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Day 3:  Cana

Cana of Galilee is the site where Jesus attended a wedding and turned water into wine. This was the first of his signs and miracles, according to the Gospel of John. This story is told on John 2:1-11.

We visited the Sanctuary of Our Lord’s First Miracle. Unfortunately, it had to unexpectedly close early. That didn’t stop a bunch of cunning pilgrims from finding a way to take a few photos!

Since the church was closed, Louie, our guide, pulled some strings with a few friends and found some space for a special and sacred moment: the renewal of marriage vows. 

Rev. Procopio led the couples on our trip in a moving service of renewal. 

It doesn’t matter that it was in an alley behind a shop or with chickens and dogs in attendance. It was done in the sight of God and in Cana of Galilee where Jesus once graced a wedding.

Day 3:  Mt. Carmel

Mt. Carmel is the site of the prophet Elijah’s contest with the prophets of Ba’al. The story is told in 1 Kings 18. 

Israel’s king Ahab has the great distinction of being known as the king who “did more evil in the eyes of the Lord than any of those before him.”  Ahab’s wife, Jezebel, from the foreign kingdom of the Sodinians, set up temples to Ba’al and worshipped him. Jezebel also began to kill off the Lord’s prophets. 

Mt. Carmel is the place where Elijah challenged the prophets of Ba’al to see whose god would send down fire on the sacrifice. The 450 prophets of Ba’al called and called but no fire came. Elijah called out to God and God sent fire!

The Carmelites are the only Roman Catholic religious order that is headquartered in the Holy Land. Their chapel is a beautiful place for prayer. 

Statue in the courtyard depicting Elijah slaughtering the prophets of Ba’al after their defeat.

Day 3: Nazareth

Nazareth sits up on a hill, a city of white buildings visible against the green of the mountain. When Jesus says, “a city on a hill cannot be hidden,” I can’t help but think he had this in mind. 

Nazareth is the site of Jesus’ boyhood home. He spent 25 years of his life here before he began his public ministry. These years are known as the missing years as the scriptures don’t give us information about this time. 

During Jesus’ life, Nazareth was a small village of about 200-350 people. It was a country town with little reputation. You might remember Nathaniel asking, “What good can come from Nazareth?”  Now, more than 75,000 people live there. It is said that Nazareth has the largest population of Israeli Arab Christians in the country. 

Our first stop was at the community of the Sisters of Nazareth, a French Roman Catholic order. The church and school were founded in the 1800’s. The sisters were told by local residents that the church was built over the grave of a just and righteous man. This was regarded as a nice piece of religious folklore until archaeological evidence was found under the church. 

The short story is that they found the remains of a Crusader era church built over the remains of a Byzantine Church that was built over the remains of a 1st century home. That home had a tomb underneath it, which is very unusual as tombs inside the towns were limited to prophets and important people. 

They had found the grave of the legendary “just man.”  Given all of the evidence, a compelling case can be made that this was the house of Joseph. Either way, we were able to witness amazing archaeology, a first century home (including a manger), and a 2st century tomb (complete with a round stone).  Clear as mud, right?

Altar of the Byzantine church.
Remains of a 1st century house discovered underneath three churches–the Byzantine, Crusader, and the modern Sisters of Nazareth church.
The tomb. Dated during the Roman era due to the round stone rolled in front. This adds insight into the kind of tomb in which Jesus would have been buried.
Inside the tomb.

The tradition and memory of the church is a gift from God. Imagine–over 1,800 years, Christians remember that a venerated grave sat in that spot. They held that memory and tradition long after concrete evidence faded away. And it was vindicated as true in the late 19th/early 20th century. 

Christian memory is a gift from God. We have a long memory, held intact by the Holy Spirit. 

The Church of the Annunciation
The Church of the Annunciation is a short distance from this site. The Church of the Annunciation is built over the ruins of a 1st century  that is believed to be the home of Mary, mother of Jesus. This tradition has great weight as it has been held from the earliest of the church. 

The Church of the Annunciation remembers the angel Gabriel announcing Mary’s pregnancy. It is the largest Christian church in the Holy Land. 

Doors of the church depict scenes of Jesus’ life.

The remains of Mary’s house.
The first floor of the church is sparsely decorated. It is built around the remains of Mary’s house. There is an altar just in front of it. 

The second floor of the church is abundantly decorated with art from all over the world. 
The art of the church can be described as 

  • Marian (or centered around Mary)
  • Multi-national. Nearly every country submitted art and iconography to be displayed at the church. 
  • Modern
  • Mysterious 

This piece, submitted by the United States, is displayed in the second floor sanctuary.

Sacred Art Links Lyons and Nazareth

The stained glass windows in the sanctuary of the Lyons First United Methodist Church in Lyons, GA have a unique and modern style.

Stained Glass at Lyons First UMC

They are made in a style called faceted stained glass. They resemble mosaics, with impressions of images roughly fashioned with chunks of chipped glass.  

During our journey through Nazareth, we stopped at the Community of the Sisters of Nazareth and at the Church of the Annunciation. I was struck still in both places when I saw their stained glass. I did a double take every time. 

In both churches, both built on 1st century holy sites, both likely built on top of the homes of the members of the Holy Family, are faceted stained glass windows. The windows aren’t the same as the ones in Lyons, but it felt like a piece of home in the Holy Land. And now it will feel like a piece of the Holy Land at home. 

I thought you would like to see them. When you look at the glass in the sanctuary of Lyons First UMC, you can recall the connection that we share through sacred art with these two churches of Nazareth in the Holy Land. 

City on a Hill

Traveling through Israel really opens up our understanding of scripture. As we drive back from our hotel in Tiberias, we look up at the residential area on the hill above us. Cities like this are all over Galilee. Jesus would have seen villages and cities set up on hills, too. 

This sheds light on the scripture in passages like this one: 

“Jesus said, “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”  Matthew‬ ‭5:14-16‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Day 3: Tel Megiddo & The Valley of Armageddon

It’s not every day that I wake up excited for Armageddon!  
Today, we left our hotel in Tiberias and traveled to the Valley of Armageddon. 

This valley is well-known for the reference in Revelation 16:16 which describes the kings of the world coming together “to the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon” for “the battle in the great day of God Almighty (16:14).”  

The word “Armageddon” has become representative of the destructive events that surround the parousia, the return of Christ. It is often used to describe pure destruction. 

Never mind that the return of Christ is the greatest hope of all the faithful and a time of great renewal and the restoration of all things–Armageddon is not a word for destruction, but the name of a specific place. Namely the valley of the city of Megiddo, also known as thas Jezreel Valley. 

The Jezreel Valley is a fertile plain surrounded by the mountains of Galilee, Samaria, and Mt. Carmel. One of the major ancient roads, known as the Via Maris, entered the Jezreel Valley by the City of Megiddo. 

That’s where the fearsome name “Armageddon” comes from! The Mountain of Megiddo, in Hebrew, is Har Megiddo or Harmegiddon. Hence, the Latinized “Armageddon.”  

Now this valley does have a fearsome reputation. Because of its geography and strategic location, it was a fitting place for nations to hold their battles. Many nations did, including the Egyptians, the ancient Israelites, and even a WWI battle in 1918. 
It’s reputation makes it’s mention in Revelation 16:16 quite fearsome indeed. 

It is interesting to see runways for the modern, national military in the Jezreel Valley. 

Tel Megiddo overlooks the Jezreel Valley. A tel is a human-made mountain or hill resulting from the continual building of new structures on top of destroyed ones. The current excavation of Tel Megiddo reveals the remnants of an early Canaanite city, buildings from King Solomon’s era on top of them, and construction from King Ahab’s era on top of that. 

As we walked Tel Megiddo, we walked across stones that date far back into the time of the Old Testament. 

One of the more adventurous experiences was traveling down the well tunnel that King Ahab had dug to protect the water supply that was located outside the city gates. 

I know this is a lot of detail. To be honest, we see so much each day that it’s hard to keep up with it all. Writing it out for you is a great way to retain some info and share it at the same time. 

The experience is unreal. To stand on the place that Joshua desired in Joshua 17; the place fortified by Solomon himself in 1 Kings 9:15; and represents the clash of nations from Revelation–it is inspiring. 

Look for some personal reflections interspersed with these posts in the days to come. 

Day 1: Lift Off

On Monday, our tour group convened at the airport in Newark, NJ to fly to Tel Aviv, Israel and begin our 10-day pilgrimage of the Holy Land. 

We’ve got a wonderful group with South Georgia Methodists and Baptists alike coming together to share in a spiritual journey. Many are dear friends from the Isle of Hope and White Bluff United Methodist Churches. Others are friends from ministry experiences. Yet others are brand new friends!

Once everyone arrived in New Jersey, we quickly boarded our 10-hour flight into Tel Aviv. We met many great people aboard the plane. People of all nationalities. Children. Adults. Other tourists. Native Israelis. Pilgrims. 

Before breakfast was served, we were blessed to witness the Orthodox Jewish passengers faithfully carry out their morning prayer despite the many onlookers. They lashed their phylacteries onto their arms and heads and donned their shawls. It was a sign that we were entering into a different culture and a reminder that we share the Holy Land with others who’s lives are grounded in God’s work there. 

Many of us only slept for a few hours on the plane. We landed at about 9:20 a.m. Israeli time (2:20 a.m. EST). Despite our lack of rest, we went straight from the plane to security to our tour bus and then on to our first site: Jaffa. 

Over the next few days, I hope to share some of our experiences with you. I’ll do my best to share stories, pictures, and testimony along the way. I hope to supplement my stuff with info and pictures from their members of our team. Since I am working off of a phone, I’ll be posting these “raw” updates. When I get back home, I will correct spelling and errors, add new pics, supplement with personal stories, and add links. 

One thing that I want to emphasize right away: this is a trip centered around the land of the Bible, but it’s important to remember that every site we see is a place where relationship happened. Our group will enter into those stories and have our own relationship stories to tell about these places. We are on a pilgrimage together. And each member of our group is a vital part of this experience. We are doing this together. God has given us the gift of one another. We are already being blessed by the land and especially by those with whom we share this journey. 

You who are reading are sharing in this with us. Thank you for your blessing!

Day 2: Jaffa

Our first day in the Holy Land was connected by the narrative of Acts 10 and the cities of Jaffa and Cesarea Martima.

As we traveled north along the coast from Tel Aviv, we stopped in the Mediterranean town of Jaffa.

The city sits up on an elevation with gorgeous stone walkways and steps that lead down the the sea shore.

Our first stop was the Roman Catholic Church of St. Peter.

In Acts 10, Cornelius, a soldier of the Italian regimen stationed in Cesarea (Cesarea Martima), had a vision. An angel told him to send for Peter who was in Jaffa (spelled Joppa in the scriptures). The scene shifts to Peter, who had recently arrived in Jaffa in his travels about the country.

In Jaffa, he prayed over the dead body of Tabitha (also known as Dorcas), a disciple of Jesus who had recently died. With the words, “Tabitha, get up,” she “opened her eyes and …sat up.” This spread all over town. Peter stayed in town for a while in the house of Simon the tanner.

Peter received a vision while in Jaffa. (Acts 10 is connected by this theme of visions which lead to a remarkable conclusion…).

The Church of St. Peter remembers Peter’s vision. We entered through large, ornate doors which opened to a gorgeous sanctuary with a few chapels on either side. The pulpit sits on the right side, elevated and ornate with a sculpture of an olive tree rising from the top.

Overlooking the gorgeous altar is a large painting of Peter’s vision. He kneels with an angel in front of him. Above him, we see the sheet containing the unclean animals that Peter was commanded to kill and eat. (Acts 10:13).

As we enter into prayer we can remember the voice of Jesus tell Peter, “Do not call anything impure that God has made unclean.” And we can hear Jesus speak that into our lives as well, remembering that he has made us clean. We remember that this vision has opened the way for the gospel to be proclaimed to all people, even us.

The traditional home of Simon the tanner is a short walk from the church. While this may not be the place where he lived, it was likely in close proximity. Regardless, this place gives us an opportunity to remember the place where Peter received his vision, where he met the couriers from Cornelius, and where he decided to go to Cesarea. It also reminds us of the great grace of hospitality and its role for good in the Kingdom of God.

Jaffa is also a place that connects the Old and New Testaments.

Jaffa is a harbor town. Especially early on, before other major ports opened such as in the city of Haifa, it was a major entry point into the country. Today, it looks more like a marina that you would see in Coastal Georgia.

In Jonah 1:3, when Jonah is fleeing the call of God to go to Nineveh, he Chatters a boat out of the harbor in Jaffa. Standing on that place reminded me of all of the decision points in my life where I’ve had to choose whether or not to follow the Lord. I am grateful for when I have and especially thankful for God’s grace to correct and redirect me when I don’t.

King Solomon utilized the port of Jaffa to receive the cedar timbers that were used to build the temple in Jerusalem.

From Jaffa, we headed off to Caesarea Martima, to follow the Apostle Peter on his way to visit Cornelius.

Sermon: The Way I Don’t Want to Live

Jesus says, “Love your enemies.”  What if I don’t want to?

Here is the message from Sunday evening, entitled “The Way I Don’t Want to Live.”

On Friday, news flooded the world of another horrific terrorist attack–this time in Paris.  As I turned my attention over the weekend to prepare the message for our evening service at the church, I opened the preaching schedule that we laid out nearly 3 months ago.

Weparis peace sign‘ve been walking through the Gospel of Luke.  Sunday’s text was Luke 6:27-38, a part of Jesus’ “Sermon on the Plain.”  “Love your enemies….”

I humbly hope and pray that this message might be helpful as we navigate the tensions of following Jesus in the midst of such horrific violence.

A special thanks to Jay Voorhees for sharing his prayer.