The pilgrims have arrived and as we collect our baggage at the carousel we break into our groups: red (Peter) and green (Paul). It is at this point that one of the constants of a pilgrimage begins. We count the number of people in each group and then we count again and, if necessary, we read out peoples names! All so that we never leave anyone behind.
It is dark as we arrive in Tel Aviv and begin our journey to Jerusalem. Walid from Albina’s, the local tour company, greets us and we set off towards the Golden Walls Hotel. There is a buzz of low conversation as people are tired from the travelling but also pleased to have arrived and eager to experience all that we will see. The Dean of Southwark, Very Revd Andrew Nunn, who is leading Peter, gives those on the Red coach our worship books and a map of the Holy Land too so that we can trace where we are going on the Pilgrimage. Fr Phil Andrews, Assistant Priest at St George’s Cathedral, who is leading the Green coach does the same. The Dean explains that Tel Aviv is on the coastal plain and quite flat and we are going up to Jerusalem. Our hotel is in East Jerusalem, opposite the walls to the old city, and between Herod’s Gate and Damascus Gate.
Just as the red coach arrives into Jerusalem Bishop Christopher speaks to us all about the beautiful city of Jerusalem and the importance of this place for all three Abrahamic faiths. He tells us a little more about the things we will be doing and then leads us in reading Psalm 122:
1 I was glad when they said to me,
“Let us go to the house of the Lord!”
2 Our feet are standing
within your gates, O Jerusalem.
3 Jerusalem—built as a city
that is bound firmly together.
4 To it the tribes go up,
the tribes of the Lord,
as was decreed for Israel,
to give thanks to the name of the Lord.
5 For there the thrones for judgment were set up,
the thrones of the house of David.
6 Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
“May they prosper who love you.
7 Peace be within your walls,
and security within your towers.”
8 For the sake of my relatives and friends
I will say, “Peace be within you.”
9 For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,
I will seek your good.
We will begin tomorrow as we will continue for the next seven days. Up early and breakfasted to be on the coach by 8am so that we arrive at the Holy sites before the crowds get there so that we have the best experience possible.
What a privilege it is to be here and to be able to experience this extraordinary land and the powerful stories of Jesus’ earthly life.