A week ago today I was standing on the shores of Galilee – standing where Jesus stood looking out on the lake. One of many highlights of what was a life transforming experience. It was my first visit – I had no idea what to expect – and still my heart was tugged and my mind blown day after day as we were taken to places that up until now had only existed on the pages on the Bible as flat words.
If you were to ask me what I got most out of the visit I would have to respond that the flat words of the Bible came to life and jumped up into complete 3D No make that 4D! Sights, sounds, smells all making the world of the Bible even more alive and real.
To be able to say to the folks in church in Sunday that I had stood in the synagogue where Jesus drove out the demon was just magical. And next week we move just a few yards into the house of Peter – and I was there too! This happened time after time on this trip. The Mount of Olive – a great place to start our pilgrimage – moving me to tears in the garden of Gethsemane; walking the Via Dolorosa (so maybe Jesus didnt walk that exact route but he walked those streets); the pit at St Peters in Gallicantu – he was there/I was there; to be in Bethlehem – all of it, to experience and witness the difficulties a wall can cause; being on the top of Mount Tabor – a very very special place; and to spend our final day following Jesus around Galilee – Capernaum, Mount of Beatitudes, Mensa Christi, Tabgha – where the 5000 were fed and finally a boat trip on Galilee. So many places where my Bible came alive and my faith came alive.
We were challenged by the politics of the area – I had a little understanding of it before I left and on coming home understand it better but I am still challenged by the idea that this place of all places should be such a difficult place for many to live.
I survived on very little sleep – very early starts (to beat the crowds – even in January the Holy Land is full of pilgrims and visitors) and late nights (enjoying the company of some special people – my fellow pilgrims) and yet I was alive last week in a way I could not have anticipated.
This was no holiday – it was a pilgrimage. We walked together, talked together about our faith and different traditions but we also worshiped together each day as we went from place to place. Whilst the worship was not of my tradition (we were led by an Anglican Bishop and so the worship was quite ‘high’) it still brought us together as a group and added greatly to the experience. Our final Communion together on the shore of Galilee was very special. Looking out beyond the alter to the water was wonderful. A very poignant moment occured as we were praying for peace – and singing a song for the Peace of Jerusalem we heard what were obviously military aircraft fly over head – a reminder to us of how close we were to Syria and the tensions in the that part of the world.
The Garden of Gethsemane and the Church of All Nations – to be taken to such a wonderfully powerful place on our first day set up the pilgrimage perfectly. To sense Jesus fear and pain in that place was palpable. (Mark 14:32-33 ‘They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled.’)
Mount Tabor – where the Transfiguration took place – such a beautiful place and so peaceful – could have spent a day there in quiet meditation with no difficulty. (Mark 9:2 ‘After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them.’)
Picking pebbles up on the shores of Galilee – such a special place. Again moved to tears bu the sheer peace and beauty alongside the very certain presence of Jesus. (Mark 1:16-17 As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” ‘)
New friends – we were a mixed group – male/female, couples/people travelling on their own, differing ages,anglican/methodist/CofS/Independant/Baptist and yet we gelled so well. I have made friends I am sure will stay with me a long time and I thank them for what they gave me this week – companionship, friendship and lots of fun. (Matthew 25:35-36 ‘I was hungry and you fed me, thirsty and you gave me a drink; I was a stranger and you received me in your homes, naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you took care of me, in prison and you visited me.’)