Saturday – February 28 – Nazareth – Jordan Baptismal Site – Jericho – Bethlehem

The group checked out of the Nazareth hotel after an early Sabbath breakfast for some, and we departed at 8:00am for the extended bus ride to Jericho from Nazareth.   We arrived at the ancient site of the excavations at Jericho, and we climbed up to the top of the Tel where Rimon gave us the historical perspective of the area, from ancient times to the most recent excavations at this most ancient city.20150228_11493220150228_120057

20150228_11502720150228_12015720150228_120757The location of the mount of Jesus’ temptation could be seen in the distance.

20150228_121150Following the visit to Jericho, there was an opportunity for a little “touristy” diversion, when all who desired had the opportunity for a short camel ride (see photos below at the end of this post).

We reboarded the bus and headed towards the site of Jesus’ Baptism at the Jordan River, but there was heavy cross-traffic at one point that slowed us down!20150228_092032

We arrived at the border between Palestine and Jordan, and walked down to the Jordan River to the baptism site.  There we conducted a renewal of Baptismal vows service, having been reminded that this is the place where both the people of Israel crossed over the Jordan — having made the decision to go to Jericho, as well as the point of where Jesus made his decision to accept his mission and be baptized by John the Baptizer.  At the conclusion of our service, we were sprinkled with water from the Jordan, and sang “We are God’s Work of Art.”  After a group photo, we concluded with our sung version of “Wade in the Water,” and then moved on towards Bethlehem.20150228_121249

Our wonderful acolyte master Sherry Thomas also noticed that the olive branch used as an aspergillium holy water sprinkler could be our newest processional cross.20150228_121357

After a wonderful sandwich lunch at a local Christian restaurant in Bethlehem, we visited a Christian religious goods and souvenir shop before proceeding on to Shepherd’s Field.  There, in a cave chapel near the location where the shepherds lived who heard the voice of the angel calling them to follow the star to the manger, we celebrated a Christmas Eucharist.  It didn’t take long for everyone to get into the Christmas mood as we sang the appropriate Christmas hymns that mentioned the shepherds.  Fr. Marty had purchased a wooden chalice and paten to commemorate this pilgrimage, and we used it for the first time at this Eucharist, which included an extended peace while we waited for Ramon to save the day by hunting down some Eucharistic bread from the nearby Franciscan monk.Eucharist at Shepherds Field

Eucharist in Shepherd's CaveWe then proceeded to the Church of the Nativity, where we visited the site of Jesus’ birth.  The church is currently under renovation, so there is a lot of scaffolding up in the nave and transepts of the church. 20150228_173912

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20150228_174113However, the stairs down to the site of the birth and the manger was a meaningful visit for all.20150228_173305

20150228_173434  20150228_17364420150228_173527 Before the church closed for the day, we were able to see the ancient surviving mosaic floor that has been uncovered beneath the nave of the current church.  The designs in the tiles are amazingly Celtic.20150228_17481720150228_174803On our way to the hotel, we stopped at a local Bethlehem restaurant run by a Christian family for a delicious dinner with salads and grilled meats.20150228_191221We then proceeded back past the Palestine border guards to Jerusalem, where we checked in to the Leonardo Hotel.  Most went to bed after the rooms had been sorted out in preparation for our visit to St. George’s Anglican Cathedral tomorrow for the Sunday services and lunch.

We will attempt to Skype with the congregation during the 9:30am service announcements tomorrow, depending on the Wi-Fi reliability.  It will be around 10:10am Florida time, which will be 5:10pm in Jerusalem.

And now in closing, here is proof of our camel riders for the doubters back home:

 

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Friday – February 27 – Megiddo – Mount Tabor – Nazareth – Cana

There is a saying about our Christian journey that we should begin with the end in mind.  Perhaps today’s microcosm pilgrimage experience reflected that macrocosmic reality.  Because of our busy schedule of pilgrimage visits, we started early.  We boarded the bus at 8am, and departed for our first stop at Megiddo.  Most people will recognize it by its more well known name of Armageddon, most often associated with the end of time.   Thus, we truly began with the end in mind.  This is the town that has been destroyed and rebuilt in history 25 different times.  It is the place mentioned in Revelation 16, where it is referred to as the location where the final battle will take place.  Because of the multitudinous levels of civilizations who built here, the layers of archeological digs provide a literal library of insight into the history of the people who lived here.

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20150227_08590820150227_09094720150227_09170120150227_09212820150227_09323320150227_09453320150227_09455120150227_094921A fascinating point for the pilgrims were the many “feeding troughs” made of stone that were used as mangers in Jesus’ day.  It is much more likely that the traditional manger for Jesus was more accurately something like this stone variety:20150227_092151

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At Megiddo, there is a famous system of tunnels that provided a hidden access to the spring of water outside the walls of the city.  The tunnels have been fully excavated, and lucky for this pilgrim group, the access to the tunnels was opened following the winter rains today as we arrived.  Thus, the pilgrims were able to hike down to the level of spring, walk through the tunnel, see the spring, and then come up the other side.  It was a fascinating adventure for all that surpassed any Disney fast pass ride.

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20150227_09533320150227_09541820150227_09580020150227_09582320150227_10013820150227_10033620150227_10034920150227_100415Next, we continued on to Mount Tabor, which is the traditionally revered site of the Transfiguration of Jesus.  The arrangements there require for us to employ separate vans to ascend to the top of the mountain, where there are separate chapels that commemorate Moses and Elijah, just as Peter wanted to build separate shrines for each in the Gospel story.20150227_112207

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The main basilica church is much bigger, and after Rimon lectured on the significance of each of the chapels, there was a little free time for us to explore and to meditate, after which we went to the overlook point to see the panoramic view.  20150227_113151

When it was time for departure from Mount Tabor on this beautiful warm and sunny day, Bob Lees commented that “This is so nice, I could stay up here all day.”  There was laughter when the realization hit that he had almost quoted Peter verbatim at the Transfiguration.

We proceeded on to Nazareth, where, after a delicious sandwich break for lunch of Shawarma or Falafel sandwich served at a Christian restaurant by Maron, we continued our walk up the block to the Church of the Annunciation.

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20150227_135349Rimon arranged for the group to have a private time with Eduardo, one of the lead guides at the museum, who opened up just for our group to see a 1st century excavated house from Nazareth that would be very similar to the house in which Mary would have been living at the time that the angel Gabriel appeared to her.

20150227_14102020150227_141146The most startling revelation to the pilgrims here is that the “no room at the inn” is actually a mistranslation.  The reality is that there was no room in the front room of the house (where people slept), so that the baby had to be born in the back room of the house, where the domestic animals were kept.

Also, we were able to see the original carved stone with the graffiti inscription in the museum that gives clear evidence that the church nearby is the spot where Mary lived at the time of the Annunciation.  20150227_142457

The pilgrims then had a little free time for prayer and/or exploration to see the basilica church built around the actual house of Mary, prior to our return to the bus for our trip to Cana.  20150227_143417Some opted to then head towards St. Joseph’s Church, which was a short walk away from the Annunciation Church.  Upon arrival at St. Joseph’s, we saw some beautiful bronze sculptures depicting St. Joseph.20150227_14405120150227_144020We were equally surprised to find a very recognizable usher welcoming people to St. Joseph’s Church:20150227_143957At Cana, we were able to utilize the chapel of Divine Mercy to conduct our Eucharist and renewal of marriage vows, at which Charlotte and Bob Lees celebrated 45 years of marriage, Mary Lou and John Eastham celebrated 35 years of marriage, and Dee and Marty Zlatic celebrated 22 years.  After the Eucharist, we paused for a group photo with the “newly married couples” in front of the main church prior to our return to the hotel for our last night dinner in Nazareth.20150227_161548

At our final social gathering and dinner in Nazareth, there were toasts, stories, and laughter shared, prior to a wonderful blessing prayer by Bobbie Smith to lead us into our Sabbath dinner in the hotel.  The salad buffet was endless, and since our departure tomorrow is even earlier than today, everyone retired early to pack and to sleep.  We will depart Nazareth tomorrow at 7:45am for our Jerusalem hotel tomorrow, via Jericho and Bethlehem.

Please be advised special love (LLL) is sent from the spouses to those husbands who are not able to be here with their wives.  We toasted you tonight and remembered you all with fondness.

Thursday – February 26 – Galilee – Capernaum – Tabgha – Mt. Beatitudes – Golan Heights

After finally laying supine in a real bed overnight, the pilgrims awoke and straggled down to breakfast in small groups.  Some even had the energy to hit the gym when it opened at 6:30am.  After we remembered how to count to 30 again, the bus departed our Nazareth hotel for the sea of Galilee, where we boarded our boat.  It was a gloriously beautiful, warm, sunny day, and the water was as calm as could be.

The boat captains turned off the motors in the middle of the Sea of Galilee, and in with the locations of so much of Jesus’ ministry visible at the shoreline that surrounded us, we sang “Lord, When You Came to the Seashore,” to begin our celebration of Eucharist together on the boat.

20150226_094734We did some imaginative meditation, reflecting on two of the stories of Jesus life connected with our location:  the storm at Sea from Matthew 8 and Peter’s walking on water in Matthew 14.  At the conclusion of our Eucharist, the boat crew cranked up the speakers that played a rhythmic gospel recording of “O Happy Day,” and there was dancing and rejoicing amongst the group exchanging the Peace.20150226_102325

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20150226_10232020150226_10275020150226_10240420150226_10291020150226_10242920150226_10234820150226_10272820150226_10250520150226_10482820150226_104457Once we returned to shore, Rimon arranged for the group to visit the museum that houses a first century boat that was discovered, preserved, and relocated in a beautiful indoor display.  While there is no evidence that this was the boat that Jesus and the disciples used, carbon dating proves that it was the type and size of fishing boat that was used at that time.20150226_11164020150226_111612

The next stop was at Tabgha, where there is a Franciscan Church that commemorates the spot of the miraculous feeding of the multitudes by Jesus.  Rimon gave some fascinating history about the church, which preserves some beautiful early Christian church mosaic tiles in the floor.  We had some time for some quiet reflection and prayer here before we moved on.

After Tabgha, we moved on to a delicious lunch at the YMCA youth hostel, which is the place Fr. Marty has stayed in before “back in the day.”  There is now a wonderful patio restaurant added that overlooks the Sea of Galilee, and with the windows open on this gorgeous day, the group feasted on local vegetables and dips with pita bread before the main course.  Most had the local specialty — St. Peter’s fish.  Fresh dates were served for dessert, and we had a good laugh when it was said to Chris Pedic, “Wait till we tell husband Tony that you had a juicy date on the pilgrimage…”20150226_134333

The post-lunch stop was at the Mountain of the Beatitudes, where the group was given time to explore the Basilica church and the surrounding gardens and area.  The private time for walking and meditating was welcomed by all, and then we moved on to the Church of Peter’s Primacy.  This is the spot historically connected with the stories of Jesus saying to Peter, “on this rock I will build my church.”  20150226_154049

It is also traditionally associated with the resurrection appearance of Jesus at the end of John’s Gospel, where the three-fold denial of Peter is replaced with the three-fold affirmation of “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.”20150226_154740

 

20150226_153622Next, we moved on to the town of Capernaum, where we centered on the events recorded in Mark 2, where Jesus preaches in the Jewish synagogue, and then goes the short distance to the house of Peter, where he cures Peter’s mother-in-law.

20150226_16233520150226_16224220150226_162302There is a beautiful church that has been constructed over the top of the archeological site where Peter’s house was discovered.

20150226_16434620150226_16374320150226_163708After Rimon’s informative lecture, the group was given some quiet moments to explore and pray.

The last stop of the day was a beautiful short walk on a nature travel to view the caves in the mountainside that are the beginning of the “Jesus Walk” to Cana.  It was in one of these caves that lived Simon the Zealot, whom Jesus called to be one of the disciples.

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20150226_171936Traffic near Nazareth was blocked, so we moved back our social hour and dinner a bit.  After a wonderful buffet together, everyone went back to their rooms to retire and reflect on the incredible day together in Galilee.

 

 

 

Wednesday – February 25 Tel Aviv – Caesarea Maritima

All arrived in Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport in good health — not exactly bright-eyed and bushy- tailed — maybe more like bushy eyed and bright tailed, but we all made it.  After a bio break at a terminal bathroom, and then assigning each pilgrim a number (for counting off purposes during the trip) and a short prayer, we proceeded to immigration and baggage claim.  All the luggage made it — thank you God!, and we proceeded through customs to meet our guide Rimon and our bus driver Faris.20150225_111541

20150225_111448Rimon is a Palestinian Christian (there are only approximately 8,000 of the nearly 1,000,000 inhabitants in Jerusalem).  His family tree has a long history in the Holy Land, and he is one of the most experienced and respected guides in the country.  He does a lot of certificate training for new Holy Land guides.  Fr. Marty offered a prayer, and then, without any notes in hand, Rimon proceeded to share with us the history of all the places we passed as we drove from the airport west through the town of Tel-Aviv and then northward up the coast towards our first pilgrimage stop, Caesarea Maritima.

We watched a short movie and then Rimon led us on a tour of the area.  Caesarea Maritima has an important place in Jewish history as well as Christianity.  It was an important arrival port for trade ships from all over, and was built by Herod the Great with a large statue of the emperor to Caesar that would have been visible to all arriving ships.  (Caesar had announced himself as God to be worshipped, and, as Rimon told us, this was Herod’s way of “sucking up” to the emperor.)  This is the place under the governorship of Pontius Pilate, and is where Paul was imprisoned for two years.  There are ruins of a Byzantine church that commemorates that spot.  This is also the place where Peter baptized Cornelius as the first gentile Christian, as recorded in the book of Acts.  Since this was the “official” beginning of the church under Peter recognizing that ALL are welcome — it truly is the “home” of Christianity for all of us.  Rimon explained this after starting his talk by saying to us “Welcome Home.”  There are ruins of another Byzantine church here that commemorates the spot of Peter baptizing Cornelius.

We then boarded the bus and proceeded northward towards Mount Carmel.  We stopped at a local restaurant for a wonderful salad buffet, with falafel sandwiches enjoyed by most on fresh pita bread.  After lunch, we re-boarded the bus, and then experienced the challenge of trying to count off 1-30 to make sure everyone was present.  (Oh boy, Fr. Marty has his hands full with this group!)  After a final verification that 30 pilgrims were actually present, we continued to the Abbey at Mount Carmel, the place connected with the story of Elijah as recorded in 1 Kings 18-19.  With Rimon’s genuine charm, he was able to arrange for us to celebrate an opening Eucharist in the chapel there.  (With so many on this pilgrimage who have participated in a Celtic pilgrimage before this, we included Sanctuary in our hymn list, since that is the traditional first hymn we sing in St. Margaret’s Chapel on that pilgrimage.)

Leila read the story from 1 Kings connected with this spot, and Fr. Marty read the transfiguration Gospel to set the tone for our pilgrimage.  Though the Gospel writers don’t emphasize it, in order for the disciples to experience the mountaintop with Jesus, they had to be willing to hike up the mountain.  These pilgrims have extended the energy to get to this point, so pray with them that they will be open to the mountaintop experience that God wants each of us to have.  After a stunning rendition of Sunday’s “Go Now in Peace” hymn (that would have made David Clyle Morse proud), we proceeded up to the viewing area overlooking the historic valley of Jezreel – the site overlooking the area where many Biblical battles had been fought.

We then boarded the bus for the 45-minute trip to our hotel in Nazareth.  (This time the group was able to successfully count to 30.)  Check-in was smooth, and after a short social gathering, the group gathered for a wonderful buffet dinner at 7:00pm.  Most were in bed by 8:30pm to rest after the longest (and best) day ever…

Tuesday – February 24 – At the gate in Newark Airport to Tel Aviv overnight

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Everything was on time.  We had to grab a group photo when we could as boarding commenced shortly after the additional security checkpoint. Missing from the photo (but don’t worry — on the airplane!) are Luann Langley, John & Mary Lou Eastham).

The flight had a one hour customs delay and to fix a minor mechanical issue with one of the passenger seats, but most of the time was made up in the air, and we arrived in Tel Aviv with only a short delay.  It was an up-close personal encounter with a large group of Hasidic Jews who were very “active” on the flight.  A few of the group were in Economy Plus, but the majority felt like they were in Economy Minus with the close proximity of the rows in front and behind.  An intimate ecumenical experience.

 

Tuesday – February 24 – West Palm Beach-Newark-Tel Aviv

The pilgrims boarded the plane in West Palm Beach — amazingly awake and good spirited after an early morning. 20150224_094222 20150224_09441420150224_094256A pleasant surprise was a goodbye visit with St. Joseph’s Tamara Soares who happened to be working today as massage therapist at PBIA.    20150224_091327We arrived in Newark airport to find that it was so cold outside that even the birds decided to find a warmer bird bath inside the terminal by our gate.20150224_130238