Tuesday, 16 December 2008

jerusalem (13) - leaving emmaus

View of the hills of Jerusalem from Abu-Ghosh

Tuesday 15th December. The last day of our course began after breakfast with a reflection on Luke’s account of Jesus’ resurrection appearance to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus Luke 24:13-35. Then it was time to jump on the bus and head off for Emmaus. At this point a problem became apparent; there are now four possible sites for Biblical Emmaus! While travelling we explored the possibility of each location. The key issue is the distance from Jerusalem. Luke describes it as being 60 Stadia, translated as 7 miles, from Jerusalem and says that the disciples, Cleopas and another, returned to Jerusalem that night so it had to be relatively close. We visited two possible places. The first was the site of the town of Motza on a Roman Road about 3.5 miles from Jerusalem. There are some excavations under way on the ancient site and we had a brief walk on the Roman Road. The problem with this site is the distance unless Luke was referring to a round trip.

Our Lady of the Ark of the Covenant: Abu-Ghosh

The next site visited was Abu-Ghosh a town approximately 7 miles from Jerusalem. This was the place identified by the Crusaders as the Biblical Emmaus and there is a Crusader church there which is considered by some to be one of the best preserved churches from that period in the Holy Land. Unfortunately, the church was not open when we turned up so we didn’t get to have a look round. Instead we went to the the Church of Notre Dame de l'Arche de l'Alliance (The Church of Our Lady of the Ark of the Covenant). The site is identified as the house of Abinadab where the Ark of the Covenant resided for 20 years before David took it to Jerusalem. Mary is considered to be the Ark of the New Covenant as the bearer of the Lord’s presence in the person of Jesus. It is a beautifully peaceful place with shaded olive tree grounds and a simply decorated but nevertheless impressive church. One of the reasons for the plainness of the décor is the recognition that it is also a holy Jewish site and the church does not want to give undue offense.

Icon in Church of Our lady of the Ark of the Covenant.

It was outside the church, overlooking the town and across to Jerusalem, that we celebrated our final Eucharist as a group. Led by Brother David, the focus was on the sense of Jesus having revealed himself to the disciples then leaving them to move on. This was an appropriate way for us to end our pilgrimage together as we began to prepare to leave Jerusalem and return home.

On returning to Jerusalem we had a free afternoon before coming together for the evening which began at the Dean’s apartment with some drinks, a chance to thank those who have so ably led us, presentations and some entertainment. The evening finished with a meal in a local restaurant and then saying goodbye to those who had early flights to catch. I feel really fortunate as my flight is only five and a half hours, some people will be travelling for nearly two days.

I spent Tuesday packing and having a final walk around the old city with some of the other course members. We had a relaxed and enjoyable lunch in the garden of the Austrian Hospice on the corner of the Via Dolorosa. I say relaxed but there is a minaret just opposite the hospice and the call to prayer which started up half way through our meal was extremely loud (though I managed to record it for future use). The weather was, like it has been throughout the course save a couple of cloudy days, warm and sunny. That’s been great for us as pilgrims, however, Jerusalem is in desperate need of rain as December has been unusually dry so far.

Brothers David & Robert: 'Are you sure he said cheesemakers?'

I’m writing this piece in Ben Gurion airport at just after 1am on Wednesday morning. My check in is at 5am so I thought I’d make good use of the time and the chairs are too uncomfortable to try and sleep. The good news is there is free Wi-Fi in the airport so I can post this straight away. Having been away from home for the last three weeks I’m looking forward to spending plenty of time with my wife and children over the Christmas period. I will continue to reflect on my time in the Holy Land over the next few weeks; there has been so much to absorb and process that I feel I need a bit of time before commenting in more depth on what I have learnt about the places and people of the Holy Land. I am sure it will take me a lot longer to fully appreciate all I have received during my time here.

I am particularly grateful to Stephen and Jill Need and to the staff at St. George’s College for their hospitality and running of an excellent course/pilgrimage. It has been said that St. George’s is one of the Anglican Communion’s best kept secrets and if my experience is anything to go by that certainly seems to be true. Brothers Robert and David from the Society of St. John the Evangelist were everything one could hope for in our chaplains; they ministered to us with deep spiritual insight and humour and have led us sensitively in worship and reflection. They gave to us much more than I could have hoped for or expected and I thank them for their generosity of time, energy and prayers.

For me the most important aspect of a pilgrimage is journeying with others and learning, sharing and growing together. We were quite a disparate group on the course and yet I believe we got on well together and our conversations and discussions were challenging, encouraging and affirming. At the start of the course I mentioned the question of whether I was a tourist or a pilgrim and it has been the people on the course, as much as the places I have been to, that have helped me to feel that I have been a pilgrim, with a bit of tourism thrown in. Above all I believe we have experienced in community God’s presence, grace and love and that has been a great way to spend Advent.



Tim Goodbody said...

Thanks for your thoughtful reflections during the last few weeks; they have enhanced my prayers and preaching in advent and will continue to do so over Christmas
see you when you get back

Philip Ritchie said...

Thanks Tim and thanks for your prayers and comments while I have been away. It has been really encouraging to hear from friends & bloggers and I am very grateful for the prayer support I have been given.

Jonathan Evens said...

Thanks for your posts during your trip. Never having been to the Holy Land, it was really interesting to read your reactions to the sites and the issues.