Trip to the Holy Land

Greetings Members and Friends of Second Congregational Church!

My wife and I returned barely a week ago from a trip to Israel to visit sacred sites and other historical locations. The whole experience made it easier to imagine the actual human beings who shaped the faith we share today, from Abraham and Sarah to Jesus and beyond. It was surreal.

We were in a group of 34 touring together from around the U.S. Each morning started with devotions (sometimes in the bus en route to our first stop), and each evening included devotions, reflections on the day and singing familiar hymns.

After an all-night flight from Newark to Tel Aviv, we boarded the bus at about 11 a.m. local time and went directly to the town of Nablus, the location of Jacob’s well. This well is where Jesus sat and spoke with the Samaritan woman (John 4). It is considered an actual site as it’s described in the Bible. We got to look right down into the well! Other sites are “commemorative” sites because they have no archeological or other data to cross-verify them as the actual location (such as exactly where in the Jordan River Jesus was baptized). However, the locations considered “commemorative” were still very meaningful as places to pray, reflect and meditate.

The next day we visited Hebron and the Tomb of the Patriarchs (and Matriarchs, our guide added), which I mentioned in worship on Sunday. This tomb is a sacred site to people of three faiths: Judaism, Islam and Christianity. All three have Abraham as a common ancestor. The tomb itself is inaccessible to the public, but in the mosque built above the tomb is a monument that is placed directly over the tomb. When we arrived, the noontime call to prayer had just gone out, so we had to wait for the prayers to conclude before we could enter and reverence the site. The issues of jurisdiction at many sacred sites are just mind-boggling. They call for the cooperation (or at least participation) of not only three different religions, but often sub-groups within each of those faiths (Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christians, for example).

After riding a bus up and down the hills and around tight switchbacks above precipices overlooking drops of hundreds of feet, it was EASY to understand why the prophet Isaiah dreamed of a time when the crooked roads would be made straight, the mountains leveled, and the valleys lifted up!

We viewed a 1,600 year old monastery, the Church of the Nativity, the Jordan River (where several of our group immersed themselves to renew their baptismal vows), Greco-Roman architectural ruins, the Basilica of the Annunciation (where the angel Gabriel told Mary she was going to have Jesus), the Church of the Beatitudes on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher (built above where Jesus’ body was laid after the Crucifixion), many other sites, and my own favorite, Dominus Flavit, a church built to commemorate the site where Jesus looked at Jerusalem and wept, saying, “O Jerusalem, that you knew the ways of peace.” I hope to include these in sermons and perhaps a slide show.

I deeply appreciate the support of the church in our going, your interest upon our return, and the preaching and  worship leadership of Rev. Scott Johnson in my absence.

Yours in faith,

 

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