There is a common memory many people share on the night before Christmas. A little child goes to bed with the excitement of what Santa will bring to him. It is this awe and excitement that is held in the child’s memory for for a lifetime and it creates a lifetime sense of hope and anticipation of things to come.
The word ‘advent’ means the coming of a person or an event, and Advent is the season that reminds us of an arrival of someone special; it is the beginning of a new spiritual journey for each of us. We are reminded once again of the promise God made that Christ would come into our midst and we build our traditions around this time to remind us of that great mystery of his coming into the world. Each year we recall the hope that was promised to us as we await the coming of Emmanuel, ‘God With Us’.
For 32 pilgrims, this hope was brought to a reality when members of Christ Church, St. Nahi’s and other local parishes left Dublin on 23rd October to begin a week-long pilgrimage in the Holy Land. Our pilgrimage began on the Sea of Galilee. We enjoyed a very peaceful sail across this sea and landed at Caperneum, which was one of the highlights of our visit. During the short voyage the engines on the boat were cut and the immediate feeling of peace and calm echoed around us. We were encouraged to sit in the stillness and enjoy the sound of absolute silence as we recalled how Jesus would have spoken to Peter and asked him to cast his net on the other side of the boat. On reaching our destination we transferred to the Mount of the Beatitudes where Jesus delivered his profound sermon.
Our days were filled with visits to the main Christian sites: Cana, the scene of the wedding feast, where Jesus changed the water into wine. Also on our journey, we visited Nazareth, the Church of the Annunciation, Mount Carmel and Haifa, where we spent time with Rev Hatem Shehadeh, an Anglican minister who said, “Millions of tourists come to Israel to visit the holy sites without recognising that there is a living community of Christ – the Living Stones. It is so important that you visit us.”
We visited an open-air museum in the village of Nazareth where we saw a reconstruction of village life in the time of Jesus. This gave us a meaningful insight into the living conditions of the time. On leaving the Galilee and Nazareth area, we journeyed through the Judean Mountains en route to Jerusalem, visiting Caesarea National Park, with its impressive archaeological sites. Within the park is the stunning Caesarea Amphitheater, which continues to be used today for concerts and exhibitions.
Our journey continued to Mt. Scopus where we had our first majestic view over the Old City of Jerusalem. Onwards, with a drive through the Judean wilderness, a vast area of desert as far as the eye could see. We travelled along the shores of the Dead Sea to Masada a famous stronghold of King
Herod. Finally, some members of the group enjoyed a float in the Dead Sea and I managed to read the previous edition of the Taney News while sitting back in the water. That same day we drove to a baptismal site on the banks of the River Jordan where many pilgrims renewed their Baptismal vows. Both Cathy and I were privileged to be a part of this very moving and personal act of a renewal of faith.
Sunday saw the group join with the Archbishop of Jerusalem and the Dean of St George’s Cathedral for Holy Communion. After a welcome coffee break, there was no time to dawdle as our guide, Farage, was anxious to escort the group to Bethlehem and the Church of the Nativity, Manger Square and the Shepherd’s Fields.
The final day was very poignant as we journeyed to the Mount of Olives, the place where Jesus withdrew to spend time alone as he awaited his betrayal by Judas in the Garden of Gethsemane. This very moving place (despite the traffic noise) was surreal in its oasis of calm. We descended from the Mount of Olives to the Garden of Gethsemane where we recalled in scripture Jesus’ last day before his crucifixion. This was followed by a walk along the Via Dolorosa, or ‘The Way of the Cross’ through the many oriental bazaars to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the reputed site of Jesus’ crucifixion, and the empty tomb, also known as Calvary or Golgotha.
Cathy and I were blessed and privileged to be able to celebrate Holy Communion with our group of pilgrims, both at St Peter’s Primacy by the shores of the Sea of Galilee and The Garden Tomb in Jerusalem. Many Christians from numerous countries were there, each celebrating in their own native language.
So, as we wait for the Christmas season, we thank God for his precious gift and for the privilege of Following in the Footsteps of Jesus and for fulfilling his promise of Emmanuel, ‘God With Us’.
(Cathy and Nigel hope to give a presentation about the pilgrimage in Christ Church in the future.)
Rev. Nigel Pierpoint Curate-Assistant