. of the Brow of the Hill on the edge of Nazareth- an amazing site of the Valley of Jezreel: Mt. Tabor, Mt. Moreh, Mt. Gilboa...
In the photo above, Mount Tabor, viewed across the Jezreel Valley from The Brow of the Precipice at Nazareth. From Mount Tabor, the army of Israel under the command of Barak descended upon the army of King Jabin of Hazor under the command of Sisera. Sisera's forces were routed, and Sisera succumbed to a tent peg at the hand of Jael, wife of Heber the Kenite. Deborah, prophetess of Israel, had declared the outcome to Barak!
Finished the day at Beth Shean- one of the cities of the Decapolis.
Kay's doing great. Made a photo of us at the Mediterranean, and my cameras port broke....
Last night, at 11:00 PM EST, we boarded Continental to fly to Tel Aviv. We arrived at 4:00 PM Israeli Time (9:00 AM EST).
We were in the air for 10 hours overnight and slept very little. Arrived in Tiberias from Tel Aviv by bus around dinner time, 7:30 PM, ate a big buffet dinner of lots of unknown foods, and now will settle down for the night. Hopefully, we will sleep (even though it is 3PM home time) and wake up none too early in the morning. We get a wake-up call here at 6 AM Israeli time, and are on the bus to depart at 7:30 AM.
It is very exhausting to get here; but, my what a glorious experience to see and experience this land of the Bible. Tonight, we are within miles from where most of Jesus ministry happened.
Below, the sun rises upon the Sea of Galilee in Tiberias. Though a hazy day, one can still see across the Lake to the land of the Gerasenes.
Above, the Royal Plaza Hotel of Tiberias reflects the light of the rising sun on the shore of the Sea of Galilee.
Tomorrow, we go to Caesarea Maritima, where the Apostle Paul was imprisoned, and Cornelius, the first Gentile convert, became a Christian and received the Holy Spirit. Following that, we will go to Mt. Megiddo in the valley of Jezreel, where every major historical power has passed and battled. Then to Nazareth, from which came the "branch" from the root of Jesse, and finally to Cana, where Jesus performed the miracle of water into wine!
Pray for Aqua Bus, Group #30, and the Bus Captain, yours truly,
On Tuesday, January 12, Chip Webb and Kay Lasley will join with twenty-nine neighbors, church family members, and new friends from Tennessee, Virginia and Georgia on a trip to the Holy Land, Israel and Palestine. Our local group will be departing from Charlotte Airport to Newark, and on to Tel Aviv. In Tiberias, on the banks of the Sea of Galilee, we will join with our entire Bus Group for visits to Biblical sites around the Galilee- Nazareth, Capernaum, Caesarea. After several days in the Galilee, we will move to the Jerusalem area to visit surrounding sites-Jericho, Beit Shean, Bethlehem- and finally, tour the churches which surround the most holy sites in Christianity.
Our 10-day tour will provide a glimpse into the land and life of the Bible, and allow us to walk in the footsteps of Jesus. Along the way, we will enjoy the sights, sounds, smells and wonderful foods associated with the Bible lands.
Join us on the website for updates of our travel experiences: sail with us across the Sea of Galilee and walk barefoot through the shallow waters of the shoreline; marvel at the beauty and historical significance of Mt. Megiddo and the Jezreel Valley; gaze with us from atop Masada on to the remains of Roman encampments; and kneel with us under altars as we place our hands on the rock of Golgotha. Our hope is to share with you daily the excitement and joy of this marvelous journey to the very bedrock of our faith and religious heritage.
Travel to the Holy Land requires patience and perseverance. The trip includes long waits and brisk walks in airports- lots of sitting and plenty of stressful rushing. Security, customs, baggage checks and toting carry-ons provide exercise and entertainment to offset eleven hours of international flight. (Over Chip's left shoulder, note a TV star from current reality series!)
Pray for us and join with our hearts as we celebrate the presence and power of our redeeming Lord.