“Really? You went where!?!” That phrase accompanied by various surprised expressions has been the response my wife and I have received from a number people after telling them that we went on a trip to Israel. Of course, most people’s main concern is for safety. It’s no secret that Israel has seen more than its share of war and bloodshed through the centuries. Its strategic location situated at the crossroads of the ancient trade routes that connect Europe, Asia, & Africa has resulted in the land being fought over countless times which also includes various conflicts in recent history.
But though the nation is constantly in the news and is repeatedly issued threats by nations like Iran, we were struck by how secure and peaceful the country was and how safe we felt the entire trip. Whether strolling through the market district of Old Jerusalem or looking across the border into Syria from the Golan Heights, there was never any concerns or cause for alarm.
Now to be fair, even with safety issues put aside, Israel is still NOT on most people’s top five vacation destinations list – but I think it should be! Though a tiny nation, stretching only 424kms in length by 114kms at its widest point, Israel is incredibly diverse in geography, culture, religion and where else in the world can you stop on the side of the highway to go for a camel ride?!? Oh, and did I forget to mention the history? There are literally layers upon layers of history in Israel dating back nearly 4000 years!
Our tour guide shared with us that when the city of Jerusalem wanted to build a light-rail mass transit system the original timeline for construction was three years – it ended up taking fifteen! The reason for the delays was that almost every time they put a shovel in the ground they uncovered a piece of ancient history. So with each new discovery they had to first call in the archeologists to excavate, then the historians to examine, and finally the theologians to determine if there was any religious significance. Only once all three groups were satisfied could the construction continue.
But it’s not only Jerusalem that’s rich with history; the entire country is the same. Of course, for me as a Christian the already rich history takes on even more significance when considering the biblical importance of the events that occurred in those places.
Perhaps the most profound sensation was being able to walk on the same ground (or water) as Jesus. Well I didn’t quite walk on the water, but I did go for an early morning swim in the Sea of Galilee! It was a little chilly, but at least I didn’t need to a chop a hole in the ice to get in!
The boat ride we took on the Sea of Galilee is one of my favorite memories from the trip. As we headed out the wind was blowing up some gentle swells, which made me wonder – Exactly how did Jesus walk on the water? I mean even without the problem of sinking the water is not exactly smooth, so did He walk up and down the waves or did He stride from the top of one wave to the next? However He did it, just being out on the water and picturing it happening was something that will stay with me the rest of my life!
There is so much more that I could share which time and space do not allow, however if you would like to learn more about Israel or how you can begin planning your own pilgrimage to the Holy Land please feel free to stop by my office or give me call. Until then – Shalom – May God’s Peace be upon you.
“Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; He has risen!” “See the place where they laid Him.” Those words, spoken by the angel to the bewildered woman on Easter morning were running through my mind as I awaited my turn to enter “The Garden Tomb”.
Just moments before we had shared in Communion where we broke bread and shared the cup in remembrance of Jesus broken body and His shed blood on our behalf. I have partaken of The Lord’s Supper in many different times in a variety of locations, but words fail to describe the sensation of sharing Communion on (or at least very near) the location where Jesus death, burial and resurrection actually took place!
This was the final day and climactic moment of our 12 day pilgrimage following the footsteps of Jesus through the modern day country of Israel. We had already seen and experienced so much throughout our travels in the beautiful and diverse country of Israel – the hillside of Bethlehem where the angels announced Jesus birth, Jesus boyhood town of Nazareth, the rolling hillsides of Galilee, the picturesque Sea of Galilee, the Golan Heights, the Jordan River, the Spring of Ein Gedi, Herod’s mountain top fortress of Masada, the Dead Sea, the Garden of Gethsemane and of course, Jerusalem.
Many people have asked me about the trip and my most common response has been: “I will never read the Bible the same way again.” The stories that I have heard and loved since I was a boy simply came alive and are now grounded in a new reality of the time and place in which they happened. But of all the stories, none is more important than what happened on Easter.
So as I stood there in the line, looking ahead at the open tomb entrance cut neatly into the rock, I wondered: What would it have been like to be there that first Easter morning nearly 2000 years ago? What depths of sorrow did the women experience as they prepared to enter the tomb that day? What sort of shock must have electrified their souls when instead of finding a dead body they are told by an angel that Jesus is alive?
I closed my eyes and tried to imagine the scene. The midday sun was shining warmly, the birds were singing in the trees, the fragrance of the garden filled the air and for one brief, beautiful moment – I was there... I could picture the women slowly entering the tomb in sorrow but then racing away in euphoric delight! For in that short span of time – everything had changed! Their fear turned to hope, sorrow to joy, and death to life – Jesus was alive – and because of that fact nothing would ever again be the same!
I opened my eyes to see that I was now just one person away in line from being able to enter the tomb. One of our travel companions, Matt Reimer was just ahead of me, and when his turn came he did something that will stay with me the rest of my life. Instead of entering the tomb, he simply stuck his head inside took a quick look inside, popped back out and with a big grin on his face announced: “Nope - He isn’t in there!”
That is the message of Easter and the hope of all who believe. Jesus isn’t in there because He is Alive! That single truth that has rocked the world ever since. Sure, there are many who deny it and many that still doubt – but what is undeniable are the countless lives that have been changed by placing their faith in the Resurrected Lord & Savior Jesus Christ. My life is one of them. My hope and prayer is that your life is too.
Please feel free to comment on any happenings from Killarney Mennonite Church.