Day 5: Sunday

Sunday, the Day of the Lord, began with the pilgrims visiting Bethany, the town of Lazarus, Martha and Mary, and with the celebration of Holy Mass. We then visited the tomb of Lazarus whom Our Lord raised from the dead (cf. John 11: 38-53). The tomb is below ground and very small; accommodating only about four people at a time. Following this, we headed south toward Jericho. During the ride, we read the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10: 29-37), which Our Lord set along this road. Soon we had arrived at Qumran near the Dead Sea, approximately 1,300 feet below sea level. We were able to visit the excavations of the Essenes, an all-male Jewish community who lived an ascetic life in the Judean dessert (ca. 200 BC – 100 AD). Perhaps most importantly, we learned the details of the accidental discovery in 1946 of the first of the Dead Sea scrolls in a nearby cave by a Bedouin shepherd boy. These scrolls (eventually numbering more than 900) include the oldest complete written text of the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, commentaries on several other books of the Old Testament, and writings on the daily life and religious practices of the Essenes. We then drove a short distance to the Dead Sea where several of the pilgrims swam (actually floated) in the water. After a quick shower, we made our way to Jericho, the oldest city in the word. We took a cable car and then climbed 90 steep steps to the top of the Mount of Temptation where a Greek Monastery is located. It is here that Jesus spent forty days in prayer and fasting in the desert (Matthew 4: 1-11), following his baptism by his cousin John the Baptist in the nearby Jordan River. Within the monastery, we were able to pray at the rock where tradition says Jesus was tempted by the devil. Following a quick stop by the sycamore tree of Zacchaeus (Luke 19: 1-10) and some souvenir shopping, our long and eventful day came to an end as we returned to Jerusalem and enjoyed one another’s company at dinner. Tomorrow, our last full day in the Holy Land, will be spent in the old city of Jerusalem.