It is impossible to avoid the pain of separation and division in this land. Signs of it are everywhere. It is also impossible to avoid the abundance of hospitality, one of the pillars of Middle Eastern society. Displacing ourselves leads to new discovery, one of the core movements and motives of pilgrimage.
Meeting the Archbishop
Sepphoris, the big town next door
We drive up the Jordan Valley to arrive at Sepphoris, just four miles from Nazareth, where Joseph and Jesus would have certainly worked (Nazareth was a village of 150 and Sepphoris a city of thousands in the process of being built by “carpenters” (a misleading translation of tekton, aka 'master builder' in a place with little timber and lots of stone!)
Galilee and the Jordan
Today we spend the entire day on the Sea of Galilee, about 12 miles from Nazareth, where Jesus spent the majority of his teaching ministry.
Iyad's assistant, Ranya, joins us for the next couple of days. She guides us with a beautiful spirit and style, and as a Christian herself, she helps us to understand the unique perspective of the indigenous Christian population in this land.
Church of the Resurrection / Holy Sepulchre
Today focuses on the site most central for Christians, known as the church of the Church of the Resurrection to the Orthodox and church of the Empty Tomb (Holy Sepulchre) in the West. It is a chaotic mashup of periods, as it has been totally destroyed four times and rebuilt 12 more. Our earlier study this week helps us understand how this site related to the city in Jesus’ time (outside the walls vs. city center) and how the events scripture describes became encased in this jumble of piety and religious competition.
Iyad helps us make sense of the fascinating layers of history that make up this place. It’s a tribute to factionalism and empire as much as it is to devotion and discipleship.
Graffiti is ubiquitous in the world, but old graffiti seems more interesting than new!
From “group travel” to real community
One of the gifts of our advance preparation, our daily meeting at the close of the day, and our treating every step of this journey as pilgrimage more than tourism is that the travelers connect in a beautiful way. We often stay up later than we should, in animated conversation around all that is affecting us. The evolution is slow and subtle, but a beautiful company of pilgrims has definitely formed along the way.
Walking the Way of Jesus:
Today’s travel together is dedicated to retracing Jesus’ steps along his public entry into Jerusalem, the Passover meal, his trial and execution.
(background: an extraordinary company of friends has formed over these past days — so much camaraderie in this group!)
The Dead Sea
Even pilgrims take a break to play!
On this, our last full day, we head down Iyad’s house in Jericho for a final celebration meal, and stop first at the lowest point on earth, the biblical “Salt Sea” —bobbing like corks on the water, and slathering up with the mineral-rich healing mud in the 80-degree heat.
Jericho — Iyad’s home
Our final dinner and sharing circle at Iyad’s home is sweet, tinged with sadness. As we’ve come to know, appreciate, forgive, and support one another in these intense days of travel, learning, and growth, we’ve formed a precious community, which tomorrow will disperse. It’s a fact that we will never again be all together in this lifetime. And tonight there are so many reasons to give thanks.
On the first day we chose a name at random to become our secret prayer partner, and we each bought them a small gift to exchange tonight. Lots of hugs, lots of stories, tears, laughter, and a sense of the fullness of a Life that is stronger than death, right here and right now.
The Way of the Cross
Our final act as a group is to get up before dawn one last time and walk through the Old City along the ancient Stations of the Cross, walking less in medieval penitence than in a glad recommitment to the way of self-offering Love.
What I hear the pilgrims say: With all that we’ve seen and been through together, our hearts have been cracked and broken open in the best sort of way. We can feel soulfully the angel’s assurance to the women at the tomb: “He is not here; he is risen! We had to come to this place of absence to find Presence. We can go now and find Christ everywhere!
The return journey
The return journey is sometimes more challenging than the outward-bound pilgrimage. Making sense of the life and relationships we return to, when we have been significantly altered in a short amount of time, takes bravery, persistence, and patience.
Taking home what we have learned about the "living stones" of this land — Jewish, Muslim, and Christian — will also take some time to process and articulate. Far from choosing sides, we return with a renewed sense of solidarity with all those working for change, for peace, for a common future.
We walk in solidarity with one another as pilgrims as well, traveling separately now but still together in heart and purpose.
This pilgrimage has ended; the journey continues!