Sunday, May 10, 2015

11th May The last day of this amazing tour of Israel and Jordan

Reflecting back on the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and touches, I discover that this has been an 'experiential' experience.

Perhaps a highlight was sitting at the feet of Moshe Kempinski, an Orthodox Jew who runs a tiny shop "Shorashim" in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City. Moshe, being Orthodox, has studied what we know as the Old Testament, as well as all the other Jewish writings; but more than that he has studied the New Testament and Early Christian documents, to the extent that he can quote passages of Scripture easily in his conversation.
He was encouraging and deeply wise in every word he said - he did not say too much, he did not say too little in the half-an-hour he spoke to us. Three things he said will remain with me -
"Here in Israel listen with your eyes"
"When you return home you will not be able to tell others what you have experienced"
"You did not decide to visit Israel, God called you to Israel"

I think it is the second of those two quotes which have made it so hard for me to write my blog over the past few days. Oh yes, I could have simply written facts, but what was happening was deep inside.
An example of this was leading the breaking of the bread (Eucharist) at the Garden Tomb. The Garden is a fairly large area with well established trees and bushes giving places where one can be quiet or where groups can sit together for prayer and worship. On request, the staff of the Garden will set up a tray with a chalice of grape juice and a plate of matzos in one of these quiet places. John Atkinson, our tour leader, asked if I would like to celebrate, which I did.
In prayer before the group came together I became aware of two things - first, that I should not use liturgy, using rather 1Cor 11, and second, that it was important that, being as close as we were to Golgatha, the place of the crucifixion, we should individually be prepared to confess the deepest unconfessed sin we held, because it was here that Jesus died for that sin. The Spirit moved in a way that only He can move and we were blessed with tears as together we shared in "my body broken for you" and "my blood shed for you".

How does one really share that experience?
How does one share the atmosphere of St James Armenian Cathedral with its oil lamps and chanting clergy?
How does one describe the blazing heat of the Desert through which the children of Israel trudged for 40 years?
How does one describe the soaring vulture which somehow takes your heart with it on every thermal?
How does one describe standing face to face with the Western Wall so emotional that you cannot think what to pray, but know it's just you and the Presence of God, and He knows your heart?
And how do you describe just sitting on the shore of the Sea of Galilee withe the water lapping at your feet, knowing that on this spot Jesus walked and taught.

I have listened with my eyes and I will find it hard to share the experiences, but I know that God called me here.
Thank you Lord!

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Day 13 - 9th May

So just to say that we visited the Garden Tomb this morning and I was asked to lead the breaking of bread - it was great remembering that "my body broken for you" happened just a stone's throw away from where I was saying the words. It made them very real.

On a lighter note - 

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Days 11 and 12 - 6th and 7th May

For those of you following my blog, I have to tell you that this tour is catching up on me fast. Last night, having arrived from Caesarea after a full day of touring, I had no idea what day of the week it was, nor what date it was! Truth is that we have done so much in the time we have been here that I am suffering information overload. So please bear with me if I seem a little short!

Today we spent most of the day on the Temple Mount and the in the Old City.
I don't want to spend time talking about what the Moslems have done and are doing not only in Jerusalem the city, but also on the Temple Mount.
This is the most holy place for the Jews, yet they may only pray at the Western Wall which is the foundation of Herod the Great's temple built in13BC.
I prayed there this afternoon for my family and friends; the sun beat down, but, surrounded by many Orthodox Jews and folk from all over the world spending focussed time in the Presence of the Lord, I was very aware of the need for peace in our broken and hurting world.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Day 10 - 5th May - Golan Heights

When the name of the Golan Heights is mentioned, I immediately think of war between Israel and Syria and the tank battle that took place in 1967 in the Six Day War. True, there are still mine fields and rusting tanks that dot the landscape, but the land is so fertile and there is so much water that the farmers are hard at work growing crops, planting vines, and raising cattle in a land that was once called Bashan. Amos, speaking to the wealthy, fat nobles of Samaria called them "cows of Bashan" - once you have seen the bovines, you realise that the comparison was a good one!

Our visit took us to Gamla, an ancient fortress destroyed by the Romans in 67AD, and where breeding pairs of vultures inhabit the craggy cliffs. I have heard before that when Isaiah (40:31) refers to soaring on wings like eagles, the word "eagles" can be translated "vultures". The trouble with vultures is that they have a not-very-nice connotation, "eagles" sounds better. These birds were truly awesome.

Our next stop was at a small factory where olive oil and olive products are made - delicious oil; to a small craft beer brewery (wonderful smell of Horlicks/malt); and on to a small family wine farm which produces wonderful wines from South African cultivars. The first winemaker spent some time learning his trade in South Africa before setting up his farm and today his son runs the farm with such humble pride. The son's wife studied as a chef in a restaurant in New York, so their vision is to create a boutique B&B. 
We didn't stop for lunch at the winery, but drove up to a small Druze village where we had the local meal a pancake easily half a meter wide folded in half, smeared with goats cheese, yoghurt and sesame oil and the folder like a wrap - very delicious!

At this point in te day most of us really didn't know what the time was or even the day of the week! We arrived at the ruins of Dan (having driven past the springs at Banias and Caesarea Phillipi) and set off on a hike which took us within sight of the Lebanese and Syrian border. Whenever you read of missiles being fired into Israel from Lebanon, this is where they come from! Even more scary was the sound coming from a Syrian town just over a low hill - automatic gunfire! Our guide assured us that the Syrians were always fighting and, apart from occasional sightings of Hezbollah over the Lebanese border, the place was at peace. We certainly saw large numbers of IDF troops and vehicles, so the Israelis are ever vigilant.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Day 9 - 4th May - Caperneum

Just a short blog tonight as the pace is quite exhausting!
This morning we climbed down the Mount of the Beatitudes, before driving to Caperneum, walking through the synagogue and spending half an hour of silent reflection sitting on the shore of Galilee. In the afternoon we visited the "Jesus boat" - the conserved wooden fishing boat found in deep mud off Genneseret dated to the time of Jesus. This evening before supper had a (freezing) swim in the Sea of Galilee.

This picture is of the ruins of the synagogue in Caperneum. These ruins are from about 100AD and are Roman. The synagogue that Jesus knew is under these present ruins, in fact the earlier synagogue was used as the foundation for the new one.
There is no doubt that Jesus voice was heard here as he read the scriptures and taught.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Day 8 - 3rd May - The Galilee

This afternoon we climbed the Arbel - a mountain on the north-western side of the Sea of Galilee. We sat and looked down from this great height and from here we could see where Jesus walked, taught and performed his miracles. Behind us was the town of Cana; away to the left (out of picture) was Nazareth; in the bottom left corner of the photo is the edge of Migdal - modern Magdala; the big village in the centre is the Nof Ginosar kibbutz - where we are staying - in Jesus time it was a small fishing village; if you follow the line of the lake north and then round the bay to the east, in the bay on the far side you can see what is a white church with a red roof - the mount of the Beatitudes; follow the shoreline on to the next bay, on the far side of that bay is Capernaum.
Luke 6:12 (only one of a number of texts) tells us of Jesus climbing a mountainside to pray. Could this be the place He came to, the place where He prayed, the place where He looked down on the people and villages He loved?

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Day 7 - via Jericho and Nazareth to the Sea of Galilee

Today we visited Jericho and Nazareth before arriving at our hotel on the Nof Ginosar kibbutz right on the western bank of the Sea of Galilee.
My photograph for today captures one of those lifetime "A-ha" moments.
Our tour leader, John Atkinson, stopped the bus above Nazareth and we stood at a lookout point where we could see the valley of Armageddon. John gave us a teaching touching on the similarities of the ministry of Elisha and Jesus.
In 2 Kings 4:8-37 we read of Elisha bringing the son of the Shunamite woman back to life. In Luke 7:11-16 we read of Jesus raising the son of the widow of Nain. Now I know both of those stories well, but the time difference in centuries, the split between the Old and New Testaments and the fact that I have never even considered the links between Elisha and Jesus meant that when John pointed out the two villages in the view, I was stunned. You will have to look closely as the villages are in the middle distance, but the village on the left, next to the pine tree in the fore-ground, is Nain; the village on the right, on the slopes of Mount Tabor (also called the mountain of the Transfiguration), is Shunem.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Day 6 - 1st May - Masada and Qumran

What would you do guys when faced with this decision?
The year is about 70AD and the Roman occupation of your country (Israel) is becoming unbearable.
One day, somewhere in the country a group of Jews are having a service in their synagogue when in marches a Roman centurion and announces that the Romans are going to build a new road and, bad news, the new road is going to cut through the middle of the synagogue.
What follows is what became known as the Second Revolution.
What happened in Jerusalem can hardly be described as almost the entire population was slaughtered or taken into slavery and the temple of Herod the Great was torn down.
Many escaped into the country where they were hunted down and either killed or taken into slavery. However, 960 men, women and children managed to escape to the shores of the Dead Sea where they found refuge on the top of Masada.
Masada is a free-standing mountain in the Wilderness of the Judean Mountains. It was here that Herod the Great built a fortress which included a palace to which he could escape in time of danger. Herod's enemies were his own people whom he had forced into slavery to built his opulent palaces and new towns. The fortress held enough food and water to eight years.

By the time the refugees arrived at Masada Herod was long gone (interestingly having never spent a night in his palace) but the supplies were all in place.
The Romans, having crushed the Revolt, sent the 8000 men of the 10th Legion under the command of Flavius Silva to lay siege to the mountain. Flavius Silva boasted that he would finish the job in two weeks, but three years later with his men about to mutiny he finally took a drastic step and built a massive ramp up to the top of the mountain. The wall was then breached, but the attacking Romans then withdrew down the hill not wanting to attack at night.
That night the Jews were faced with the question.
They knew that the next morning the Romans would enter Masada, they knew that the men would suffer a long slow death, the woman would be raped and then, together with the children be made slaves. The community opted for a quick death at their own hands.
The Romans arrived in the morning and met no resistance. In the search they found the bodies of the refugees and two women and five children who had hidden in a water cistern during the killing. These seven survivors were taken to Rome and were questioned by the Emperor personally as the Romans viewed the sacrifice on Masada with deep respect.

For Jews today Masada is problematic, because life belongs to God and being a Jew is all about life. However every young man and women who finishes basic training in the Israeli Defence Force marches up the mountain (no cable car for them!) and pledges that "Masada will never fall again".

From Masada we drove to Qumran where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found - more on that another time.