Today our themes were baptism and wilderness. We visited the Jordan River, where Jesus was baptized, and then went into the Judean wilderness where Jesus spent 40 days immediately after his baptism.
The day started with a lecture from Rodney on the sites we would be seeing. We also shared some spiritual reflections in small groups about what baptism means to us.
Then, we got on the bus to drive down the road for Jerusalem to Jericho. You may recall that this is the same road where Jesus set his Parable of the Good Samaritan. It is a 20 mile trip that drops more than 6,000 feet in elevation. As we got out of the suburbs of Jerusalem, I was amazed by the desert wilderness. It is really stark desert, almost no plants at all. We saw Bedouin encampments alongside the highway. They looked like sheets of corroguated metal leaned against each other and draped with fabric for roofs.
After all this desert, Jericho truly looks like an oasis. Because there is a spring there, it has been a city for many thousands of years (probalby since 8,000 BCE). It is a big center for growing dates and bananas, both of which we got to taste at lunch.
We drove past Jericho to the militarized zone between the West Bank and Jordan. Along the river there is an Israeli state park at the site considered to be where Jesus was baptized. Tourists apparently seem non-threatening to all sides and we were just waved through all the military checkpoints. This was a battle zone in the 1967 war, so sadly there are still minefields in the area which were cordoned off.
The Jordan River is very brown — it looks like iced coffee. It is beautiful with rushes and palm trees growing along the banks. At the baptismal site, we joined pilgrim groups from all over the world as we renewed our baptismal vows and sang hymns, while they did the same in their own languages.
This was one of the most spiritually moving parts of the trip so far. It was wonderful to literally “wade in the water” — we rolled up our pants and got right in. Mike kindly invited me and the other clergy to participate in the renewal of baptismal vows, so I got to bless some of my fellow pilgrims just as we do at the Easter Vigil at Redeemer, but this time with water from the Jordan River instead of from a font. I know the next time I baptize someone, I will remember having my hands in the Jordan where Jesus was baptized. I even took some of the water in a bottle to bring home. Everyone in our group felt spiritually uplifted and we stayed at the river for some time, basking in the glow of that worship experience.
Then it was from the sublime to the ridiculous. We returned to Jericho for lunch, to see a sycamore tree just like the one Zaccheus climbed up in that bible story (which takes place in Jericho), and then stopped for — a camel ride. I could not resist and did ride a camel. It was super fun.
Our next stop was at a state park in the Judean wilderness. High on a desert hilltop, we had an amazing view of nothing but desert as far as they eye could see. It was stark and beautiful. We read the scripture about Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, then had 45 mins to just pray quietly and be with Jesus in the wilderness.
The desert is also the home of the Bedouins, and several Bedouin traders came up to us on our way back to the bus to sell scarfs and jewelry. They had camels, too, but we didn’t ride them.
Back at St. George’s, we had Evening Prayer in the Cathedral and then dinner. Tomorrow we have the morning off so we can join the Cathedral congregation for worship. Connie and I also plan to take an early-morning excursion back to Holy Sepulchre. I need to explore this most holy site of the Christian faith a bit more thoroughly, when there are fewer crowds.