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Holy Land Day 8

We headed to the Dead Sea this morning. First stop Qumran. This is where the Dead Sea scrolls were found. They have done wonderful excavation work of where the Essenes sect lived and worshipped. Much of the scrolls contained their rule of life, how they purified themselves several times a day, their prayer life and rules for common living. As our guide said, in some ways this was the first monastery in history. The Essenes has separated from the temple as they did not believe those Jews were strict enough in their obedience to the Law.

You can see the caves where the scrolls were found by a shepherd boy in 1946. There are many caves in the rocky Judean mountains.

On to Masada, the amazing fortress built by King Herod high on a cliff overlooking the Dead Sea. It is the site of the Jewish rebels last stand after the revolt in 66 -72 AD. That story is too much to type here but well worth looking up if you don’t know it. It was a palace and a fortress with an intricate water retention and delivery system as well as huge store rooms for food. You can still see much of the elaborate mosaic floors and the ingenious water system.

It was then time for some fun! We had lunch at the beach and then many of us floated on the Dead Sea. It’s hard to describe how weird that is! The group was having a blast, rubbing the mineral loaded mud on our skin and floating raftless on our backs.

Our last stop was Jericho, a surprise from our guide. We drove past the archaeological dig of what is known to be the oldest city ever uncovered – 10,000 years old! Yes it is where Joshua made the walls come down! We drove to a small lookout where you can see the Mount of Temptation, where Jesus was tempted by Satan after his baptism. There is a stunning Greek Orthodox monastery built into the mountainside and only accessible via cable car.

While there our guide arranged for a camel for many of the group to ride! It was a blast. Jennifer was probably the most excited, a real bucket list item for her!

Holy Land Day 6

Every day is full of amazing experiences. Today was no exception.

Our guide, the amazing Rueven, planned just right. We left early for the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built over the most preferred site of both Calvary and the tomb. I will wait for you to google it……

We entered the Old City part of Jerusalem through the Jaffa Gate and proceeded to the church. We went straight to get in line for the tomb, which is inside an edicule within the large rotunda. This area is controlled by the Greek Orthodox. Six churches have authority of various parts of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The Greek Orthodox, Armenians, and Roman Catholics have the largest, and the Coptic, Syrian Orthodox and Ethiopian also are there. Read up on the Status Quo agreement and then the pictures of a ladder by a window will make sense. Too much to type for now!

The first time Jennifer and I came to the Holy Land the line was too long for us to see the tomb. I was so excited to get to this time. By being early our wait was only half an hour. You duck down into the actual room where you can touch a marble slab which is on top of the place in the tomb where the body would have laid. Opposite the slab is a window into the rock itself so you can see this was not always a church! The rock is limestone and obviously part of a cave. It was a very very spiritual moment, thinking here Jesus laid dead until the 3rd day.

From there you go upstairs to two chapels, one depicts Jesus being nailed to the cross while the next is the actual spot of Calvary and the crucifixion. Wow. You can crawl under the altar where you can see thru a small window the rock of the hill. Again a powerful moment.

Back downstairs there is a slab of rock where Jesus was laid after he died. Many people place objects on there for blessing.

Leaving the church we walked the stations of the cross, the Via Dolorossa, through the old city. We walked backwards from stations 10 to 1, as 11-14 are inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The power and awe of waking and saying the stations in the very place where Jesus walked from where Pilate sentenced him all the way outside the original walls of Jerusalem to Calvary, albeit backwards, is something we won’t forget. Due to the crowds and narrow way, our guide would point out the stations and every 2 or 3 find us a quiet place off the path to pray and say the words and prayers for the ones we had just passed.

We ended at the Pool of Bethesda where Jesus healed a crippled man who had waited by the pool for 38 years to be healed and then were able to pray in the gorgeous Church of St. Ann, Mary’s mother. We are blessed to have some excellent singers including several from our choir and our choir director with us, and they led us in Glorify Thy Name, with the sounds echoing throughout the church. So moving! Again Jennifer’s Facebook tells the tale in words and images as well.

We left the old city through the Lion’s Gate, also known as St. Stephen’s Gate as this is the gate the mob carried him through before stoning him (Acts 7).

We rode to a beautiful monastery dedicated to the prophet Elijah and had lunch. Love this place and the amazing church there.

Next was the Shrine of the Rock museum which has this incredible model of Jerusalem during Jesus’ time.

It also tells the story of the Dead Sea scrolls and the saving of our best text of the Old Testament, the Aleppo Codex. The architecture is stunning.

Last stop of the day was the village “in the hills of Judea ” of John the Baptist. We walked up the VERY steep and long steps to the Chapel of the Visitation where Mary visited her cousin Elizabeth and uttered the beautiful words of the Magnificat. These words are on the wall in 65 different languages. The chapel is very pretty and the church around the corner also, we walked in to it as a worship service was ending. As a group we decided to say Compline together in the courtyard there as the sun was setting, ending with another beautiful song!

By the way our group gathers every evening to “debrief” and talk about the day and about what the next day will bring. This has become holy time. Last night they recognized Jennifer for all the behind the scenes work she does for all of us (especially me, duh), and then surprised me with an amazing gift of a beautiful red chasuble and stole, handmade in Bethlehem!

Holy Land Day 5

Holy Land Day 5

We departed from the Galilee area and headed south. It was REALLY sad to think this might be the last time I see the Sea of Galilee.

We stopped at an amazing excavation of a Roman city. Complete with bath house and public toilets, Roman road thru middle of town, a large amphitheater and columns galore, we were able to explore on our own for an hour.

From there it was a two hour ride south. We drove through the stark baroness of Samaria and then through Jerusalem on the way to Bethlehem. There we changed guides (they use Christian guides in Bethlehem). We visited the Shepherds Field where the shepherds heard the news of the birth of Christ. We saw a replica of a house in a cave just like Bethlehem has in Jesus time (and actually up to as recently as 120 years ago). The visual helped us at our last stop, the Church of the Nativity.

We had some shopping time in a huge Olive wood factory/store before we headed to THE PLACE, the Church of the Nativity which sits on top of the site of Jesus’ birth. The place was wall to wall people and we knew we had a long wait ahead. It was worth it of course. Despite some jostling in line we made it to the stairs

in about 90 minutes. You descend stairs behind the altar to a grotto. On one side is a star imbedded in the stone floor marking the place of the birth. On the other side is the reputed place of the manger. Unlike my first visit we had the opportunity to touch the star and kneel to pray. After our entire group had a moment we stayed in the grotto and sang Silent Night. A beautiful time. I am so blessed to be able to come back to these holy places with the wonderful group we have. Better pics to come and you can also see LOTS On Jennifer’s Facebook page.

Holy Land Day 4

The day began with a praise and worship service for all the tourists who are using the same travel agency we are (Journeys Unlimited). About 800 people with a praise band and several (too many actually IMHO) pastors speaking. I will let others in the group give you their opinions when you see them.

The venue was next to the museum of the boat where they have a 2000 year old fishing boat found in the mud of the Sea of Galilee when the water level was low. It is believed to be the type and size boat Jesus and the fishing disciples would have used on the lake. Pretty cool story of how they dug it out.

Next we went to Yardenit, a site on the Jordan River where you can get into the river, fill up water bottles to take home (I add a little bit to the font when I am doing baptisms), and they have places setup for groups who want to do baptisms. After I led renewal of baptismal bows with the whole group and prayed over the water, about 15 of us “Waded in the Water” for a renewal of our baptism by being submerged in the Jordan. It was absolutely AMAZING! You can see a lot of pics on Jennifer’s Facebook as I was a little busy baptizing people IN THE JORDAN RIVER and couldn’t take any pics. I did purchase a video of the whole thing so stay tuned! This was truly a holy experience. Here are some pics.

We then traveled to a Carmelite monastery on Mt. Carmel, built on the site of Elijah’s victory over the Baal prophets (1 King’s 18).

Last stop of the day was Nazareth and the breathtaking Church of the Annunciation. This is where Gabriel appeared to Mary and she said yes to God’s plan of salvation for us all! The church is so beautiful. We also visited the Orthodox Church built over Mary’s well, where, according to the proto gospel of James, Mary was when Gabriel first spoke to her, causing her to race home where Gabriel appeared again to driver the message.

Next to the Church of the Annunciation is St. Joseph’s church, dedicated to Jesus’ earthly father of course. Underneath is a grotto where they have excavated what was a home during Jesus’ time. The Holy Family is especially honored there. So grateful we had time to spend in both of these holy spaces.

Holy Land Day 3

Holy Land day 3

Morning prayer on the bus as we drive north to Ceasrea Phillips. We read from Matthew the story that took place there, where Jesus named Peter the Rock upon which he will build the church. Spontaneous singing broke out on the bus!

While there we saw the archaeological work done on an ancient temple of Pan then got to see Abraham’s Gate, which was the entrance to a Canaanite village where Abraham stayed on way to rescue Lot. It’s well over 4000 years old! We also could see the mountain where God “cut” the covenant with Abraham after Lot was freed.

We were unable to ride on the Sea of Galilee this morning due to high winds. This turned out to be a blessing. More on that later.

We drove to one of my favorite spots-Capernaum. I always cry at the synagogue there, thinking how often Jesus worshipped and taught there.

Next to the synagogue is a church built over the site of Peter’s house where the scriptures tell us Jesus went one sabbath after preaching and healed Peter’s mother in law. There is a glass floor in the middle of the church where you can see the excavation of the ancient house.

Our next two stops were also along the Galilean shore. The church of the Multiplication is the site of the feeding of the 5 thousand and the church of the Primacy is where in the gospel of John chapter 21, Jesus was cooking breakfast on the shore and Peter and several other disciples were fishing. This is where Jesus asked Peter 3 times “do you love me” and tells him to feed his sheep. Both churches are small and beautiful.

We then made our way to the boat ride on the Sea of Galilee. This was an amazing experience! Very holy and spiritual. We sang hymns and just soaked it all in! All of our group was giving thanks we were delayed this morning because we got a perfect ride as the sun went down. My phone had died at this point but I will add pictures from others later. What a blessed day!