May
15

Visiting Jerusalem and walking the Jesus Trail

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Day 1 St Andrew’s Scots Hostel and Jerusalem

Ruth and I had only one full day in Jerusalem, so had to be very selective and decided to focus on biblical sites and stories. We hired a taxi for 10 and went out for the next 8 hours!

We drove past the Pool of Siloam (sadly not able to stop to see Hezekiah’s tunnel) Zechariah’s tomb and Abshalom’s pillar and went up the Mount of Olives on a steep narrow road to a church shaped like a tear drop, Dominus Flavit. For the rest of the day we went on foot. On Palm Sunday Jesus paused on his way into Jerusalem and wept(Luke 19). Here we had a splendid view of the Old City, the Wall, the Golden Gate and the Tomb of the Rock. Between us and the wall was the Garden of Gethsemane, and the Kidron valley. We walked down the Mount of Olives, passing the large cemetery on the hillside, and went into the Garden of Gethsemane (Church of all Nations). Sadly only a handful of ancient olive trees remain. Then we crossed the Kidron valley and entered the old city by the Lion’s Gate.

Almost immediately we came to the Church of St Anne’s, scene of the pool of Bethesda story in John 5. When we entered the church before going to the pool the place came alive, as other places would throughout the day, by groups of pilgrims singing praise in their own language. We took in, because it was there, the church marking the birthplace of the Virgin Mary, one of many so-called “sacred sites” but we enjoyed them for what they were.

Coming out of St Anne’s we found ourselves on the Via Dolorosa, the route associated with Jesus’s walk to Calvary. Despite ourselves, we found ourselves stopping at the 14 stations of the cross, entering churches, watching pilgrims and trying to connect with the bible story. Half way along we stopped at the very unprepossessing doors of the Austrian Hospice. Here, Ian Alexander, who had also advised a taxi to Dominus Flavit, got it absolutely right. The cafe, enjoying coffee and apple strudel while sitting outdoors in the shade was wonderful. Then we climbed to the top and had one of the best rooftop views of the old city.

Refreshed we set off for the Damascus Gate, and passing through went on to Gordon’s Calvary ( now a bus station!) and the peace and tranquillity of the Garden Tomb. That was well worth visiting. Returning to the city we took a different route enjoying the street market of the Souk. At the bottom we went along to the Western (Wailing) Wall, the only part of Herod’s temple that remains. Then, knowing a good thing, we returned to the Austrian Hospice for lunch.

We had now ticked off our original list for the day so we added new things in the afternoon. We re-joined the Via Dolorosa and went on to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, another site that supposedly marks where Jesus died was buried and rose again. The building itself was impressive, less so the display that contains a nail from the crucifixion and the signs of an earthquake or the stone which has real blood on it!

We were looking for St George’s Anglican Hostel, where Ruth had meant to stay 15 months ago, but by mistake went to another hostel instead. So instead we went to the Jaffa gate and decided, on the spur of the moment, to go on the 40 minute rampart walk along the city wall from the Jaffa Gate to King Herod’s Gate, passing the New Gate and the Damascus gate on the way. Having now discovered where St George’s hostel was, we retraced our steps passing be the Garden Tomb and, reaching the hostel, enjoyed orange juice in their gardens. It was time to go home, so for the last time we entered the city, went back through the Souk, returned to the Jaffa Gate and walked down through ‘hell’ i.e. Valley of Bin Hinnom from which I think Gehenna comes, the gospel picture of hell, the city rubbish tip.

Eight hours after we had started we returned to St Andrew’s Hospice and enjoyed bread and honey on our balcony as the sun set. For “Jerusalem in a day ” we reckon we had done fairly well!

Day 2: Jerusalem to Nazareth

We were going up to Nazareth in the afternoon so decided to use our last morning in Jerusalem not visiting more biblical sites but going to Yad Vashim, the holocaust memorial. So after a leisurely breakfast at the guesthouse, where we were joined by the minister of St Andrew’s and his wife, and a wander round the church, we went on a brisk walk up the hill and caught the light train across Jerusalem.

It was a beautiful day but the darkness of the story of the holocaust leaves a very powerful impression. We went through the museum and the children’s memorial then headed back to the old city. It was the right place for us to go as we tried to connect the old with the new and were made aware of the horrors humankind have inflicted on their fellows. When you dehumanise anyone by lies and propaganda how easily you justify behaving inhumanely towards them, then and now…

After a snack lunch by the city walls we returned and said goodbye to the guesthouse staff who had made us very welcome and, as arranged, were collected by Ayman ( who remembered Ruth) and we drove north to Nazareth, a two hour journey on modern fast roads. We were to stay with a couple Ruth had met on her last visit, a Palestinian Arab Christian couple, Assad and Randa. Randa had also visited us in Edinburgh for the 175th anniversary of EMMS. We were warmly welcomed and enjoyed a lively meal with the family, including their son and his lovely fiancée, Lila.

However, the day was not over yet and in the evening we were taken to Haifa at the coast, about 25 miles away, where we saw an extraordinary monument and gardens which mark the centre of the Baha’i faith. Then we sat outside a local cafe in Haifa and relaxed together with much laughter.

It had been another special day.

Day 3 The alternative tour of Nazareth….

At 11, Ruth and I went out with Randa and Lilla to do the “alternative tour of Nazareth”, ( in Ruth’s case, the ‘alternative/alternative tour!). Being taken round by someone from Nazareth, who is well known because of her work in the hospital makes all the difference. Warm greetings, smiling faces a desire to make us feel at home, transformed our visit. Our aim was to see parts of Old Nazareth that people are often not aware of. Of course we did some of the tourist sites as well. There are three churches of the Annunciation (Greek Orthodox, Greek Catholic and Roman Catholic) and we visited the first and the last, the other being shut today. We were sitting in the town square enjoying fresh orange juice when Ruth recognised Christine Farah and was glad to see her again. Throughout the day we nibbled from roadside stalls, popped into cafes, bought from shops; the tastes and smells adding to the day. (Eg, from a stall, we had Fteer made with cheese and zatar; for lunch we had cheese and nut kattayef). We enjoyed going through tiny doorways and finding ourselves in open courtyards off which were rooms. These originally usually belonged to an extended family, or to multiple families seeking refuge, though today had been turned into the bedrooms of a guesthouse. In each case we were given a welcome and a tour. We wandered through the Souk ( market) and met the leader of our walk, Shaun Newton. We went to the Synagogue Church, believed to be the scene of the Luke 4 story. We also, early on, visited an ancient cave excavated in the last ten years and beside it went into the Greek Orthodox Church. As we were sitting quietly an older nun came in dressed all in black. We wondered whether we had done something wrong, but then she asked “Can anyone help me get on the Internet!?”!She was from Romania, and was so glad to find Lilla spoke Hungarian and the two chatted together, as the nun brought us coffee and sweets to eat together in the sunshine. We went to a new museum in honour of Mary, built over the remains of a house dating from Jesus’ time. There was a wonderful rooftop view over Nazareth and a beautiful chapel. We finished by visiting the huge Catholic cathedral (another church claiming to be the site of the Annunciation) which was where Randa and Assad got married over 30 years ago. We came home laden with nuts and spices for future meals and eating a kaaky cake seasonal to Easter. Soon we were enjoying a barbecue round the table. So much food!
Assad and a friend from Jerusalem went off to a school reunion and after a break we went for a walk to a shopping mall. To my surprise once we got into the mall we found it was mostly open-air which meant it wasn’t stuffy. We wandered around and went for a drink, with one of the stall holders, who was selling jewellery, joining us. During the week she works with Randa on patient safety; (she has two degrees, one in nursing and one in law) and on the Sabbath she sells jewellery, most of which she makes herself. We walked back and since it was after ten, retired and went to bed. A fascinating day.

Day 4 – Nazareth and the hospital

Woke up to thunder and lightning and a tropical storm!

Today we went to the Baptist Church with Randa; Ruth was in her element being back there. The service was in in Arabic but the pastor’s wife translated for us. It was great to hear the beautiful worship in Arabic. We also shared Communion. Head sets allowed us to hear most of what was going on. The sermon was on the importance of corporate prayer. We met the other two walkers from overseas, Mollie and Kate, and also Shaun. At the end we enjoyed little cakes to mark Lilla having passed her medical exams. Good news, for which there has been interest and prayer, is marked in this way.

After church we went up to Mount Precipice (linked to Luke 4). From the top we could see Mt Tabor and behind it the village of Nain. We also looked up the Jezreel valley. Then we had a fast food Palestinian lunch, a huge Felafel lunch, with Randa and Lilla, then went home for coffee and to pack and were taken up to the hospital.

Today is arrival day and we met with the other walkers. Sadly three of the group pulled out recently so the core group is very small. In fact, apart from locals, there are only two other overseas walkers who both attend the Scots Kirk in Rotterdam . Mollie and Kate are about ages with us and we are all staying in the doctor’s house tonight, leaking roof notwithstanding! We are in the same room Ruth stayed in last time.

However different local people will join us each day. Once we had got into our room and said farewell to Randa we went down at 4pm and as a group were given a great tour of the maternity and paediatric units by the head of the hospital Dr Fahed and by Miriam, the Senior Midwife. Unlike last time when Ruth never got beyond the corridors we got to see every aspect of the work and see both premature babies and those in the maternity ward. Shortage of money means the paediatric Ward has been shut for the past year…another good reason for doing this sponsored walk…After our tour Christine Farah told us the story of the beginning of the hospital which was very interesting. The staff remember with affection so many people that we know, who have served here.

We then shared a meal where we met more of the staff, some volunteers on the Serve Nazareth programme and Rosemary Nash who I knew from Sandyford. We joined the chapel’s evening worship and got a short briefing before retiring to bed to get ready for the walk tomorrow. Matthew 4:13 talks of Jesus moving from Nazareth to Capernaum, hence the Jesus trail.

Tomorrow we start the walk with temperatures threatening to go into the high 20s on Wednesday, which will be as challenging to us Scots as the walk itself! After church we went up to Mount Precipice (linked to Luke 4). From the top we could see Mt Tabor and behind it the village of Nain. We also looked up the Jezreel valley.Then we had a fast food Palestinian lunch, a huge Felafel lunch, with Randa and Lilla, then went home for coffee and to pack and were taken up to the hospital.

Today is arrival day and we met with the other walkers. Sadly three of the group pulled out recently so the core group is very small. In fact, apart from locals, there are only two other overseas walkers who both attend the Scots Kirk in Rotterdam . Mollie and Kate are about ages with us and we are all staying in the doctor’s house tonight, leaking roof notwithstanding! We are in the same room Ruth stayed in last time.However different local people will join us each day. Once we had got into our room and said farewell to Randa we went down at 4pm and as a group were given a great tour of the maternity and paediatric units by the head of the hospital Dr Fahed and by Miriam, the Senior Midwife. Unlike last time when Ruth never got beyond the corridors we got to see every aspect of the work and see both premature babies and those in the maternity ward. Shortage of money means the paediatric Ward has been shut for the past year…another good reason for doing this sponsored walk…After our tour Christine Farah told us the story of the beginning of the hospital which was very interesting. The staff remember with affection so many people that we know, who have served here.

We then shared a meal where we met more of the staff, some volunteers on the Serve Nazareth programme and Rosemary Nash who I knew from Sandyford. We joined the chapel’s evening worship and got a short briefing before retiring to bed to get ready for the walk tomorrow. Matthew 4:13 talks of Jesus moving from Nazareth to Capernaum, hence the Jesus trail. Tomorrow we start the walk with temperatures threatening to go into the high 20s on Wednesday, which will be as challenging to us Scots as the walk itself!

 

 

Day 5 The first day’s walk from Nazareth to Cana.

Prayer for the day

O Lord Jesus Christ
yourself the Way, the Truth, and the Life
grant to us who walk in your earthly footsteps
a sense of awe, wonder and holiness.
May our hearts burn within us
as we come to know you more clearly,
love you more dearly,
And follow you more nearly. Amen

So today we started the Jesus Walk. We would be on the go for nine hours and walk 13 miles. Ruth and I had toast and tea and were down at the hospital chapel for 7.30. There we had coffee and a biscuit and enjoyed a short service of commissioning, with a lovely send-off from hospital staff.

Then just after 8 we set off. Nine of us were walking today and an extra one joined us for the afternoon. There were the five core team Shaun, Mollie, Kate, Ruth and I, together with a member of the hospital staff, two volunteers ( one from Switzerland and one from Scotland) and our guide Amer, a lovely Palestinian Christian, with a living, shining faith. Although the hospital is set on a hill above Nazareth we started our walk climbing up out of Nazareth. Our guide, Amer, was Ruth’s guide the last time and they greeted each other like lost friends. The walk itself is punctuated by stops to allow Amer to tell us about trees and plants, biblical associations, the history of the land from the time of Joshua to today, and the results of archaeological exploration. He is an excellent speaker and held the group throughout. Nazareth is the largest Arab town in Israel with 80,000, two thirds of whom are now Muslim, one third Christian. The old town is surrounded by new houses mainly occupied by Jews. On our way out we passed a church dedicated to Jesus the adolescent , a reminder of how much Nazareth played in Jesus’ life. It also houses a school, originally set up to educate children who otherwise would have lost their schooling due to the need to provide for their families.

Our destination was Cana of Galilee, but we were not going directly there. Instead we walked to Zippora National Park which has a lot of fascinating archaeological remains. Sepphoris was being rebuilt by the Romans during the time Jesus was growing up. It was the main administrative city in the time Jesus when he was growing up in Galilee. Joseph and Jesus, as builders, may well have found work in Sippora, which was, according to legend, where Mary came from. If so he would have followed the route we walked. All the time you are walking you are seeing Israel as it now is and beneath it layer upon layer of history. One minute you were in the OT, the next the time of the Greeks or Romans. You move from the Byzantine era to the wars of the Crusades, to the contemporary struggle for identity in Israel. As my father had been an ADC in Galilee from 46-48 there was an added personal dimension to the journey.

When we got to Zippora National Park we began by walking down and along the old reservoir, then going down one of the six shafts and squeezing along the tunnel till we got to the next shaft and returning to the surface. Back in Jerusalem we had missed going through Hezekiah’s tunnel through lack of time (though I had been through it 30 years before). The shaft tunnel even down to some water we waded through reminded me of it.

For lunch the medical superintendent and his father brought out a lovely meal and Rosemary Nash joined us for the afternoon leg. After we restarted we spend another couple of hours going round the fascinating excavation work that has been done at Zippora and we could easily have stayed for longer.

Eventually we set off on our way and walked on till we came to what in the bible was Jonah’s birthplace, Gath Heper, now Mashhdad and where he is reputedly buried. Finally we reached Cana of Galilee, the scene of the first miracle of Jesus, and visited the church built over an ancient synagogue which may have been the scene for the wedding celebration. Down below the church we saw a huge stone water jug c.f. John 2. Finally about 5.15 we reached the guest house in Cana and the couple who ran it greeted Ruth like a long lost daughter. She had promised them that she would return with her husband and had kept her word. We had a shower, cup of tea and got changed ready to go out for the evening. The owner showed us how to massage olive oil into our aching limbs after our walk, which was different and relaxing!

We went out for our dinner, a barbecue to Ayman’s home (he had brought us from Jerusalem). We met his whole family, three generations, and they had laid on a sumptuous barbecue. At the end there was concern about Ruth’s legs which seemed to have developed an allergic reaction. So on the way home to the guesthouse Ayman took us to his doctor, who immediately saw her and three minutes later she left with pills and a potion! Incredible service and no charge.

We finished the day with a time for reflection on the day and looking ahead to tomorrow A good first day on the Jesus Trail.

 

Day 6 – Cana to Kibbutz Lavi

After a lovely breakfast (and a second massage!) we set off on our second day on the Jesus trail with two complications. Ruth’s legs were still badly swollen by some sort of allergic reaction which left her a bit under par for the day, though trooper that she is, she made it. Then we hadn’t realised how hot it might get. It was 26 degrees at lunch, 29 in the afternoon, with forecast of a hotter day tomorrow. That said, we had another good day, walking about 12 miles from Cana to Kibbutz Lavi.

We climbed the steep road out of Cana, to walk along a forest ridge with peaceful valley views, before stopping for lunch. On the way Amer stopped to talk, for instance the significance in the bible of the fig tree, how difficult it is to distinguish the wheat and the tapes, and how you graft a wild olive on to an olive tree to bear fruit. All these are images full of meaning and came to life as we stood beside them. We had memorable ‘devotions’ reading Psalm 19 and sharing together as we looked out over creation in this, His Land.

Like yesterday, staff from the hospital brought lunch to us and encouraged us on our walk. We are very impressed by the Nazareth EMMS hospital and are glad to raise funds to help their work. One of the problems of the Jesus trail is that the routes get blocked by new fences and barriers that we had to negotiate, involving a fair bit of extra clambering up and down! We were very glad of our guide…

We visited a nearby ancient Roman road (5 min from route), part of the Via Maris which connected the Mediterranean to the Sea of Galilee (Matt 4:14-15), before walking up a pleasant hill dotted with ruins of cleared villages, with their tell-tale cactus boundaries to arrive at Kibbutz Lavi, one of very few religious Jewish kibbutzim in the country. We were very glad to stop and cool off enjoying the swimming pool and peaceful grounds and a kosher buffet in the dining room before stopping and getting ready for the day ahead. May the Holy Spirit
strengthen us for all that lies ahead.

May your holy angels
surrounding us,
watch, defend and protect us
against all evil. Amen

After a lovely breakfast (and a second massage!) we set off on our second day on the Jesus trail with two complications. Ruth’s legs were still badly swollen by some sort of allergic reaction which left her a bit under par for the day, though trooper that she is, she made it. Then we hadn’t realised how hot it might get. It was 26 degrees at lunch, 29 in the afternoon, with forecast of a hotter day tomorrow. That said, we had another good day, walking about 12 miles from Cana to Kibbutz Lavi.

We climbed the steep road out of Cana, to walk along a forest ridge with peaceful valley views, before stopping for lunch. On the way Amer stopped to talk, for instance,the significance in the bible of the fig tree, how difficult it is to distinguish the wheat and the tapes, and how you graft a wild olive on to an olive tree to bear fruit. All these are images full of meaning and came to life as we stood beside them. We had memorable ‘devotions’ reading Psalm 19 and sharing together as we looked out over creation in this, His Land.

Like yesterday, staff from the hospital brought lunch to us and encouraged us on our walk. We are very impressed by the Nazareth EMMS hospital and are glad to raise funds to help their work. One of the problems of the Jesus trail is that the routes get blocked by new fences and barriers that we had to negotiate, involving a fair bit of extra clambering up and down! We were very glad of our guide…

We visited a nearby ancient Roman road (5 min from route), part of the Via Maris which connected the Mediterranean to the Sea of Galilee (Matt 4:14-15), before walking up a pleasant hill dotted with ruins of cleared villages, with their tell-tale cactus boundaries,to arrive at Kibbutz Lavi, one of very few religious Jewish kibbutzim in the country. We were very glad to stop and cool off enjoying the swimming pool and peaceful grounds and a kosher buffet in the dining room before stopping and getting ready for the day ahead.

 

 

Day 7 Kibbutz Lavi to Arbel-13 miles

Prayer for the day
Lord, you who called your servant, Abraham out of the town of Ur
and who watched over him during all his wandering;
You who guided the Jewish people through the desert
in their journey to the Promised Land.
You who guided the Holy Family on their passage to Egypt,
we ask you know to watch over your servants who,
for your greater glory and honour, make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
Amen

There are two differences between this time and when Ruth did this walk with her sister. Back in November, it gets dark much earlier and the group often finished their walk in the dark… Also, the scenery was far more bleak with rocks and earth and little grass and flowers. Today Ruth noticed the difference, green grass, and spring flowers growing everywhere and we always finished in daylight.

We ate breakfast, packed and were ready to leave by 8.15. This was meant to be the hottest day and the most beautiful walk and it was both. The temperature moved between 28-33 degrees which made walking up and down many hills more challenging! However, thankfully Ruth’s leg is healing and she felt much better today than yesterday, though, like others, the heat sapped her strength. One of the fascinating things about a shared experience in a group when you are being tested physically, is how the barriers break down and you get to know one another and our “back stories”, in the casual conversation and as the groupings constantly change throughout the day. There are thankfully no awkward members of the group and all have kept up well. There are some in their early 20’s, some in their 40’s and some in their 60’s.

When the group from the hospital who were travelling each day joined, us we started to head out across agricultural fields to ascend the Horns of Hattin: a volcanic structure where a famous Crusader battle took place against Saladin ( the Crusaders lost, they had not brought enough water, something we were careful to do today!) When we climbed up one of the horns we had our first glimpse of the Sea of Galilee and the sweeping views into Arbel Valley.

In front of us we saw Tiberius, one of four Jewish towns that survived the Roman destruction of AD 70. Two were in the south (Hebron and Jerusalem) but Safed and Tiberius were visible to us in the north. In the distance was Mount Herman, still snow covered. This is often suggested as a better place for the Mount of Transfiguration, being much nearer Caesarea Philippi than Mount Tabor which is near Nazareth. Today the mountain is divided between Israel, Syria and Lebanon. Across the Sea of Galilee stand the volcanic Golan Heights, but in Biblical times, the Decapolis which had been mainly settled by Gentiles (cf Feeding of 4,000 and healing of demon possessed man). The Sea of Galilee was divided between Herod Antipas and his brother Philip. As we looked out, the chaplain and spiritual director from the hospital joined us and walked the rest of the day with us. After admiring the view Amer recreated the battle at the Horns of Hitten by tracing the story of the land from the Roman era, through the Byzantine era, to the Muslim era. Then he told the story of the Crusades and the five waves that followed and took the story up to 1948.

We continued down the steep rocky hillside to Nebu Shu’eib, the holiest shrine for the Druze religion. It was quite a steep descent and Ruth slipped and bashed her side against a rock. We visited the tomb of Jethro, father-in-law of Moses, saw his footprint, (he stamped his foot when he was angry! ) and took a lunch break at the picnic area, once again provided by staff from the hospital, one of whom, Jane, joined us for the afternoon. It has been lovely to see the joy of the local staff in being part of our venture and their tangible appreciation of the fund-raising for their departments.

We then continued on the trail through Arbel Valley, past ancient olive groves and the ruins of Hattin village. We forded streams, were surrounded by wild flowers and enjoyed the walk, though it was a long hot one. Eventually we climbed painfully out of the valley, past an old ruined synagogue, to Moshav Arbel, where we were staying in a charming rustic cabin. We relaxed b and ate dinner together before finishing our day as usual with singing, reflection, planning and prayer.

Day 8 – Arbel to the Sea of Galilee – 13 miles

Once again it was a HOT day, with temperatures in the 30s. We had our breakfast and then 10 from the hospital joined us including a member of staff and her three children. We set off after revisiting the ruins of the synagogue for the sake of the newcomers and then climbed up the road towards the Arbel Cliffs.

When we entered the park we were invited to share the food and drink left over by another group and the invitation was warmly received by the group. We paused by a cage used by Herod the Great to lower soldiers over the cliff to attack cave dwellers who resisted his authority.

After admiring the view from the top we realised that the way down was literally to go over the cliff and climb down. There were various metal stanchions at particularly steep sections to give you hand or foot holds but it was a bit nerve-wracking at places as we carefully descended the steep trail down the mount, passing ancient cliff dwellings and caves and fortress.

When at last we reached the bottom we paused at the fresh spring at Wadi Hamam. This was part of the Valley of the Doves that Jesus would have walked through coming from Nazareth to Capernaum. We walked on to Magdala, where once again lunch, prepared by some of the hospital staff, was waiting for us.

The afternoon walk was on the flat but it was long and hot and unfortunately involved a fairly long detour when we lost our way for a time. Eventually however, a mile short of Capernaum we reached the Sea of Galilee or Lake of Tiberius and some of us immediately went for a swim and the heat and tiredness disappeared immediately. As some were tired and it was now 5.30 we paused the walk there and will resume it from that spot tomorrow and finish the Jesus trail.

Instead we went to our guesthouse which is run by Christian Mission to the Jews and after dinner and reflection we turned in after a long but good day. Ruth’s legs are much better and no-one who started the walk has dropped out which is great.
Even when it is hard going, especially in the unexpected heat, there is a real sense of both achievement and wonder as Jesus’ life and ministry comes along we as we walk the trail. Once again it was a HOT day, with temperatures in the 30s. We had our breakfast and then 10 from the hospital joined us including a member of staff and her three childrn. We set off after revisiting the ruins of the synagogue for the sake of the newcomers and then climbed up the road towards the Arbel Cliffs.

When we entered the park we were invited to share the food and drink left over by another group and the invitation was warmly received by the group. We paused by a cage used by Herod the Great to lower soldiers over the cliff to attack cave dwellers who resisted his authority.

After admiring the view from the top we realised that the way down was literally to go over the cliff and climb down. There were various metal stanchions at particularly steep sections to give you hand or foot holds but it was a bit nervracking at places as we carefully descended the steep trail down the mount, passing ancient cliff dwellings and caves and fortress.

When at last we reached the bottom we paused at the fresh spring at Wadi Hamam. This was part of the Valley of the Doves that Jesus would have walked through coming from Nazareth to Capernaum. We walked on to Magdala, where once again lunch, prepared by some of the hospital staff, was waiting for us.

The afternoon walk was on the flat but it was long and hot and unfortunately involved a fairly long detour when we lost our way for a time. Eventually however, a mile short of Capernaum we reached the Sea of Galilee or Lake of Tiberius and some of us immediately went for a swim and the heat and tiredness disappeared immediately. As some were tired and it was now 5.30 we paused the walk there and will resume it from that spot tomorrow and finish the Jesus trail.

Instead we went to our guesthouse which is run by Christian Mission to the Jews and after dinner and reflection we turned in after a long but good day. Ruth’s legs are much better and no-one who started the walk has dropped out which is great.
Even when it is hard going, especially in the unexpected heat, there is a real sense of both achievment and wonder as Jesus’ life and ministry comes along we as we walk the trail.

 

 

Once again it was a HOT day, with temperatures in the 30s. We had our breakfast and then 10 from the hospital joined us including a member of staff and her three childrn. We set off after revisiting the ruins of the synagogue for the sake of the newcomers and then climbed up the road towards the Arbel Cliffs.

When we entered the park we were invited to share the food and drink left over by another group and the invitation was warmly received by the group. We paused by a cage used by Herod the Great to lower soldiers over the cliff to attack cave dwellers who resisted his authority

After admiring the view from the top we realised that the way down was literally to go over the cliff and climb down. There were various metal stanchions at particularly steep sections to give you hand or foot holds but it was a bit nervracking at places as we carefully descended the steep trail down the mount, passing ancient cliff dwellings and caves and fortress.

When at last we reached the bottom we paused at the fresh spring at Wadi Hamam. This was part of the Valley of the Doves that Jesus would have walked through coming from Nazareth to Capernaum. We walked on to Magdala, where once again lunch, prepared by some of the hospital staff, was waiting for us.

The afternoon walk was on the flat but it was long and hot and unfortunately involved a fairly long detour when we lost our way for a time. Eventually however, a mile short of Capernaum we reached the Sea of Galilee or Lake of Tiberius and some of us immediately went for a swim and the heat and tiredness disappeared immediately. As some were tired and it was now 5.30 we paused the walk there and will resume it from that spot tomorrow and finish the Jesus trail.

Instead we went to our guesthouse which is run by Christian Mission to the Jews and after dinner and reflection we turned in after a long but good day. Ruth’s legs are much better and no-one who started the walk has dropped out which is great.
Even when it is hard going, especially in the unexpected heat, there is a real sense of both achievment and wonder as Jesus’ life and ministry comes along we as we walk the trail.

Day 9 Friday 7th, Sea of Galilee – Capernaum – Ginosar – Magdala – 7.5 km

Personal Prayer

Father in heaven
mould me into Christlikeness
and stir up in me
the fire of your love.

Holy Spirit
fill me with your power
and help me to tell of the love
and salvation in Jesus of Nazareth.

Lord Jesus Christ
Son of the Father
renew my friendship in you
and help me to serve you
with a quiet mind and a burning spirit.

Father, Son and Holy Spirit
please keep me
in the joy, simplicity and compassion
of your holy Gospel. Amen.

We have finished the Jesus Trail. Today is the last day of our visit to Israel that has included so much. The bible stories have come to life in new ways by what we have seen, heard and experienced. Yesterday we paused before a mustard bush and squeezed out the tiny mustard seeds onto our hand. Faith like that can move mountains… Or looked at the vicious thorns on the “crown of thorns” tree which were perhaps used to humiliate Jesus on the cross and add to the pain of his suffering. As we looked down from the cliff of Arbel, we saw how the Wadi Haman narrowed through a gorge to provide a funnel for the wind which could transform the placid Sea of Galilee into a cauldron. Our final day would add to these rich experiences.

We got up early to see the sunrise over the Golan Heights at 6:20am. Clouds over the mountains delayed its appearance, but finally the sun rose above the clouds. Then, after enjoying a packed breakfast on the terrace together, we returned to the spot where we had stopped yesterday in order to finish our walk on the Jesus Trail and reach Capernaum. As always we got the word to move from our guide… “Yallah!”

As we reached Capernaum we celebrated the completion of the Jesus Trail. Then we went first to Tabgha, the traditional site of the feeding of the 5,000, seeing the ancient mosaics of the 2 fish and 4 loaves ( Jesus himself being the 4th, the Bread of Life); before going along around the northern side of the Sea of Galilee to visit the church of St Peter. This marks the scene in the story of John 21 when Peter is recommissioned after his three fold denial. With it’s peaceful gardens, the sound of groups worshipping, the shoreline and 1st century jetty steps (and the rock traditionally held to be the spot where Jesus prepared breakfast for the disciples), this is a special place for new starts and quiet worship.

From there, we ascended a steep ridge to the Mount of Beatitudes, the traditional site of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. On the way we noted that one of the 7 springs, (the name for the whole site), was a spring with healing qualities. The Jew called it Job’s spring , (where he took comfort from his sores). The Muslims later made it a leper colony for the same reasons. On the way up the mount we came to a cave called by the Jews “Job’s cave”, and by Christians the ‘ Lonely Place’. Our guide wondered if this was “the lonely place” Christ retreated to, to pray. Given it had room for 13 people was it the natural gathering point for the disciples to gather in Galilee? Further up the mount there is a natural amphitheatre, on a flat place which may have been the setting for Matt 5-7 and Luke 6. Once we reached the top and looked around the Church of the Beatitudes we got on board a bus… our walking was over.

Our guide explained that he used five tests for authenticity, namely, history, geography, archaeology, tradition and the bible. When they all lined up he had confidence in what he said.

When we reached Capernaum we wandered through the ruins of the city, spending time in the church built over the home of Simon Peter. Capernaum on the way of the Sea would be an important staging post for travellers for food, hospitality and other services. It would also charge taxes to travellers (eg Matthew). It seems to have produced olive presses and the size of its synagogue suggests a wealthy town. Yet it, with Bethsaida (Peter and Andrew’s hometown) and Chorizon were cursed by Jesus for their unbelief. Peter probably moved to Capernaum, to his mother-law, because it offered a better market for his fish and also avoided the taxes he would pay moving from Philip’s territory to Herod Antipas’. The ruins of the fish market are clearly visible.

From there we were soon heading to Ginosar for a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee, which was great. We sang songs together in the front of the boat before going back to Magdala, the birthplace of Mary Magdalene, a prosperous fishing village at the time of Jesus. This is a recent and impressive excavation.

We then headed home to Nazareth to have lunch in the Nazareth Village. Many of the staff were waiting to welcome us home with cheers and claps and we had a wonderful ‘biblical’ meal, with speeches and presentations. Afterwards we had a short service with those who had walked with us and a few others, before going for a Parable Walk through the recreated 1st century Nazareth, complete with houses, synagogue, terraced farmland and an olive press all authentically recreated. It was very impressive.

After enjoying the Nazareth Village and visiting the Nazareth shop, we finished with a farewell communion service in the chapel before returning to our accommodation in the former doctor’s home in the hospital to get ready for leaving during the night We will be collected by Ayman at 12.45 for our 4.50am flight home!

Day 10 A final reflection

I’m sitting at the airport at 3am wanting to reflect on our trip, so here goes. The purpose of this visit was to support Nazareth EMMS hospital by raising money for their maternity and paediatric wards. I had not been to the hospital before but through the week of the Jesus Trail we met a number of the staff who either supplied our lunches or walked with us for one of the days. I was very impressed by the staff, their commitment to the hospital and to the Nazareth Trust, their personal warmth and their graciousness. As we travelled, everyone we met or who heard of our connection to the hospital, spontaneously spoke well of it, and of the care of the staff, and the dignity they showed towards their patients. As we arrived, the medical director and a senior midwife showed us around and their pride in their work was evident. However they also knew how much more they could do, given the needed financial investment, but made as much as they could with what they have. Those who can pay for their treatment do so, those who cannot are treated in exactly the same way, with love, care and dignity. Their longing to reopen the paediatric Ward is evident. So I am glad that in a small way we could support the work.

Secondly, Ruth and I are enormously grateful to those who have financially supported us. At present through the give.net site and through money and cheques, we have, I reckon, raised over £5,000. Many thanks to you all, not least being those who gave anonymously, whom we have not managed to identify. The opportunity to give, by whatever method, remains open for the next few months. We are now all the more convinced of the value of the cause.

Thirdly, the Nazareth Trust looked after us very well. The briefing notes, advice on fund rating and admin support enabled us to set off in good order. The care once we reached Israel was exceptional. From a taxi from Jerusalem on arrival to another to Tel Aviv on departure we were looked after the whole way. All the details about food and accommodation were taken care of, the itinerary was well thought through and the level of challenge was just right. The way we were welcomed and commissioned at the start, along with the welcome and lavish meal followed by worship and communion to finish, made us feel included and proud to represent the hospital.

It was great having a warm informed guide who won our confidence and kept us on our path and reaching our destination each day. He also opened our eyes to see what was before us and enriched our understanding not only of the biblical period but over all that went both before and after the life of Christ, to the present day. Alongside our guide, we had a leader of the group whose personal support, spiritual leadership and pastoral care was much appreciated. Nothing was any trouble to him. Our group was smaller than intended as three pulled out due to good reasons (two hope to join a later walk). The hope is that more will walk in future, but there is a communication exercise the Trust needs to address, and is addressing.

Fourthly, what of the Jesus Trail itself? I was surprised that parts of it were poorly signposted, and thankful we had a guide! When Ruth did the walk in November 15 the weather was cooler, with some rain and the days were shorter. Although there was a big storm on the arrival day and rain around us on the first day of our walk, in fact it never rained on us. The sun shone all day and towards the end we had two hot days in the 30s, but we all coped somehow. We also had the added bonus of green grass and spring flowers as opposed to the bare earth and rocks Ruth had experienced in November.

There is something powerful about simply walking and the fact that at points in the day/ week it was very challenging, only adds to the “enjoyment” of the trip. When you go round “holy sites” on a bus you miss something. You live within the bubble of the bus community and then step out, dare I say it, as tourists to be entertained. When you walk, hour after hour, day after day, you adjust to a pace that is refreshingly different from our high pressure world of today. You learn things about yourself and about the group. Above all you have time to take things in, to feel the contours of the ground below your feet, the sun on your shoulders, the sense of anticipation at the end of a day and the relief of taking off your boots.

Each day there were usually at least nine of us walking; not a greatly different number from Jesus and the twelve. To follow in his steps, seeing the illustrations he used beside you on the path, in the trees, flowers, crops and rocks, was very special. To follow our guide as the twelve followed Jesus and to imagine what they thought about as they sought to understand who Jesus was, was very powerful. Ruth and I fitted in two days in Jerusalem before we went to Nazareth, so we have had memories of how the story ended, as well as living through his Galilean ministry.

As is always the case, what made the trip so memorable was the people we met along the way. In our fractured and broken world, where division and injustices are all too obvious, (walls and barriers notwithstanding), ordinary people on all sides are making the daily choice to live with love, kindness and generosity of heart and spirit. We met an abundance of these and will treasure them in our memories, hearts and prayers.

As well as the physical journey and the insights we were given, times when we read a bible story, sang a hymn, prayed or sat in silence were very powerful. The final experience of walking round the remarkably well conceived Nazareth Village sealed our walk – and was even more powerful because we had done the walk. The village is part of the Trust and is a great asset to their work.

So there we are. Assuming our flight is on time, we will be home in time for the start of Holy Week in Edinburgh and will journey in a different with way with Jesus. Thanks to those who have persevered with this blog. Maybe one day some of you will walk the Jesus Trail as well…

Colin and Ruth