Breathtaking. Amazing. Wow.
Those were the words that often expressed my sentiments at the various sites we visited on this our first day of touring in Israel. The amount of Scripture and history we covered in just a few short hours is enough for a lifetime. That we have seven more days to go is just unbelievable.
We began the day by visiting the Gospel Trail. This is a former Roman Road that Jesus would have walked during his journeys in Upper Galilee. It is known as the Gospel Trail, today, because it connects Capernaum, Cana, and Nazareth together. The whole purpose of this trip was to walk where Jesus walked and to gain that experience firsthand. On the Gospel Trail we literally walked where Jesus walked.
That began to put the day into a holy context from the start. The rest of the day would build on that moment.
Another exciting aspect of the day was to see where some of Jesus’ miracles took place. We visited Capernaum where the majority of the miracles were located. We also saw an old Byzantine chapel on the site of the healing of the demonic man. In each of the locations we were able to see the ruins and to imagine ourselves standing where the people were in Jesus’ time.
We also visited the Mount of Beatitudes. This is the site where we believe Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount. It is marked, today, by a chapel near the site where it was delivered. The view from the mount is breathtaking as it overlooks the Sea of Galilee.
There were several moments where the text of Scripture became more clear. None more so than at Caesarea Philippi. It was here that Peter professed Jesus to be the Christ. The site includes a cave that was used as a temple to the Greek god Pan. The Jews, of the time, believed that the cave was the entrance to Hades.
It was also at this site where Jesus said on this rock I will build the foundations of the church. There are rocks all along the cliffs near the cave entrance. Jesus points to the affirmation that Peter made and says that on the foundations of all that leads to Hades (disbelief) Jesus would build on top of it a church built on faith and love.
Our last stop on the day was to visit the Jordan River. It is not that big. For Kentucky friends, it is about half the size of the Salt River in Lawrenceburg. Once you get past the size, you are drawn into the atmosphere and contemplating on Jesus’ baptism and our very own. We partook in a remembrance of our baptism ceremony led by Bishop Leonard Fairley that allowed us to experience the Jordan River in our own special way.
The day also included some awareness of geopolitical realities. As we traveled north towards Mount Hermon, which serves as the border between Israel, Jordan, and Syria, we were reminded of the conflicts that have plagued this area. There were areas fenced off that had land mines dating to the 1967 Six Day War. As we came to the Syrian border, we saw a United Nations peacekeeping base that separated Syria and Israel. Near that base was a Syrian community which, according to our tour guide, has seen many leave to avoid the conflict in Syria. Our tour guide said that many refugees are going into Israel to find protection from the war.
That experience brought the day into some deeper appreciation. Here we are in the Holy Land to be connected to our common faith in God and have the reminder of wars that wage all around this area. It is something that has me thinking of the passage for Sunday, which comes from Matthew 5 and the reminder to be salt and light in the world.
I’ll save those thoughts, for now, for the sermon from Israel.