Reflections on the Pilgrimage

The Sea of Galilee

Reflections from Hilary

When I decided to go on the Pilgrimage, I didn’t know if this would change or deepen my faith.  I knew that I would enjoy the Sea of Galilee because I had been told by the pilgrims of 3 years before that it was a beautiful and unspoiled place, the same as it was when Jesus was alive on earth.  Now when I think of it, I picture Karen presiding over the Eucharist, behind her the Sea of Galilee, calm with the water sparkling and splintering in the bright sunshine and a clear blue sky above.  A warm breeze is blowing as we sit in the shade of a eucalyptus tree.  This is one of the most beautiful places in the world.  We know for certain that Jesus walked here and preached and performed His miracles.  So, it is that dimension, and celebrating the Eucharist there, that entered my soul and deepened my faith.

Walking the Via Dolorosa, the Way of the Cross, was a completely different experience.  We have been told by Karen to be silent as we trudge uphill over narrow uneven cobbled streets lined with tall buildings containing shops and houses.  It is not easy walking but we are not carrying a cross or contemplating a cruel death.  The silence, the lack of conversation, magnifies the sounds of the street so that we feel separate and isolated.  The street sounds seem hostile even though they are not.  One of our group is spat on.  Because of this experience, I now know a tiny bit more of how Jesus felt and how he suffered for me even before His crucifixion.  It is something I shall never forget.

The last place I will never forget is St George’s Cathedral in Jerusalem, where we went for a service on Sunday.  At the time, I didn’t realise how foreign the Holy Land is until I stepped into the cathedral’s walled courtyard with its roses growing around the doors.  As I entered, the organ was playing and I was filled with emotion.  I could not sing the first hymn I was so affected.  I tried to analyse this afterwards and decided it was the juxtaposition of the very familiar with the very unfamiliar.  The important thing that I realised was that the World-Wide Anglican Communion is a worldwide family of Christians like us.  I find that very comforting.  I would just like to add that St George’s Cathedral does sterling work in the Palestinian territories.  They run a large hospital and they are about to open a cancer centre.  They have no money but somehow they get the money and, as Jesus did, they live in the real world created by God and not in a Christian bubble, separated from real life. They have faith that God will provide and He does.

Reflections from Keith

The pilgrimage affected everyone in different ways and at different times.  For me I feel it has been a step forward in my spiritual journey.  I have three specific reflections to share:

  1. I was surprised by the spiritual power sensed when walking and worshipping in locations where Jesus had likely been – Gethsemane, Jacob’s well, the shores of Galilee. Communion on the lake shore was a particularly moving experience.It felt as if Jesus could appear to us through the trees.
  2. I was impressed by the serenity of the Palestinian Christians we got to know – our driver and guide, particularly our guide.They have a very hard time living in a divided and controlled country – the extent and depth of how it affects daily life is hard to appreciate without living in the Holy Land.Yet they maintain a caring, open, inclusive Christian approach in their daily lives.I felt that there was much we could learn from them.Despite all the problems and frustrations, they appeared at ease and could just be. 
  3. There is much commercialism at the main tourist sites which for me was a distraction from any religious or spiritual engagement.However, it was hard not to be impressed by the strength of belief in other groups – especially at the baptism site on the River Jordan.

Overall the pilgrimage has made me think more about the region and how relevant the Christian message is.  It has strengthened my faith and I recommend it.

The Garden of Gethsemane

Reflections from Darren

If you take a 28-day trip and condense it into ten days, it is hard to give a two-minute summary. There is so much to say that even a simple description of where we went could take a few hours. So much happened, it was like drinking faith, history and culture from a hosepipe!  So, when our son Max collected us on our return and asked, somewhat sarcastically, “Do you feel closer to Jesus then?” it was hard to know what to say.

I could have told him that we had gained so much context from the trip, that our certainty in the gospel was greatly strengthened. Listening to Elaine give our gospel reading just now it was a privilege to be able to close my eyes and picture the Sea of Galilee so clearly. Jesus’ life and work has a different dimension. He seems so much more part of the present when even the “Pharisee" that David Baker spoke of in his sermon two weeks ago, is alive and well in Jerusalem today!

I could have spoken to him of humility, the great privilege of walking in the very steps of Jesus, to experience the magnitude of his ministry and what he endured for our sake in such a physical way. As I write I think even now of the deliberately low entrance to the Church of the Nativity which made even a small person stoop to enter.

I could have told Max of the feeling of awe we had when seeing the empty tomb, Jacob’s Well or our surprise when we were more often affected by the smaller things we encountered; the many kindnesses we were shown, the smiles on the faces of those little boys at the Palestinian school, the Christian YMCA mission in Palestine which cares for those traumatised by political and social tension within the wider non-Christian community in His name. How can we compress so much into so little time when there is still so much to process?

Well perhaps I can start by answering my son with a conclusion. Yes, I did return feeling closer to Jesus but not in the way he, or I, expected. Some of you may remember the famous 60s’ film “Easy-Rider”. Its strapline read, “One man went in search of America and couldn’t find it anywhere”. I think the strapline to our film would be quite the opposite. “One man, one group, went in search of Jesus and found Him EVERYWHERE!” If the opportunity to join a pilgrimage arises grasp if firmly with both hands. No-one could return unchanged. But you will not leave Jesus behind when you return. He does not change. When you return, you will still find Him here as He always has been.

There are lots of photos of our trip to the Holy Land in the photo gallery.