Robert responded to the call of the bell and went down to the church of the Nativity for prayer in the early morning. He said how moving it was to share in quiet prayer in one part of the church, and to be part of the orthodox worship in another.
We made an early start and made our way first to the Western Wall. The coach took us past Hezekiah's tunnel and up the hill towards the temple mount. Reading Psalm 122 as we approached the temple mount was moving as we read the invitation to 'go up to the house of the Lord' and 'pray for the peace of Jerusalem.
It was for the peace of Jerusalem that I made my prayers at the foot of the western wall.
We then made our way to a Franciscan monastery that marks the place, there or thereabouts of the upper room and the last supper. We sat in a beautiful rose garden where the scent hung heaily in the air and read through the account of the disciples following the man with the pitcher of water through the streets of Jerusalem to an upper room where the passover meal had already been prepared for them. We read through the account of the foot washing in John 13 and summarised the words of comfort and prayer of Jesus in John 14-17, before moving on to the resurrection and the day of Pentecost.
Our readings over, we had a time of silence in the garden. At the end of 20 minutes the Polish pilgrimage who had been saying mass in the chapel came out and we were able to go in. I spoke to the priest in charge of the pilgrimage who was a professor of New Testament studies in Warsaw university who had spent 10 years studying in Jerusalem. He was a great advocate of the need to read the fifth gospel alongside the other four.
Then it was into the most beautiful of small chapels with a modern bronze of the last supper beyond the altar. Five minutes more of silence and a prayer with the promise of peace from John 14;27.
On the way round to the East Jerusalem Baptist church I recounted the story of Margaret Stansgate, Tony Benn's mother and the first president of the congregational Federation. A Hebrew scholar, she had visited Ben Gurion shortly after the founding of the State of Israel with her husband who at that time was minister for air. When he saw her reading his Hebrew bible, he commented, "We'll never make a good zionist of you: you know too much Hebrew!'
A library in the Hebrew Unjiversity on Mount Scopus is named after Margaret Stansgate.
It was then down to the Baptist church where Robert gave greetings, I preached at Alex Awad's invitation - on the theme of 'the presence' and 'moving immoveable mountains' using the notes in the worship book. It was wonderful, and entirely unplanned, that our service finished with communion.
Refreshements outside over, we got on to the coach and made our way to Jericho and the Mount of Temptation.
I gues we succumbed to temptation and had lunch at the most wondeful of restaurants. We read the story of the Good Samaritan on the road down from Jerusalem to Jericho and the Zaccaheus story beside a sycamore tree (the very one!!!!). With the story of Blind Bartimaeus we made our way down to the Dead Sea.
We stopped off at Qumran, site of the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and of a monastic community that pre-dates the time of Christ. It was this kind of ascetic life that John the Baptist lived.
It was surreal coating ourselves with 'asphaltic' mud and then entering the waters of the sea only to float almost immediately!!! What an experience lying there and reading Highbury News!!! Pictorial evidence will follow!
Most weird was to think as my face was at the level of the water that I was at the lowest point on the surface of the planet, and no one was lower than me!!
Back in the coach, one more stop for retail therapy and back up to Jerusalem.
A final dinner in Bethlehem was coming to an end when all the lights in our panoramic restaurant ent out and a trolloey came in with a wonderful birthday cake complete with candles and inscription for Felicity.
And now we have come to the end of our stay in Bethlehem. It's a 6-00 call in the morning ready for a 7-15 start for the Galilee. And a lot of geology as we make our way up the wonderful rift valley of the Jordan.