Our tour-guide — I’m sure this isn’t original with him — calls Israel, the fifth gospel. It’s a good description. You don’t have to go to Israel to know and understand the life of Jesus, no more than you have to read all four gospels. But reading all four gospels can add depth to your knowledge and understanding, as can a trip to this place that carries such deep history.
Watch the son come up over the Sea of Galilee. Then stop in the middle of this body of water and look back to a narrow valley to understand how the wind sweeping through that valley onto the water can cause tremendous storms and fearsome waves and you get a new picture of the night Peter walked on the water.
Sit for a few moments on the hillside where Jesus might have given that message we all know as the sermon on the mount, and read through the beatitudes and suddenly you are there as Jesus shares his core values with his disciples.
Drive through the hills of Bethlehem, steep rocky hills, try to imagine which hillside saw the heavens open up for a group of shepherds and you can almost here the war-host of angels singing, “glory…”
Walk down the Mount of Olives — a similar path to the one Jesus used to ride into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday — with Jerusalem and the temple mount staring you in the face and you can almost hear Jesus weep over the city.
Walk through a grove of Olive trees — the garden of Gethsemene — and down to a cave that likely functioned as both an olive press and Jesus home base while he was in Jerusalem. Then kneel by a rock that pilgrims for almost 2000 years have identified as the place where Jesus prayed the night he was betrayed, and find yourself praying, “Jesus give us your glory so that we can be one. Give us your heart so that we can love like you love.”
The fifth gospel reminds me that our story is also his-story. Our faith has a foundation in historical events. But the fifth gospel is also a reminder that it didn’t stop in history. Live continues here in this place, as it continues in this world. The fifth gospel is not a Disney attraction. It’s a place where people live. It’s a place where Jesus still lives. And the story continues…