Holy Land Pilgrimage

by Paul McDonald

Pilgrims’ Trail Through the Holy Land

Pastor Paul and Peggy McDonald will be leading a tour to the Holy Land March 27-April 8 2022. Join us for an informational meeting September 19 from 1:30-3:00 in the Timothy Chapel.  

 

Pilgrims Trail Through the Holy Land

I made my way down the rocky path in the predawn darkness to the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Settling down on a bolder at the edge of the water, I could just start to make out the shape of the Golan Heights 6 miles across the lake. I have made this trek many times over the years and it has become a ritual of sorts for me on our first morning in the Holy Land. It is a time where I can settle myself a bit from the hectic pace of guiding 30 folks through 3 airports and 7 time zones. The theologian N.T. Wright comments in his book The Way of the Lord, Christian Pilgrimage Today that, although he has no theological basis for saying so, “When God is known, sought and wrestled within a place, a memory of that remains, which those who know and love God can pick up.” I have that same sense as I sit beside the waters of Galilee. 2000 years ago Jesus walked this same shore and called together a rag-tag group of people to assist in building His Kingdom. The memory of those events is steeped into the very landscape around me. I take every opportunity I can to remind my group that this trip to Israel, to the Holy Land, is meant to be much more then informational, it is to be transformational. My wife Peggy and I have led this trip 8 times and we never tire of telling stories of how this pilgrimage has transformed people. Faith comes alive when you have the opportunity to walk in the footsteps of Jesus. Certainly you will never read your Bible the same way again.

In 13 days we traveled from one end to the other in the land of Israel. From a base in Tiberius on the shore of the Sea of Galilee we explored the ancient towns of Capernaum and Korizim. These two towns along with the town of Bethesda formed a triangle that could be walked easily in a day. It was in this area where most of the ministry of Jesus took place. The sick were healed, the lame were made to walk and the blind were made to see. Because this area is largely protected, the sights are very much the same as they were in the 1st century. As great fan of archeology and church history it is thrilling for me to see remains of churches dating from the 1st century. Thrilling to gaze on mosaic floors that were laid down when the Byzantine Empire ruled. As a group we gathered together for a service on a boat in the middle of the Sea of Galilee, the body of water where Jesus calmed a great storm at his command and appeared, alive, to his disciples after the resurrection. In the North we also have an opportunity to see what is left of the fortified city of Megiddo including city walls and gate dating to nearly 1000 years BC.

As we made our way south we get our first glimpse of the influence of the Roman Empire in the Middle East when we visit Caesarea Marittima. Situated on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea, this Roman port city was the site of the Apostle Paul’s imprisonment as well as his great defense of the Gospel before King Agrippa. The Roman client king Herod the Great, famous for his great feats of architecture left his mark here with the remains of a great theater that faces the breezes of the Mediterranean as well as a partially restored Hippodrome where horse and chariot races once took place.

Shifting our base of operations, we moved to the Olive Tree hotel in East Jerusalem, just a few blocks from the Damascus gate and the walled Old City of Jerusalem. For Peggy and I Jerusalem feels like a second home. Middle Eastern hospitality is legendary and we have always been made to feel at home whether in Israel proper or the Palestinian West Bank. It is not an uncommon experience to share a few words with a shop owner and in short order being invited to share a cup of Arabic coffee together with a feeling that you are old friends. Hospitality extends to sharing meals together as well. It seems like every meal we have is an extravaganza. In the Old City there is a tiny family owned restaurant called Abu Shakri. Plastic tables and chairs, 70’s era paneling hanging haphazardly but looking up I realized that I was in a room that was built before the founding of our country. Abu Shakri has the finest hummus and falafel in all of Israel but that’s just a start. Once you are seated they start bringing small side dishes of salads, pickles, pita, sauces, and very quickly you lose count as the table overflows with food.

The Old City of Jerusalem is a warren of twisting and turning streets and alleyways. So narrow that there are virtually no cars, just mobs of people going about their daily life. Within an area less than one square mile you have the Holiest sites for all three of the Monotheistic faiths. Al Aksa Mosque built almost 1000 years ago, the Western Wall, holy to the Jewish people because it is the closest they can come to the original Temple and just a few hundred yards away lies the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the site of both the crucifixion and the empty tomb of Christ. These holy sites along with many more of the places where Jesus once walked are retraced with our own footsteps as we find ourselves changing in big ways and small. As our plane lifts off for our return to the US we all feel a little like we are leaving family behind and so we join in the Jewish prayer. “Next year in Jerusalem!”

Join us for an informational meeting September 19 from 1:30-3:00 in the Timothy Chapel.  For more information email