Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Holy Land Journal: On an old crumbling Roman road

The old Roman road to the place Jews in
the time of Jesus called "Ammaous."
JERUSALEM – Our time in the Holy Land is drawing to a close, and we are beginning to feel the tug of the homeward journey ahead.

On Tuesday we completed our pilgrimage by taking a walk a few miles away in an Israeli suburb. We walked up a hill, past a few houses, and then left the pavement and disappeared for a time into a ravine.

We wended our way through thistle bushes and under low lying pine branches to reach a crumbled gray footpath that was once a Roman road. Then we walked as far as we could on the old Roman road.

We walked on the road to Emmaus.

You may recall the story in Luke 24:13-35: Two of Jesus’ followers – Cleopas and another disciple unnamed– flee from Jerusalem after the execution of Jesus. A stranger joins them on the road and asks them what they are talking about:
They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him.”
As they walk along, the stranger explains the Scriptures to them; how the messiah would not be a mighty warrior but would be a servant who would be put to death. He explains the entire Bible to them as they walk. When they reach a town called “Emmaus,” the pair of disciples invite the stranger to join them for dinner.

As the Gospel of Luke continues:
When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”
I adore this story. If I had only one story in the Bible I could keep, this would be it. Everything about the Gospel is here – surprise, divinity, servanthood, resurrection and a great meal. It is a tale of how all of us miss seeing the Holy – the Christ – in the people we meet because we are too busy to see what is right in front of us. It is a tale of how we especially miss seeing the Christ in strangers, in people who are different than us. It is a tale of opportunities still before us if we walk down the road and open our eyes to see.

Today we walked along this old Roman road, we walked to Emmaus. We walked the same path as Cleopas and his companion walked. We worked our way up the ravine until we could walk to further, and we paused to look.

The Arab town that had once been there was completely destroyed in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. All that remains is the Roman road and piles of trash along the way.

On a gravel footpath before
reaching the old Roman road.
There are no gift shops, no amenties, no signs marking the place. There is no huge basilica, no tour buses. No one hawking pottery. Yet, we knew we were in a very special place. A team of archaeologists were nearby excavating a few yards from our trail.

I had brought a small stone with me to leave in the Holy land: a piece of quartz from Shrine Mont, Virginia. I’ve been looking for just the right place to leave it. Here is where I left it, on the Road to Emmaus.

Was this the actual place of Emmaus? Scholars disagree, as they do on everything else in the Holy Land. There are at least four candidates for Emmaus.

The place we went was once known as “Colonia” by the Romans because it was a “colony” for aging veteran Roman soldiers. The Arabs later rendered “Colonia” into “Qualuyna.”

But in the time of Jesus, the local Jews called it “Ammaous.”

Emmaus? Perhaps so.

Australian Anglican Bishop Godfrey Fryar
celebrates our Holy Eucharist with Jerusalem's
skyline as our backdrop.
We walked back down the road, chatting quietly, and returned to our bus. We were taken a few miles away to the top of a hill, to a convent of the Sisters of Notre Dame, a French order. The convent marks where it is thought that King David kept the Ark of the Covenant for 20 years before bringing it to Jerusalem when the Temple was built. It is also another candidate for “Emmaus,” though it seems much to high up on a hill to be a place where anyone would lodge on their way to somewhere else.

Here we celebrated our Holy Eucharist one last time as fellow pilgrims, and we looked out from this hill and could see the entire skyline of Jerusalem, old and new.

As we prayed, sang, and shared in the bread and wine, we could hear gunshots below the hill – presumably someone was target practicing. At least that is what we all hoped.

As we finished, we were invited to pray for peace. We prayed earnestly for the peace of Jerusalem and for the peace of the whole world.


1 comment:

Katherine "Kay" Slaughter said...

This is the first time I remembered to read your travel blog and I read the last piece first. This was beautiful and brought me so much into the spirit of the place and your journey.