We covered so much ground on Day 4, it was like three days in one, so I’ll be taking two or three posts to break it out. Our day started out with a very moving baptism service at a point near Jericho that historians believe would be close to the place that John the Baptist baptized Jesus.
Day 6 of the Ecclesia Houston holy land tour with Breaking Bread Journeys started departing Tiberias at the Sea of Galilee shortly after sunrise as we made our way along the Jordan River to the site thought to be very close to the Baptismal Site of Jesus Christ. Many pilgrims among our group commemorated their baptisms in the Jordan, and two of those traveling in our group were baptized for the first time. I have many more baptism photos but for the purpose of the blog, I have just chosen a few representative shots. It’s so hard not to publish them all! But if I did, it would be overwhelming for the casual visitor I think!
This is my 6th holy land tour group to shoot for, and our itinerary generally follows a similar path. I will say that this day of the itinerary is usually the most intense, as we cover so much ground in one day. As a result, it’s the day that provides the most photo opportunities. It’s like packing three days into one. Probably the hardest part of publishing this blog is narrowing down the photo choices! From this day alone I have over 200 “keeper” shots!
My devotional thought for Day 6 focused on the transitory nature of time and life. By the time we reached Jerusalem, many of us remarked something to the effect of, “Wait, we were just at the Jordan baptismal site this morning?” I have often reflected on the power of a photograph to freeze time and capture a fleeting moment, and for this single moment, at least a thousand words could be written to describe what was felt and experienced within that frame. Then you stop to think of all the countless trillions of images like this which are accessible to God at any given time, and that he knows each one, feels each one, and has books written in his heart for each of us, lovingly journaling all that we have seen, felt, celebrated, and suffered. God sees all and knows all. Just a few pages ago, Jesus was being baptized by John, and in just a few page-turns in our story, we will be in the glory of heaven with God. “You see, the short-lived pains of this life are creating for us an eternal glory that does not compare to anything we know here. So we do not set our sights on the things we can see with our eyes. All of that is fleeting; it will eventually fade away. Instead, we focus on the things we cannot see, which live on and on.” (Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, chapter 4:17-18).
As it is recorded in John’s gospel, Jesus assures us, “My Father’s home is designed to accommodate all of you. If there were not room for everyone, I would have told you that. I am going to make arrangements for your arrival. I will be there to greet you personally and welcome you home, where we will be together. You know where I am going and how to get there.” (John 14:2-4). This idea of pilgrimage extends not only to a visit of the holy land but of our entire lives. We are on a journey, and God, in his ultimate love for us, has shown us the way to live it and promises that he prepares a final home for us at the end of this long journey. What is beautiful is that, while the journey is often full of sorrows and intensity, he has given us fellow sojourners to share the burdens along the way. We have experienced that on this journey here in the holy land. Just a few days ago we were a group of 43 strangers. Now, already, especially after a day like today, we are already starting to feel like family. We have access to so much in the Body of Christ if we only choose open our arms and receive the love and life-giving support that is available. While my life has been full of my heartbreaking moments and plenty of loss, I am grateful for all the ways I have found strength through God’s promises and all of my brothers and sisters whom God has gathered around me on this pilgrimage; both this week and in the grander pilgrimage of life.
As you will see in the photos that follow, after our visit to the Jordan River, we made our way to a vista point allowing us a look at the Mount of Temptation where many from the group were able to experience a camel ride. It was a very fun break along the way. This group is very fun-loving and spontaneous!
Later in the post, you will see that our journey took us to the archaeological site of the Qumran Caves, the Dead Sea, and ultimately on up into the holy city of Jerusalem!
From a vista in Jericho, we could see a view of the Mount of Temptation. After being baptized by John the Baptist, Jesus fasted for forty days and nights in the Judaean Desert, through which we journeyed today. The Gospels tell us that during this time, Satan appeared to Jesus and tried to tempt him. It is thought that he endured these temptations at this location. Unfortunately we did not have time to take the cable cars up to the Monastery located on the cliffsides of the mountain.
From there we made our way to the Qumran Caves, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered by a shepherd boy in 1947. We learned that The Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in eleven caves along the northwest shore of the Dead Sea between the years 1947 and 1956. The area is 13 miles east of Jerusalem and is 1300 feet below sea level. They have been called the greatest manuscript discovery of modern times. There are now identified among the scrolls, 19 copies of the Book of Isaiah, 25 copies of Deuteronomy and 30 copies of the Psalms. The Isaiah Scroll, found relatively intact, is 1000 years older than any previously known copy of Isaiah. In fact, the scrolls are the oldest group of Old Testament manuscripts ever found.
We then headed to the Dead Sea where members of our group were able to experience the extremely buoyant properties of the highly salinated water. We learned from our tour guide Bassam that most seawater contains 5-7% salt, but that the Dead Sea contains approximately 27-33% salt.
We then journeyed west through the mountains that divide the dessert from the coastal plain and reached Jerusalem in just 30 minutes. Pastor Chris guided the group into the holy city through the Damascus Gate. We arrived at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre just in time to see the famous event many come to watch each evening: the locking of the church doors. The key is held by a Muslim family in a symbolic gesture of interfaith cooperation. There’s an interesting article about the key you can read here.
Pastor Chris then took us to his favorite dinner spot, Jacob’s Pizza…
Just around the corner from Jacob’s Pizza in the Christian Quarter near Jaff Gate is Razzouk Tattoos, a family tattoo business that has been marking pilgrims with special Christan crosses and symbols for over 700 years in the old city. We got to meet Wassim Razzouk and hear a little about his story.
We then walked over to the Jewish Quarter, where Pastor Chris introduced the group to the Western Wall where we prayed and experienced Judaism’s most holy site.
The day started departing Tiberias at the Sea of Galilee shortly after sunrise as we made our way along the Jordan River to the site thought to be very close to the Baptismal Site of Jesus Christ. Many pilgrims among our group commemorated their baptisms in the Jordan.
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From there we stopped in Jericho for some camel riding before we took the cable cars up to the Mount of Temptation where we toured the Greek Orthodox Monastery impressively built into the cliffs of the mountain.
Afterwards, we were treated to views of the Qumran Caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered by Bedouin shepherds in 1946. We learned that the texts are of great historical, religious, and linguistic significance because they include the second-oldest known surviving manuscripts of works later included in the Hebrew Bible canon. The group then enjoyed a dip in the Dead Sea to experience the extreme buoyancy and rejuvenating properties of the Dead Sea minerals.
From there we were not far from Jerusalem so we drove on into the city to get settled at our hotel. After a much-needed break, we walked into the old city at Jaffa Gate to visit the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. We witnessed the centuries-old nightly ritual of the locking and handing over of the doors of the Sepulcher. Since the 1400s a Muslim family has been entrusted with the safekeeping of the key and the responsibilities of locking and unlocking of the door each morning and evening. This allows for keeping the neutral status of the site between Christian denominations. We then enjoyed pizza and wine at Jacob’s Pizza.
We then walked through the dark walkways across the city to the Western Wall in the Jewish Quarter. Quite a day!
The day started with sunrise over the Sea of Galilee as we made our way along the Jordan River to the Baptismal Site of Jesus Christ. From there we stopped in Jericho for some camel riding before we took the cable cars up to the Mount of Temptation where we toured the Greek Orthodox Monastery built into the cliffs of the mountain. Afterward we were treated to views of the Qumran Caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered. The group then enjoyed a dip in the Dead Sea to experience the extreme buoyancy and rejuvenating properties of the Dead Sea minerals. From there we were not far from Jerusalem so we drove on in to the city to get settled at our hotel. After a much needed break we walked into the old city at Jaffa Gate and enjoyed pizza and wine at Jacob’s Pizza before heading to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. After that we walked through the dark walkways across the city to the Western Wall. Quite a day!
On day 5 of our journey we covered a lot of ground. We started our day at a baptismal site believed to be the closest to where Jesus was baptized. It’s a beautiful area with nothing else around it except for what’s across the river on the Jordanian side, you’ll see a couple of orthodox churches.
From there we went on to Jericho for some camel rides and a trip up to the Mount of Temptation on the cable cars. The views from the mount’s sheer cliff dropoff are breathtaking.
Next up was the Qumran caves, where the Dead Sea scrolls were discovered.
Next we heard from a representative of a local water conservationist NGO (EcoPeace Middle East) who showed us how far water levels were dropping. She took us to a previous resort that is now closed and abandoned because it is no longer at the shoreline of the Dead Sea.
After that we visited Kalia Beach on the Dead Sea where we experienced the peculiar sensation of extreme buoyancy and the rejuvenating effects of the mineral-rich Dead Sea mud.
We packed up and then made our way to Jerusalem. We enjoyed wine and pizza in the old city at Pastor Chris’ favorite spot, Jacob’s Pizza. Then we were able to make it to the Holy Sepulcher before closing time. We entered the old city through the Jaffa Gate…
Afterward we saw the generations-old tradition of the locking of the doors of the Holy Sepulcher, something I personally had never witnessed in any of my five visits here.
We walked onward through the Muslim Quarter to the Western Wall in the Jewish Quarter. Pastor Chris was invited by some orthodox Jews to dance with them as they sang songs at the wall. Quite a night!
August 5, 2015. Today seemed like 3 days packed into one. We started before sunrise and we covered so much ground. We began our journey from Tiberias to a new baptismal site on the Jordan River, right at the Jordanian border. Sunrise over the Sea of Galilee greeted us with the serenity fitting for such a meaningful day.
We arrived at the new baptismal site situated right on the border of Jordan and Israel. The river was surprisingly maybe only 20-25 wide. It was a very isolated location, extremely quiet with a warm breeze from the desert. We’ll never forget the experience of white doves suddenly coming from the Jordanian side of the river, flying right over our heads as Pastor Chris was baptizing.
After everyone commemorated their baptisms, we made a quick snack break where some of us enjoyed a camel ride…
Next we made a quick stop to learn about the Dead Sea Scrolls which were found at Qumran.
Next on the itinerary was a visit to the Dead Sea…
Next we finally arrived in Jerusalem at our beautiful hotel, The American Colony, and walked into the Old City for a visit to the Holy Sepulcher and the Wailing Wall.
Closing time… and that was a day!