Day 10 (Friday) – the Holocaust Museum & Memorial and Many Partings.

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Our final day in Jerusalem was free time. Many of us decided that we would visit the Holocaust Museum. I felt that it was essential to go. The State of Israel doesn’t exist without the most horrific genocide in history. The Nazis and their collaborators murdered 6 million Jews. 1.5 million were children. 1.5 million children murdered. The photo on this post is from the entrance to the Children’s Memorial at the museum. This museum is so important and so painful. It makes me sick. It makes me pray. It makes me angry. It makes me sad. It makes me cry. Our last stop in the Museum & Memorial was the Children’s Memorial. Name and age, read in Hebrew and English, in a dark room, all day, all week, all year long. 1.5 million children. God grant them rest and have mercy on us all.

The day concluded with a number of goodbyes. We bid some of our group members goodbye at the Guest House. We bid our guides goodbye as we got on the bus. We bid some of our group goodbye at the airport. 23 of us (our group was 41) have just landed in Newark now. Its Saturday 3:45 AM NY time (10:45 AM in Israel), and I’m signing off on the blog. When we reach gate our group will disperse again. Ten of us are coming to Pelham by bus from the airport. I’ve had the time of my life. I’ve learned how to pray again and in news ways. I’ve made lifelong friends and been to places that will forever form me. I miss my family and I am looking forward to coming home very very soon.

By the time you read this, I will probably be home. I’m “on” this Sunday, September 2. What on earth will I preach about? Our group has a surprise gift for the parish (it is a surprise even to most of the griuo) which I will present. Come to church Sunday. It will make me happy to see you all again.

Jerusalem, my happy home, when shall I come again to thee?

Please forgive any typos. I’ve been blogging from my iPhone.

Day 9 (Thursday) – Stations of the Cross, Emmaus, and the Dead Sea

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Our day began before dawn. This pilgrimage has featured many early wake ups, but this was the first that was easy. I had gotten plenty of sleep the night before, and we were going back to the Holy Sepulcher. I had been in that church twelve hours earlier to bless and anoint with holy oil a number of gifts in the Annointing Stone. This is the traditional location that Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimethea anointed Jesus’ body with 300 pounds of nard and burial oils. At some point a marble stone was placed on this spot which is at the entrance and exit of the church. For centuries pilgrims, clergy, and the faithful have prayed here and anointed things with oil. I imagine many thousands of pounds of nard and precious oils have been poured out on this stone to sanctify items – a tradition started by Nicodemus and Joseph. The smell overpowers the entire church complex. When you touch the stone, it’s smell sticks to you. It is divine. It is my favorite place in the Holy Land, and I was happy to return to the place where only twelve hours earlier I had poured out half a vial of oil over Holy gifts for my loved ones.

Today, we would return via the Via Doloroso – the Stations of the Cross. We gathered in the dawn and walked in silence into the Old City. All of the various gospel narratives converged in my head – Jesus entering the city in Palm Sunday – Jesus entering the city for his ministry on Festivals – Jesus entering the city for the Last Supper – Jesus’ midnight arrest – Jesus taking up his cross and walking to Golgotha. We walked in silence to the traditional first station (Pilate).. We had been here before when we first toured the city, but our first visit was underground. This time we stood outside of a church and began our journey to Golgotha.

At each station one member of our group read a passage of Scripture while another read prayers. The prayers were different than the ones we use regularly in the Episcopal Church. These were equally moving and I will make sure we use them next year in Lent.

In between stations we sang hymns. Jesus remember me. Were you there. Amazing grace. Singing such sacred songs in the silence of the city will forever be with me. God has given us the gift of music, and when we tap into that gift the angels sometimes join in. They did today in the Holy City. The sound of our voices echoing off of the ancient walls brought with it myriad pilgrims prayers from days gone by.

It is customary to enter the Holy Sepulcher in silence. Our final song finished and we entered the plaza outside the church. Even at this early hour the church is more crowded than most churches, but for the Holy Sepulcher it was “empty”. Perhaps only a few hundred people were praying around that church at 6am. Normally it is thousands.

As we entered the church for the final Stations we passed by the Annointing Stone and a cloud of holiness that clings to the air near it. We prayed these penultimate Stations next to Calvary – the rock itself next to us. We then headed into the Rotunda that houses the Edicule. Our final station was in the small tomb chapel behind the Edicule – this chapel commemorated Joseph of Arimathea and it was the perfect, quite place to finish the devotion. Nobody had spoken out of turn on our entire Stations journey but I heard someone proclaim, “ Oh, I’m so happy we are here for this. I wanted so much to come back.” I silently concurred. The devotion concluded with the blessing of crosses on the altar in this chapel.

We then had some time to wander the church and pray on our own. I went to the Edicule first. As I prayed outside it, joining others with a hand placed on its shell, I noted that there were people inside – I thought it was closed at this hour. Bob and I stood outside waiting to see see what emerged. When the doors opened we saw a priest in Eucharistic vestments. We discovered that it the morning hours the tomb is open for masses – scheduled well in advance I assume – in one language after another. When the priest exited, he was followed by a stream of people. The Edicule is not very spacious. I assumed maybe ten people could fit uncomfortably inside. It must have been a small mass for a select group. Amazingly, the line of people coming out did not stop. 20, 30, 40, 50, 60 people poured out of this small space. When they were finally all out, another priest and a similarly large group (speaking a different language) packed into the space. The idea of being packed that tightly anywhere, even the holiest site in the Christian world, drove me to seek solitude. I made a beeline to the lowest point in the Church – the chapel below Helena’s chapel. I was thrilled to discover it was empty… until I turned around and saw a fellow solitude seeker sitting silently in the shadows. I wouldn’t want to be disturbed if I had been in his space, and so I left him in peace. Outside I met most of the group, and Iyad gave us a snack – falafel – for the walk back to the Guest House.

After a more filling breakfast and coffee (several double espressos as has become my Holy Land custom), we made a trip up tho the Princess Basma Center. This is an Anglican Center for children and they provide a wide variety of therepy and services for disabled children. They are doing the work of saints. Here is link to their website which can provide far better information that I can.

After lunch we left town and went to Emmaus (one of the four possible Emmaus sites). Randy and I vested in a 1000 year old crusader church. Randy celebrated and I preached. It was perhaps the highlight of the entire pilgrimage. My sermon is online here. The echoes are a natural byproduct of a 1000 year old stone church.

Our penultimate stop this day was the Dead Sea. The “real feel” was 120 degrees – it was only 104 but the lowest place on earth is also really humid.. Due to the heat – our trip has featured perfect weather except in the Dead Sea/Jericho area which was very hot – I was not looking forward to it all that much until we actually arrived. Suddenly the kid in me came out when I saw a sign for “Beach”. We quickly changed into bathing suits and walked down to the lowest place on earth. The Dead Sea is 1000 feet deep (you read that right) and it is like nothing else on earth. The water is painfully salty (you can’t get it in you eyes without extreme pain – I know that now), it is also so salty that you can’t help but float. We stood straight up in the water and didn’t go under – it’s so totally awesome. But 30 minutes is enough. After the single best shower of all time I walked a few feet up the shore to “The Lowest Bar on Earth”. There, we took selfies and had passion fruit vodka smoothies. If you ever visit the Dead Sea, you must have a passion fruit vodka smoothie at the “Lowest Bar on Earth”. It was sublime.

Our day concluded with dinner at Iyad’s Home in Jericho. We had wonderful food and exchanged gifts and initial goodbyes. I am ready to go home, I miss my family, and I am grateful to God for this wonderful pilgrimage and the people I am have met.

Photos are here. Please forgive any iPhone typos

Day 8 (Wednesday) – Chapels of the ten lepers, Jacob’s well, and St George… and back to the Old City

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We left Nazareth at 7am and headed back through the West Bank. I started with a prayer for the stewardship of creation (see yesterday’s post to see why). It was ironic and yet not surprising that our trip back south would feature the single largest waste management failure I’ve ever witnessed. The garbage issue aside (and I will detail some of that below), today was an amazing day.

We first visited the Church of the Ten Lepers. This is where Jesus healed ten lepers. The church is built on a cave and cistern that is remembered as being a refuge for lepers in Jesus’ time. This Orthodox Church was a gem. We prayed prayers of healing for people in our lives. I won’t share my prayers with you all this post, but I felt the Holy Spirit moved in a powerful way in this place. After our brief service we were treated outside to coffee hour! Turkish Coffee and biscuits in a shady garden was a just what we all needed. It reminded me of home and the importance of simple hospitality.

We next drove through Nablus. We entered town through what was obviously a regional dump, garbage trucks and dump trucks were dumping trash as we drove by. Yet, the dump never really ended. On the side of the road there were piles of trash that had obviously been dumped by garbage trucks that dropped their loads before getting to the actual dump. Our lunch conversation revolved around how it was possible that none of us had ever heard a word about the garbage issues in Israel and the West Bank. This is the Holy Land, and yet the land is disrespected in a way that is hard to fathom.

After we had left the dump section of Nablus behind us we headed up Mt Gerizim (which is in Nablus). This part of Nablus was a pretty little city with one of the most amazing churches in the world.

The Greek Orthodox Church of the Samaritan Woman. The church has an amazing history. In the basement is Jacob’s Well, the same well that the Samaritan woman was at when Jesus entered this town. I haven’t had time to check the tradition with archaeological records, but the fact that the church has been built above this well since Byzantine times and that fact that the well is still functional lend credence to the tradition. We gathered at the well, drank from it, and met the bishop who lives in the church / cathedral. He is an icon maker of the highest level, and he wrote many of the icons in the church. He also oversaw the building of the church when it was destroyed. The church has been bombed in recent years (there is a remnant if that explosion on the steps to the well. The priest before him was murdered by a Settler with an Axe, who wanted control of the well. The current bishop tracked down the murderer, was stabbed twelve times, and finally captured him and handed him over to the authorities. The priest who was murdered was canonized as a martyr by the Greek Orthodox Church. His tomb and an icon remembering his death (written by the bishop) is in the church. The ancient and modern history here was astounding.

The Bishop blessed me while I was there. He also anointed my hands with oil, which is customarily done at the ordination of a priest but was not done to me when I was ordained (that practice fell out of favor in our diocese in the 2000s – I don’t know if it has been revived.). I was grateful and, literally, blessed to be in his presence and have my hands (finally!) anointed by a bishop.

Our next stop was Tybei which is a Christian city in the West Bank. There is a brewery there, and we stopped to tour the brewery and sample some beers. My kind of pilgrimage! The beer here was excellent. They make a great White Ale and a malty IPA. Their stock beer is a Golden Lager which is great too. Of course any purchases here help the local
Christians, so I bought a T-shirt.

Tybei has a ruined church dedicated to St George St George is a very big deal all over the Holy Land. The ruined church is the site of numerous local rituals celebrated by Christians that seemed to me a tad “out there”. There were hooks and splattered blood on the ground from a recent animal sacrifice. There were fire pits and charred areas. It was a place unlike anything I’d seen in the Holy Land.

We made our way back to Jerusalem and for the first time in our trip we had some actual free time. Bob, Eero, and I took the opportunity to return to the Old City. I had numerous gifts that I wanted to properly Annointing and Bless on the Annointing Stone at the Holy Sepulcher. Eero was in search of the ideal Jewish housewarming gift. Bob wanted to go back to the Wall. We did all three and metvfor a beer in the Jewish Quarter. It was a splendid few hours. Returning to the Holy Sepulcher and the Wall increased my love for each place. Prayer here is different and easy.

Our evening concluded with a Speaker who provided a perspective on Jewish issues. It, like all of the speaker events, was excellent and eye opening.

Photos are here. Please forgive my iPhone typos.

Day 7 (Tuesday) – The Sea of Galilee

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Today we visited the Sea of Galilee. The Sea of Galilee is about 40 KM from Nazareth and it took about an hour to get there (we left at 7am bright and early, but after a good night sleep). We passed through Cana on the way there, but did not stop; there were too many other sites that were on our list to make time for that – ironically we would spend a significant amount of time in Cana later in the day.

Our first stop was the Jordan River to renew our baptismal vows. The Jordan River feeds into the Sea of Galilee, and it is (at least from the Pilgrims I have heard from) notorious for being underwhelming as a pilgrimage site, dirty, and often crowded. The bank of the river that we visited was not crowded but otherwise it lived up to its reputation. There were several, weathered lazy boy style chairs on the embankment creating a strange outdoor living room, there was a lean-to tent set up that was falling over because it wasn’t leaning on anything, and there were several large objects mired in the slow, brown, muddy river water, including a skiff and a black couch with a white skull and crossbones spray painted on it sitting directly in the center of the river. The amount of litter in the Holy Land has been intense, and I could have said more in prior posts about noxious smoke from garbage being burned in Jericho, piles of tires in the desert, trash stuffed into walls at Gethsemene, even litter in the pool at Arafat’s tomb, but I’ve tried to spare my few readers this reality – though you can see all of this in the photos I’ve posted. The litter is just there – it is sad, and something needs to be done about it. There was a movement at General Convention this year to add more language about our duty as stewards of creation to our liturgies, including the Baptismal Covenant. Visiting the Jordan made me far more appreciative of that need.

Our service at the river began with a stirring round of “Shall we gather at the river”. The opening line in this spiritual goes as follows. “Shall we gather at the river, the beautiful, beautiful river? Shall we gather at the river, that flows by the throne of God.” God has a sense of humor. The river was not beautiful, it barely flowed, and the “throne” in it is a monument to humanity’s disregard of the environment. If this place did not inspire our group to do more than “our part” in safeguarding creation, then nothing will.

After the hymn we renewed our vows and several of us waded knee deep into the water. We used olive branches to sprinkle the group with water. It was quite nice… as long as you blocked out the debris and flotsam.

We hopped back on the bus and drove up to the Mt of Beatitudes. On top of the Mt is a Monastery and Chapel. The view is wonderful, the chapel and gardens around it are pretty, and the gift shop is excellent… but there is zero archaeological evidence of anything to do with beatitudes in this place. Lower down the mountain was another story.

We walked down the mountain in silence (our direction was the pray for people as we walked). The view of the sea was spectacular. Near the bottom of the mountain we gathered at a spot that is remember as one of many places where Jesus taught his disciples and where he prayed on this own in silence. There are several carved rocks here. One has a cross, another has the beatitudes, a third has Jesus’ image. It was a lovely place and a perfect gathering point after a half hour of silent prayer walking down.

The group continued to the bottom of the mountain – maybe 300 feet down. I was given a special assignment by Iyad to demonstrate how one can speak from the hill (using a cave as a geological bullhorn) and be heard easily by a crowd below. One school of thought is that this is the place, or one of the places, or like the place, where the sermon on the mount might have been given.

From here we headed to the Sea of Galilee and the church built on the spot that is believed to be where Jesus grilled and ate fish with disciple after his resurrection. The Church was very beautiful and simple. It is built on a rock which is partially exposed under the altar. We were given a chance to wade in Sea of Galilee – more of a lake than a sea. The water was beautiful and clean, which was refreshing after our experience at the Jordan. I sat for a long time with my feet in the water, marveling that Jesus and his disciples had certainly spent much time on these waters and in the towns around the sea.

Our next stop on the sea was thevtown of Capernaum, where Peter’s house was and where Jesus healed a man who was lowered through the roof. There was also a synagogue in that town where Jesus taught and healed. The story of the man being lowered through the roof is one of my favorites in all the Bible and so I was looking forward to Capernaum more than almost anywhere. The ruins of Peter’s actual house (scholars and archaeologists are as certain as one can get in these things) are still there. A Church was built on it in the 4th century but that too is in ruins, and a more modern church has been built straddling the archaeological site. You can see the ruins through a window in the church floor and also from outside by looking under the church. Capernaum was perfect.

Next we went on a boat ride. We cruised out onto the Sea of Galilee for a pleasant sail. After an hour we came back to shore and saw the remains of a 2000 year old boat used in Galilee.

We hopped back on the bus and made our way back to Nazareth. The traffic in Cana was terrible, and so even though we never set foot in the town, we spent a good hour in the place where Jesus attended a wedding and turned water into wine.

Galilee was fantastic and is was really helpful to see the locations and topography, and get a sense of the distances. Jesus spent most of his three year Ministry in Galilee. It is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.

When we returned to Nazareth we were treated to an archaeological treasure and a surprise for our group. There are excavations under the Convent/Guesthouse of the Sisters of Nazareth. These excavations include the most perfect tomb from the time that Jesus lived (give or take a decade or two). We saw the exact type of stone that would have been rolled to block the tomb of Jesus and the same sort of tomb that Jesus was placed in. It is possible that this is St Joseph’s tomb – Nazareth was very small and tombs were reused again and again. Seeing this tomb was perhaps the single most eye opening archaeological site I had seen in the Holy Land. It was perfectly preserved, it dated from Jesus, time, it was in Nazareth, and it exactly matched the type of tomb described in the Gospels. A perfect was to end the day!

Photos are here. Please forgive typos – I’m on my iPhone.