As some of you will know -- I have just returned after spending February and March 2017 at Tantur Ecumenical Institute, Jerusalem overlooking Bethlehem. My Sabbatical in the Holy Land was my 5th time there -- and the longest time I have been able to spend in the land that St. Jerome called the 5th Gospel. I brought home so many amazing memories -- of people, places, and experiences.
I hope to share more of them on my blog as time permits.
Meanwhile, you can't spend 2 months wandering around the Holy Land without coming home with a few ideas to tweak the planned 2019 Pilgrimage. I am reviewing our agenda and itinerary -- with an eye to fine tuning it a bit. I spent some time while in Jerusalem in conversation with Tony (of Albina Tours) and with Frederic (of Tantur) and there are a few tweaks to our program that I am considering.
First -- I would like to consider a "Living Stones" day for the first of our two days at the end of the pilgrimage. We would visit a Jewish Settlement / Kibbutz in the West Bank, the Tent of Nations (a Palestinian Farmer who struggles to keep an illegal settlement from annexing his olive grove), a UN Refugee Camp, and a walk through the Old City of Hebron to see both another settlement and the Cave of the Patriarchs. Our joint-tour leaders for this day would be a Jewish Rabbi it training and a Palestinian Teacher from Bethlehem (Men I met at Tantur). The two of them are friends -- yet they have lived very different lives and their narratives / experiences are very divergent. The day would be an extraordinary opportunity to hear different narratives and through this, to better understand the lives and circumstances of the people of the Holy Land. This outing would add some cost to the program (another day of bus, two guides, and a lunch out.)
I think I know where I can save some money -- by cutting back from a 4 star to a 3 star in Petra. I am exploring that now. The hotel we are presently booked for is frankly better than we need -- and we are likely paying a bit extra because it is beside the entrance to the Siq. By walking 3 blocks we can save enough to cover a good chunk of the cost of the Living Stones Day. I am working on it.
I am also thinking we might change the sequence of our visits in Jordan a bit. By changing the route and sequence we might be able to include the amazing site of Jerash (Biblical Gerasa - one of the cities of the Decapolis and an amazing late Roman archaeological site.) I am working on this with our tour operator.
What do you think?
This little clip begins with some Jewish men praying the Psalms, moves left to capture a family group celebrating a Bar Mitzvah (the women on one side of the divide and the men closest to camera), and finally I pan to the left to show the activity at the wall where a high school class are praying.
Most folk see the Catholicon -- the central worship space of the Holy Sepulchre used by the Greek Orthodox. The Greek Orthodox have a second chapel -- less often visited -- the parish church used by their local parish community. Much more humble is size -- it is still an ancient and beautiful worship space. Here we had some interesting explanation of the complexities of today's various worshipping communities in Jerusalem by our instructor for the day.
I can now imagine how welcome the sight of civilization is to people walking overland through the wilderness. We had only walked for 4 hours -- pilgrims in times past walked all day looking to find the place of refreshment, a meal and a bed. This Monastery has been a place for worship and prayer -- and a place of Christian hospitality to pilgrims -- since the 5th Century.
Hiking through the Wadi Qelt we come upon a flock of sheep.
God uses the provision of water in the Wilderness as a way of speaking of God's provision of all that we need! Our God is generous and loving and gives his children all that they need -- and more.
I will open rivers on the bare heights, and fountains in the midst of the valleys. I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water. Isaiah 41:18
Did you ever wonder what worship in 1st Church Jerusalem sounded like? Listen to this little video.
After the return from Babylon, Aramaic had become the language of the people of Judah. Second temple period Jews used Aramaic as their everyday language -- Hebrew was used for the reading of Scripture in the Temple -- but the rest of the liturgy and everyday life was in Aramaic. Yes, the New Testament was written in Greek -- and certainly Greek was known by most people in the eastern mediterranean. But Aramaic was undoubtedly the language spoken by Jesus and his followers. As the church moved into a gentile world, Greek would have become the worship language of gentile Christians. But the earliest, Jewish-Christian communities worshipped in Aramaic. Now, why does this matter?
A family churches in the middle east continue to worship in the language of Jesus. Primarily: the Syrian Orthodox and the Syrian Catholic Church -- use the Antiochian Rite and the Syriac Language (which is a dialect of Aramaic.) They use Arabic for some of the readings -- as most of the members of this church today use Arabic in daily life. But Aramaic is their language of Worship! This little clip -- I didn't want to film too much during the service - they were so kind to me it just felt rude to have my camera running during the service. But the final blessing at the end of the service was sung in Aramaic -- and so I filmed this brief part. It began with censing the congregation and then the Bishop sang in Aramaic: "Go in peace my beloved brothers and sisters. We entrust you to the grace and mercy of the Holy Trinity and the nourishment and blessings you have received from the purifying altar of the Lord. You who are far or near, living or asleep, saved by the victorious cross of our Lord and signed with the seal of Holy Baptism. May the Holy Trinity forgive your faults and pardon your sins and give rest to the souls of the departed and have pity on me, a weak and sinful servant. May your prayers come to help me. Go joyfully in the peace of the Lord and pray for me." Certainly most western Christians find the service a bit elaborate and unfamiliar. But just for a moment put your reservations aside and listen to worship in the language of Jesus.
There is a beautiful Franciscan Chapel in Beit Sahour (beside Bethlehem). Here my group of fellow pilgrims testing the acoustics.
John 11 tells the story of Jesus declaring: "I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live. . ." In raising Lazarus from death - Jesus gives a sign of his authority over life and even death. And he provokes the wrath of the authorities who gather the Sanhedrin and together they conclude that Jesus needs to be put to death. So in saving his friend, Jesus condemns himself. Jesus taking our place in death so that we could receive his resurrection life. How do you react to that knowledge?
John 5 tells the wonderful story of Jesus healing of the man who had been an invalid for 38 years. This excavation shows the ruins of the Pool of Bethesda -- with a Byzantine and later a Crusader Church built over it, spanning the pools. The video below begins looking down into the southern of the two pools -- and then scans over the remains of the churches.
I spent some time here praying and reflecting on Jesus power to heal -- and his desire to make each of us whole. The healed man had spent 38 years in his illness, bound by superstition and fear. Jesus breaks into that setting -- offering wholeness and salvation. And so the question is raised -- What does the Lord long to heal in my life that I am holding back on?