by Debora Koepke
Our Holy Land Pilgrimage was powerful and profound. The trip of a lifetime! Here, I remember and share some of the highlights of my pilgrimage journey:
In Magdala (hometown of Mary Magdalene) we saw the excavation of a synagogue where Jesus would have sat on the Seat of Moses preaching to the people. This was a powerful reminder of how all the places we were seeing and touching were holy places of God – places where Jesus walked and taught in the synagogues, streets, and hilltops.
On the Sea of Galilee, we were blessed as we heard the water lap the hull of the boat and from the heavens, saw the rays of sunlight burst forth from the clouds, as we sang a song of praise to our God. The sunrises over the Sea of Galilee were magnificent.
Walking in the Garden of Gethsemane, we learned how Jesus suffered with the burden of being the Lamb of Sacrifice to God for the sins of the world – how He suffered and yet went forward to do what He was called to do for mankind to make us right with God. His Disciples abandoned Him (as we often do), yet by grace we are forgiven, as He forgave His disciples also.
We touched the thorns of the trees of which a crown was made for the head of Jesus. Little did they realize what an actual King they were crowning and placing the sign that read, King of the Jews, for all to see. How blind we are to all the signs and words we are given, to know Jesus is our God and Savior.
Making our way through the streets of Jerusalem was exciting and adventurous as we smelled the smells in the marketplace, heard the words of the different languages, different faiths, all around us. As we walked precariously up and down on stone streets, we saw the houses blended with the landscape, the valleys, the mountains surrounding us; all the many religions worshiping God in their own way; crowded churches and holy places where people were paying homage to God. End-to-end, there were shops where merchants sold their wares on the narrow streets: olive wood, jewelry, shawls and trinkets for tourists. The people are friendly and want to make a good deal. The old city, the new Jerusalem, blended, in some ways fragile, yet solid at the core. What a beautiful city, full of life and diversity, history, prayers and holiness.
On the banks of the Jordan River, we waded to our ankles knowing Jesus was baptized along these shores by John the Baptist. We had a service there remembering our own baptismal promises to God.
There were flies and mud and faith all mixed in together in a belief that God is with us and guides us always and the knowledge of knowing we are all children of God.
We stoop on the mountain top of Mount Carmel overlooking the valley of Armageddon, where the final battle of good and evil will be fought, and God will reign always! What a view, looking out at the valley spread before us. It’s not hard for us to know how majestic and powerful our God is. It does not surprise me that our God will win the final battle.
We floated in the Dead Sea that is void of life yet heals and regenerates our flesh. The mud of the Dead Sea is striated like a rock and feels a bit oily. It feels odd as you are buoyant without effort. It makes your skin silky smooth. As we left the area, God gave us a rainbow that day to send us on our way and yet a flash flood followed behind us as we safely traversed forward. We were protected from disaster. Blessed again!
At the Garden Tomb, two doves, dove from the cave opening as we approached, greeting us in the possibility of this being the place where Christ hung on the cross. A powerful reminder we were walking on Holy Ground yet again, walking in the footsteps of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. In the small chapel, to end our Pilgrimage in Israel, sharing communion and singing praises to God was so appropriate, appreciated and powerful.
Others went on to Jordan to further enhance their experience, but I am content with my journey that was filled with blessings and inspiration, and I will treasure the experience in my heart always. What I have shared is but a tiny sampling of the experiences I encountered. I pray someday you, too, can have your own pilgrimage to the Holy Land and know in your heart the depth of God’s love for you personally and for all of us. Shalom.
Thank you to Pastors Daniel & Sarah, our guide Mike, our driver Khalil and all the other Pilgrimage journeyers who made this trip so memorable. This trip was Sababa (excellent)!