Our first town to drive through today was the town of Cana where Jesus turned the water into wine at the wedding of a family friend - His first recorded miracle. We are on our way to Nazareth. These are two different villages, and the villagers usually kept to themselves because travel was difficult back then. I wonder how the families got to know each other; and I'm sure that, in the middle of the wedding party when the best wine was served after Jesus' miracle, that the Cana family was thankful to have invited their friends from Nazareth!
We worshipped with the church in Nazareth today. The singing was unique in that our group sung English, and the home congregation sung in their language of Arabic. Our song books had both languages on pages facing each other - a beautiful concept to the eyes and to the mind. The preacher told Clay that people would visit them and want a copy of the song book, so the number of songbooks used to be low until a church from Mesquite, Texas, and another in the US donated money to help print new ones. Clay said, "That's my parents' church!" The church had two packages already prepared including a songbook and a thank you note ready to deliver to both churches in the US. Clay volunteered to be the postman, so the preacher grinned from ear to ear. Today during the service, Wyatt and Austin shared their thoughts regarding symbols and tradition - many of which we in our country, with our own backgrounds, cannot understand nor appreciate fully. The faith of the first Christians astounds me. After their fathers' had taught them for generations what to look for in the Messiah, Jesus came and turned the expectations upside down. He certainly didn't appear to be exactly what was taught would come. No wonder Jesus was so tough for them. God, of course. Jesus isn't so "of course." And so...we believe the witnesses who penned the gospels; by faith we believe; we trust. Oh, how sad for those who don't. My heart hurts for the many who find Jesus too hard to grab hold to, too hard to believe in, too unexpected, too far away from their mold. Thinking about the love and freedom they are missing in this life and ALL that they will miss in the next is heartbreaking and makes me tear up right here on our bus ride. Thank the Almighty Lord for the people of faith that He put in my own life, those who have witnessed to me, those who helped rear me at Southside in Grenada, Mississippi. Words can't express how grateful I am for their guidance and prayers as they were shaping who I was/am to become. May we all guide others who cross our paths, leading to Him...We shared pastries and coffee with our brothers and sisters in Nazareth today after worship. Our family grows in our hearts.
Afterward, we stopped at the Church of the Annunciation. When we got there, we witnessed huge Palm Sunday celebrations. There were balloons, parades, marching bands, bagpipes, drum crews, families taking pictures, friends meeting and loving each other... Inside and outside the church were beautiful works of art sent to Nazareth, from all parts of the world, depicting the annunciation or of Mary holding baby Jesus. Italy sent a mosaic (the pope was included in the artwork like other works of various Italian artists that I know and love), Spain sent a beautiful tile work, Japan's donation had Jesus pictured with jet black hair and eyes, and the U.S. sent a work that was really a 3-D sculpture on the wall in a frame. Noticing the differences in numerous countries' gifts was intriguing. What a joy to be privileged to be in Israel on Palm Sunday with the students and with Christians on the other side of the world celebrating Jesus! Hosanna! Jesus saves!
The Mount of Arbel was our next stop. This mountain is not specifically mentioned in the Bible, but when Jesus takes the disciples to "the mountain where He told them to go," from Matthew 28:16, He could have been talking about this point. We could see the entire Sea of Galilee from here. Clay discussed the Great Commission from up here on this mountain. We wondered if Jesus pointed to a specific spot and said, "Do you remember when I called you to be fishers of men, just right down there? We've shared so much these past three years. Now, I want you to GO. Go to ALL nations (possibly pointing to the Roman road below this mountain that led to other nations), teaching them about me. I will continue to be with you, even until the end of the age." We still need to be willing to go wherever God sends us to be His witnesses to make disciples of men for His glory. May we always be open to His will, and may our lives always be His instead of our own.
We ate a special lunch of what the locals call "Peter's Fish" at a restaurant right on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. It was a plate of deliciousness! We were also served all sorts of vegetables, pita bread, hummus, and coffee and a chocolate treat for dessert. A handful of students took a dip in the Sea of Galilee before heading to our next site.
After exploring the modern (comparatively speaking) church at the top of the Mount of Beatitudes, we hiked down to a shady area, and we took turns reading Matthew chapters 5, 6, and 7 aloud. We must have been near the site where Jesus first preached these very words, shaking up things a bit (understatement). In the distance, we saw Capernaum where Jesus traveled next. These ancient lands and words continue to pierce and shape us day by day on our journey through Israel.
From HUGer Hannah:
Happy Palm Sunday everyone!
We began our Sunday on top of Mt. Precipice where we read Luke 4:13-21 which was after Jesus was tempted and he read from Isaiah 61:2, saying that the scripture had been fulfilled. From there we had an amazing view of the city of Nazareth below us to one side, and to the other Mt. Tabor where Jesus was transfigured.
We met in the Church of Christ in Nazareth where we worshipped with our fellow Christians in English and Arabic. It was so great to worship in the place where our Savior grew up! Two of our HUGers, Wyatt and Austin, gave a great joint sermon on symbols in the church and how sometimes we lose the meanings behind them. Easter is coming around as a reminder of Jesus' resurrection but we should remember Jesus' resurrection everyday. After all, it is the cause of our salvation.
After church, we made an unplanned visit to the Church of Annunciation which was built on top of the traditional cave/home of Mary and Joseph and where the angel Gabriel announced that Mary was to give birth to Jesus. In the cave was a plaque that said "This is where the Word became flesh" (the capitalized "Word" meaning God).
While we were in there, we heard drums playing and decided to investigate. It turned out to be a celebration of Palm Sunday! All around were people dressed up and watching the entertainment. I even saw someone carrying a palm leaf signifying the palm leaves that were laid down in Jesus' path as he made his way to Jerusalem on a colt the week before he was crucified. I imagined the people crying "Hosanna! Hosanna!" (meaning "Save us! Save us!") as he passed. It was just amazing to be so close to the place where it actually happened at the time it is being celebrated!
Next, we visited the Arbel cliff where we had a beautiful view of Tiberius and Magdala, where Mary Magdalene was from. While we were there, Coach Beason read Matthew 28:16-20 where Jesus commissions the apostles to spread the Gospel to all.
We stopped next to the Sea of Galilee where we had some fresh, delicious fish. We even tried to see who could clean the fish bones the best! Some of us decided to take a dip in the water right outside the restaurant.
Just a few minutes from there, we saw a boat from around the time of Jesus. It was discovered in 1986 after a drought caused the shoreline to recede. The archaeologists had to keep it wet so that it wouldn't crumble to pieces. They also had to cover it in polyurethane foam to float it out of the mud!
We finished our day by reading The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) on the Mount of Beatitudes. It was peaceful, despite the wind, as I tried to picture Jesus giving this sermon to those who were following him.