I am happy to report that all of our pastors have returned safely to Atlanta after a long, overnight flight from Israel. Everyone seemed well and in good spirits. I hope that the rest of the day’s travel also brought everyone to his or her individual home! The group from Greensboro arrived on time to a wonderful reception by family at the airport.
We will continue to post notes and pictures to this blog as our group looks forward to reuniting on retreat in November. The pastors made this pilgrimage a success through their wonderful spirit of fellowship, collegiality, and worship. Tim and I thoroughly enjoyed leading this group of outstanding ministers through a spiritual retreat in Israel and Palestine.
Check again soon for more pictures, both in a new post and as additions to previous posts.
Today was our free day in Jerusalem. Some of our pilgrims returned to sites we had visited on previous days, toured the Holocaust Memorial (Yad VeShem) for a poignant remembrance of European genocide against the Jewish people, or walked the streets of the Old City one last time. The group gathered again in the evening for a closing worship service and a final meal together before loading the bus for our long journey home.
We visited the Temple Mount (or Haram esh-Sharif), where the holy Muslim sites of the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa mosque sit atop the Jewish “Wailing” Wall or kotel. The Muslim mosques are excellent examples of architectural artistry that date to the seventh century CE.
The kotel was constructed by Herod the Great in the first century BCE as one of the retaining walls of his great Temple rebuilding project. It is all that remains of the Second Temple, which was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE, and is revered by Jewish worshipers as an especially sacred place.
Our band of pilgrims then traveled to the Dead Sea region to experience the rugged wilderness
We drove to the ancient city of Jericho (including Zacchaeus’ own sycamore tree)
and rode cable cars to the Greek Orthodox monastery on the traditional Mount of Temptation (Matt 4:8-9), where Tim and Anthony led us in prayers.
There’s even a restaurant outside of the monastery…
We then toured the site of Qirbet Qumran (home to an Essene monastic community during the Second Temple period), where the Dead Sea scrolls were discovered in 1947
After lunch, some of our pastors took a dip in the Dead Sea.
This morning we drove to Bethlehem, on the Palestinian side of the Israeli security barrier or wall. The high wall, decorated with colorful graffiti and art work on the Bethlehem side, is a sobering reminder of the lack of peace in the Holy Land (cf. Eph 2:14)
After visiting the Franciscan church of the Shepherds’ Field,
we worshiped with the Rev. Mitri Raheb and the Palestinian congregation of Christmas Evangelical Lutheran Church.
After services, we visited the Church of the Nativity, which marks the cave in which Jesus was born. All in all, a remarkable day!
Our day began with a visit to the Garden Tomb, often called “the Protestant Calvary.” Identified in the 18th century as a possible location for Golgotha and the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, this site has a beautiful garden and a first-century tomb next to a rocky outcropping called “Skull Hill.”
We then drove out to the tradition site of Emmaus in the Arab town of Abu Ghosh (also identified as Kiriat Jearim, where the Ark was kept during the days of King Saul). Donald and Craig led us in prayer in the garden outside of the Crusader Church and Roman Catholic convent.
We then visited the Church of Saint Peter in Gallicantu, where Peter denied Christ three times outside the house of Caiaphas.
Everyone in the group is healthy and doing very well. We are enjoying Jerusalem and its hectic pace.
We began our exploration of Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives this morning.
We began at the Chapel (or Mosque) of the Ascension (complete with the “footprint” of Jesus), followed by the Church of the Paternoster (“Our Father”) where according to one tradition Jesus taught his disciples the Lord’s Prayer.
We then walked down through the Kidron Valley, with its numerous churches and cemeteries, to Gethsemane and the Church of All Nations (built over the “Rock of Agony”).
After entering the Old City through St Stephens’ gate, we visited the ruins of the pools of Bethesda and the Crusader Church of St. Anne, with its famous acoustics.
From there we followed the traditional route of Jesus’ last hours, the Via Dolorosa, to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher (impossible to capture in pictures!), where many of the pastors touched the traditional rock of Calvary.
After dinner we went to the Western (or “Wailing”) Wall to celebrate the beginning of Shabbat with local Jews (no photos allowed). The joyous and exuberant “welcoming of the Sabbath bride” at this open-air synagogue makes for an incredible memory. Returning frm the Wall after 9 pm, we encountered hundreds of Muslims flooding through the streets of the Old City for evening prayers in honor of the first Friday of Ramadan. It was a wondrous evening of religious pluralism in this ancient city.