Friday, July 07, 2006

Holy Land Pilgrimage - Day 3

Day 3 - June 26 - The Pilgrimage begins in earnest - Caesarea Maritime to Nazareth
This morning to go swimming. I went out at 6:15 AM. It was a pretty good hike from the hotel down to the beach itself, but worth it. The sand was soft and fine. The water was a lovely turquoise, not too dissimilar from South Florida. There was a fair amount of surf. I caught a couple of waves, and renewed my baptismal vows, which I always try to do when I am in the ocean.
We began what would become our regular routine: 7:00 wake up call, bags out in the hallway by 7:30, breakfast, on the bus for departure by 8:30.
We journeyed to Caesarea Maritime which took us less than a hour. This was city built by Herod the Great somkewhere in around 35 B.C.E. and the ruins there are very impressive. There is an incredible Roman Theater which sits overlooking the Mediterranean. When Susan and I visited in 1998, it was January and the weather was rainy and very windy. This day was warm and calm and the setting just beautiful. After Ikey shared the history of the city, the group sat in the Roman Theater and I celebrated the Eucharist. In my short homily I used the text in Matthew 22 ("Give the Emperor the things that are the Emperor's and to God the things that are God's), and asked the group to consider the challenge Jesus presented when he proclaimed the Kingdom of God in the midst of the Kingdom of Caesar and Herod. It is, I think, a critical question to ask if one is to understand the subversive nature of the Gospel. Certainly, as we sat in the midst of one of Herod’s massive building projects, it brings the question into sharp relief.
After the Eucharist, we walked a little to the north where there are ruins from Herod’s magnificent palace. These ruins had not been excavated in 1998, so this was new to me. Herod lived extravagantly. The palace, again was situated right on the water. Herod had created the largest port the area by building a huge wave breaker. The engineering feat is most impressive. This was also true of the 16 mile aqueduct built by Herod to supply the city. We had to take a short bus ride to look at it. I had seen it in 1998. It still bowls me over. As Ikey observed, when you consider a 16 mile aqueduct and the slope necessary to bring water that distance, it really is amazing!
After leaving Caesarea Maritime, our next stop was Meggido. We traveled through the Plains of Sharon and the Jezreel Valley as we moved toward Megiddo, which is also known more popularly as Armegeddon. The expansive open valleys and an awareness that they are situated as a geographical gateway between the continents of Asia, Africa and Europe make it clear why these fields have been significant battlegrounds throughout history, and also why apocalypticists believe these will be the scene of a final cosmic battle at the time of the final judgement.
We visited a museum at Megiddo that had a good film about the site and its history. The most impressive part of the Megiddo site is the tunnel and waterworks. There are 20 layers of civilization at this site and it is the inspiration of James Micherner’s book The Source. There are more than 160 steps down into the water tunnel and then a long walk to the undergound spring which is just outside the city wall and which was camouflaged and used by the ancient city during times of war and siege. About 75 steps leads one out of the tunnel and just outside the ancent walls of city.
We journeyed to Nazareth, a bustling, mostly Arabic city. Our bus parked several blocks from the Church of the Annunciation. This modern church sits over an ancient grotto traditionally held to be the site where the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and announced to her that she would be bear God’s son. Attached to this tradition is also the tradition that this was the home of Mary’s parents. As we entered the church a Eucharist was being celebrated in Polish. This prevented our being able to go down into the grotto. Still it is an interesting church to visit and a good place to consider Mary and her role in giving birth to Jesus. When I do think about her role, I often wonder if she would have agreed so willingly to bear this child if she had known what the cost would be to herself and, more importantly, to her son?
This was the first of the sacred sites we were to visit that required modest dress and several in our group had to improvise. One man of our group who had shorts on bought a pair of sweat pants from a local merchant on the way to the church. They were black with decals of flames - pretty wild and he clearly hated them. After he came out of the sanctuary, but before leaving the grounds of the church, he took them off and was promptly asked to leave the area.
We had to walk through local streets to get to and from the church and there were lovely fruits and breads for sale on the corner of a major thoroughfare. I bought some cherries which were delicious.
We drove through Cana, another busy town, but not much to see. In 1998 we visted the Church of Martha and Mary. It was not included in this trip.
We arrived at the Kibbutz Maagan which was to be our home for the next two nights. It a beautiful facility, very much a Jewish resort for local families. They had small suites with kitchens, and the resort is on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. It is stunning. There were many families with children - school was out of session and teens were supervising younger children playing on the grass. Dining was buffet style and our group had tables reserved, but everyone converged at once and it was busy and filled with children. It seemed like a great place for families.
While here, the story began to develop about the kidnaping of an Israeli soldier in Gaza and a resulting military action by the Israeli army. CNN and Sky News were giving this a great deal of attention. It is a very difficult conflict and the difficulty if it becomes more apparent when one is in this country hearing the perspectives of both sides. Thus far, we had not felt any tensions or any sense of threat during our travels. After dinner, I put on a swimsuit to go into the Sea of Galilee. There was sign that said "Swimming Forbidden without Life Guard." I went knee high, but the beach and shore were so rocky it was painful to walk in beare feet and I didn’t stay in long at all. It was beautiful to see the sun go down over the Sea of Galilee.

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