Today we made the trek (in a bus) from the sea of galilee to Jerusalem with some absolutely amazing stops along the way. We stopped at the Qumran caves, which was a Jewish monastic commumity at the time of Jesus. Some think John the Baptist spent time with them. These stark dwelling places in the middle a harsh desert reminded me of the intense apocalyptic expectation of Jesus' day.
On a lighter note, we stopped by the dead sea and took a swim. It was hilarious! The water is so salty that it is utterly impossible to sink. In fact, it's like floating in space, or like a big wet chair. I couldn't help but wonder if Jesus and the apostles ever took a dip there and had a laugh. It would have been uncomfortable with a nice fresh water shower after though.
We visited Jericho, the oldest (10,000 years) and lowest (1000 ft below sea level) city in the world. Did you know that there is a cliff at Jericho where supposedly Jesus was tempted by the devil? If it is the place, our Lord had some mad climbing skills, cuz that cliff is steep.
I had the cool experience of saying mass and preaching at the church of st Lazarus in Bethany, only yards from his tomb where Jesus raised him from the dead.
Finally, coming into Jerusalem for the very first time, as the sun was setting, was second to nothing else I've done before. We came through a tunnel from the north east and then BAM, there she was, Jerusalem. The temple mount glistening and yet templeless. I just kept thinking, this is where it happened. Right here. It seemed much smaller than I imagined. For everything that has happened here, it should be as big as Texas. But it's not, it's not big at all.
Surprise conversation of the day: I'm sitting at the bar in the Christmas hotel talking to a fellow pilgrim (a professional golf writer, that's for another blog), and someone behind the bar hands me the phone and says, 'it's the bishop, for you.' 'sorry?' I said. 'the bishop of jerusalem.' so I took the phone and with an raspy voice that is baring functioning at this stage said, 'hello?' and sure enough, it was the bishop of Jerusalem. He's hoping to meet up with our pilgrim group. What a gracious and talkative man! It was a wonderful surprise.
Not the first of the pilgrimage, and I'm guessing not the last.