Friday, March 6, 2015
JUDEAN WILDERNESS RENEWAL
Judean Wilderness, Qumran, Israel
Jordan River Renewal, Dead Sea, Israel
Security Patrol, Dead Sea, Israel
Moisture-laden winds move to the east off the Mediterranean Sea and rise against the western side of the central Judean Mountain range. As the winds rise, the air expands and cools, forming droplets of rain on this side. As the air descends the eastern slopes it condenses and warms over the Judean Wilderness in what the locals call the rain-shadow. This arid land is harsh, but was ideal to preserve the Dead Sea Scrolls found in the caves of Qumran. John the Baptist lived out his life in this Judean Wilderness west of the Dead Sea. He preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. He was the one that the prophet Isaiah foretold would be the voice crying in the wilderness to “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his path straight”!
After walking among the remains of Qumran we traveled to the present site on the Jordan River where it is now believed that John baptized Jesus. It was here that the heavens opened and the Trinity was revealed as the Spirit in the form of a dove descended and the voice of God proclaimed, “This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased”. Not long after, Jesus initiated His ministry by fasting and praying for forty days and forty nights in this wilderness. The Jordan River was flowing at bank full as the rains further to the north around the Sea of Galilee were washing silt into the river. Actually, in Kansas we would call this stream a creek due to its relatively narrow width at this point before it empties into the Dead Sea. A mosque resides here directly across the Jordan and the colorful Jordanian flag was waving in the breeze next to a bell tower and golden dome.
James Harnish has written that “Methodists celebrate baptism in worship because it marks our entry into the body of Christ and affirms our connection with one another. The water symbolizes the grace of God, which cleanses us from sin and gives us a new identity as children of God”. We believe that in baptism God claims every one of us as his child. As we all individually knelt down next to the flowing waters of the Jordan, our ministers dipped their hands into the water and placed the sign of the cross on our foreheads with the encouragement to remember our baptism. The outdoor sacrament in the crisp morning air and bright sunshine in this sacred place was very moving as the green river reeds swayed in the wind.
And as I turned to depart this place, a sobering reality of our world once more came into focus. I passed by two young Israeli soldiers armed with automatic weapons standing in the background, assuring our security even as we were renewing our affirmation of the God who moves on the wind in this unsettled land—a God who recognizes all of us as his sons and daughters.