Monday, January 17, 2011

Pilgrims' Progress in Nazareth: Why We Came

"This is why I came," said a St. John's pilgrim as we drove along the western edge of the Sea of Galilee on Saturday morning. It was as Christ-drenched a day as we'll have during our 12-day pilgrimage, beginning with the renewal of our baptismal vows in the Jordan River (pilgrims Melinda, Deb, and Cheryl are above) and culminating, sacramentally, at least, with Holy Eucharist served around a stone altar high above the lake.

Before I said the mass, I asked our pilgrims to preach the sermon by calling out two or three words that they associated with our trip so far. The one I heard the most was peace. If you yearn for peace, if you want to feel close to the historical Jesus, if your faith in God's saving and infinitely loving power is bolstered by the feel of solid ground under your feet that Jesus's may have touched first, then come to Galilee.

For one thing, you'll find a church built in remembrance of one New Testament event after another -- Jesus's healing work at Simon Peter's house in Capernaum as recounted in the action-packed first chapter of Mark's gospel, the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, even the meal the risen Christ prepared for his disciples as recounted in John 21.

All these miracles and mysteries notwithstanding, our pilgrim hearts were also touched by moments of sheer humanity and common sense. In Nazareth, at the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation, our guide, Canon Iyad Qumri, pointed out his favorite fresco, depicting the
Holy Family's flight to Egypt as described in Matthew's gospel. Usually we see the patient Joseph leading a mule carrying Mary and her child. But wouldn't we be just as likely to see the lad riding on Joseph's strong shoulders?

Joseph would probably have been singing as they walked along, and we've been singing up a storm, too. In Bethlehem, a few feet from the grotto remembered as the site of Jesus's nativity, we sang "O Come All Ye Faithful." We did our best approximation of the Blind Boys of Alabama's "Wade In The Water" as I used olive branches to sprinkle my fellow pilgrims with Jordan River water. We sang hymns and the Taize "Gloria in excelsis" during our hillside Holy Eucharist and "Michael Row Your Boat Ashore" (what else?) during a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee. And on Sunday morning in Christ Church in Nazareth, we belted out hymns in English (you can see that pilgrims Dale, Phyllis, and Bob were holding up their end) while our local Episcopalian brothers and sisters sang in Arabic.

On Saturday evening, we were blessed by a visit to our pilgrim guest house by a dynamic Nazareth-born priest in the Diocese of Jerusalem, the Rev. Fuad Dagher, whom we'd welcomed at St. John's in August while preparing for our pilgrimage. He told us about the child care center he's launching at his church in Shefa-'Amr, St. Paul's, with the support of the Diocese of Los Angeles and some $40,000 in local contributions.

Over dinner, Fr. Fuad waxed pessimistic about prospects for peace between Israel and the Palestinians, chalking up most of the problems to the Israeli side. A couple of pilgrims pushed him back on issues such as the U.S. war in Iraq (which he said was a disaster for all concerned).

I'll write later in our pilgrimage about politics, the leitmotif of almost everything we see and do in the Holy Land. For now, I can't help tarrying a little more over the sights, sensations, and sacraments of our two rich days in Galilee.

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