The afternoon began with a coach ride as we headed to the village of Ein Karem the place of John the Baptist’s birth. It is in a very different setting to the places we had visited in the morning and the Dean described it as a bit like it being in a pine forest. Here the words of the Benedictus – the words of thanksgiving said by John the Baptist’s father, Zechariah – are written on plaques in every language, as the Lord’s Prayer is at the Pater Noster church.
We read the piece in which the birth of John the Baptist is announced to Zechariah and then say together the words of the Benedictus. It really brings home the miracle of Birth as we reflect upon Elizabeth and Zechariah’s longing for a child and the fact that they thought that it was too late.
We are also pointed to the spire of the church on the hill, which is thought to be the site of the house in which Mary visited Elizabeth. Tucked up on the hill it is too long and steep a journey for all 80+ of us to make, but we are privileged and pleased to be where we are and to see the beautiful church which stands on the site. As Bishop Christopher said: “here is where it all started, here is the site which commemorates the forerunner to Jesus’ birth”. It is very special.
After time for us to take photographs with the Benedictus in our own languages we head back to the coach for our last stop of the day. This is at Abu Ghosh, one of the possible sites of Emmaus. The beautiful Crusader church in which we were able to celebrate the Eucharist is stunning. Plain and unadorned, the acoustic is brilliant and somehow this space helped us to bring together our day in the service. The service was threaded through with the words of the reading of the journey on the Road to Emmaus and we were so struck by the ‘were not our hearts burning within us’ as the Pilgrims reflected on the words of the disciples as they grasped who the stranger was.
Bishop Christopher preached a powerful address (more on this in a later post!) in which he talked about the importance of the story of the Road to Emmaus in his life and ministry and that of the Diocese. Receiving communion here was a moment to remember and treasure, and brought the day to a wonderful close.
Our tired Pilgrims headed back to the coach and to the hotel. Some went off for a walk and to explore the Old City. Others stayed in the hotel and had a rest before dinner. It had been a good first day.
But, we were not quite at an end as, after dinner, we had the first of our evening meetings to reflect on the day. The Dean reminded us of all that we had seen and done and there was the chance for our pilgrims to ask questions and to reflect on what they had seen – one said that the view from Dominus Flevit was just like a widescreen television.
All agreed it had been wonderful start to our pilgrimage together and, following Compline, some went straight to bed and others repaired to the bar.