Monday, 2 March 2015

And the message of today is...

Always be ready to be surprised!

Recent days have taken in visits to Nazareth, Cana (a drive through, twice) and Tzipori. Today our visits were to Megiddo (Armageddon) and Bet She’an.

As you might imagine, visiting a site known as Armageddon (from the Hebrew Ha-Magaddon) conjures up in the mind a vast plain upon which battles will have been fought and lives lost. In the Book of Revelation, we read that the final battle between good and evil will take place here.

The site itself is one that comes under the auspices of Israel Nature and Parks Authority. In addition it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site – along with the tells of Hazor and Beer Sheva. Megiddo rises 60 metres above the surrounding area, with archaeological findings to be seen that date back to the Neolithic period (seventh-sixth millennia BCE). The impressive archaeological work that has taken place here has revealed layer upon layer of building, with each succeeding community (often incomers following the defeat of the residents of the place) building on/over the existing structures. The most amazing feat of engineering at Armageddon has to be the water system. With fresh water springs that lay outside the city perimeter, the residents had to find a way of ensuring a constant water supply even if the city was under siege. To do this, a 36 metre deep shaft was dug, in addition to a 70 metre horizontal tunnel – down and along which residents would journey to collect fresh water. If under attack, the residents of the city would be completely unseen by opposing forces as the entrance to the tunnel had been covered up with stone, earth and planting so that it was ‘invisible’. Walking down the shaft and along the tunnel by virtue of both modern metal steps and a wooden walkway made one realise just how inventive and ingenious the people who lived here were. The planning and physical taken to design this essential supply was simply amazing. The first of the surprises of the day!

Following the visit to Megiddo came the visit to another Nature and Parks Authority site – Bet She’an. What an amazing place – the second surprise of the day.

None of the guidebooks make very much of Bet She’an but, I have to tell you, it seriously rivals Ephesus in terms of scale, fullness of excavation and uncovered remains – not to mention the immediate ‘wow factor’ upon passing through the entrance gate. Our plan was to take it in en route as we made our way back to Tiberius with perhaps an hour’s visit… We spent at least two and a half hours there – in glorious sunshine – taking in the vast array buildings and areas of the city that had been uncovered. A two hundred step climb took us up to the highest point of the site – overlooking the city itself, as well as the stunning mountains that could be seen in the near distance. Whilst the earliest settlements on Megiddo can be dated back to the seventh millennia BCE, Bet She’an comes in at only the fifth millennia BCE. What a stunning place to visit though – completely beyond anything we had expected. An absolute surprise!

And then on to Church this evening: St Peter’s Roman Catholic Church – right in the heart of Tiberius. The Priest who celebrated Communion welcomed us in Hebrew and English, telling us that this Church was the place where all the teachings and miracles of Jesus were remembered in this area before Capernaum and then Tabgha were discovered. The Service continued in Hebrew – which was such a strange experience for me as I have only ever read the Hebrew Bible (what many Christians call the Old Testament) in Hebrew. To hear the readings, prayers, Creed – everything – in Hebrew was really thought-provoking. (I have to confess that when I say above, “I have only read… “ this is in relation to my studying Hebrew at Theological College. I was pretty okay at reading it but my grasp of vocab and grammar was hopeless!) The warmth of welcome from the priest, the simplicity and calm of the service and the sermon, first in Hebrew and then, more briefly, in English gave a chance for a reflective close to the day with a really important message to take away to think about: Jesus is always with us, but we are not always with him. I mentioned in a previous entry the desire to be ‘tethered’ by attending Church on a Sunday. This Saturday Evening Mass was such a gift at the close of a full and busy week – and it was such a gift to be able to sit and pray and worship – even though for the most part I had no idea of what was being said… due to it all being in Hebrew! (I did recognise Baruch Adonai and Kadosh, kadosh, kadosh and Hoshanna – and a few other words – so it wasn’t all Greek to me!) And the surprise here? Following the administration of Communion a song was sung – known to very, very few of us present (I am not certain how many of the congregation were actually locals… I suspect a good number of us were visitors). The chorus of this song was repeated a number of times and then the words stopped and the gentle sound of singing in tongues began, for just a few moments and then there was stillness. It wasn’t silence, it was stillness and calm as we held the space of prayer together. It was simply lovely, and the surprise was that I didn’t know that there were Roman Catholics who sing in tongues. With all my ecumenical past from my teenage years upwards, you would think I would have encountered it before now, but no. What a delight it was to be present for this moment of a gentle outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

Following the Service we went for supper at a restaurant called Big Ben. We had gone there the evening before and on this, our second evening, were welcomed like old friends. We were served far more food for the first course than we ordered and enjoyed the most delicious meal. The waiter was attentive and gracious and I got to practice my newly learned Arabic for Good Evening (except I said, Good Morning!), Thank you and You’re welcome. To find a restaurant called Big Ben in any part of the world except except London is one surprise, but to find one that was so welcoming and friendly – to the point of being remembered the following evening, given how many customers must be seen over any 24 hour period is a lovely surprise indeed.

It really was a delightful day, full of wonderful surprises.

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