An joint update from Heather Gottas (third-year Master of Divinity candidate) and Michelle Ashley (second-year Master of Divinity candidate):
So far, our pilgrimage to Israel and Palestine has chronologically/thematically followed Jesus’ life and social context. In keeping, today our travels focused around Jesus’ ministry in Galilee including: Magdala (Mary Magdalene’s town), a first-century replica boat ride on the Sea of Galilee, an actual excavated first-century fishing boat, Capernum (where Jesus called some of his disciples and did much of his ministry), the Primacy of Peter (a chapel built literally around the rock where Jesus and Peter had the “on this rock I will build my church” conversation according to early Christian tradition), the Mount of Beatitudes (where Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount according to early Christian tradition), and Tabgha (where Jesus fed the five thousand according to early Christian tradition).
We were both deeply moved by our time in Magdala. We arrived early this morning, after nearly drowning our bus in a flash flood, and were greeted by the very archaeologist who, in only 2009, discovered Magdala. (No small thing!) After meeting him, a nun took us around the town sites: a synagogue, mikvehs, etc. In only the last seven years, an entire first century town has been uncovered. We washed our hands in a ritual cleansing bowl that Jesus himself very well could have used, and stood on a stone path coming up from the Sea of Galilee upon which Jesus probably walked. All of this has been hidden for 2,000 years.
On the archaeological site (still in progress!), a church called “Duc in Altum” (translated from Latin “into the deep”—a reference to Jesus calling his disciples to follow him) has been erected. The church is beautiful, with multiple chapels and even an altar made to look like a fishing boat. But it had us at narthex. The narthex (or entry room) into Duc in Altum is dedicated to women in ministry. The domed ceiling is covered in the hands of the Virgin of Guadalupe. Around the dome are pillars with the names of women in the Gospels. One pillar is left blank to honor all the unnamed women—those in the Bible, and those throughout the history of the Church, and through today. Without those pillars, as poetry would have it, the building would collapse. Under that blank pillar—a representation of strength, beauty, and dignity—we stood with all the women on our trip preparing to serve or currently serving in ministry. We stood among giants.
There are moments when this trip is merely historical or archaeological, and then there are moments when we feel like Jesus is literally with us, looking at each of us like he did at Mary Magdalene—not as an object for his pleasure, but as a unique creation of strength, beauty, dignity, and purpose. It reminded us of the moment at the tomb, when the Marys stood perplexed that the tomb was empty and the young man dressed in a white robe told them, “Stop being afraid.” (Mark 16:6) We cannot be effective in ministry if we are operating in fear. These pillars, these women, and these fellow pilgrims remind us that we can, and will continue, in faith, to bring the Gospel to the people of this world.
We then continued our tour of the church into the basement area where we found a magnificent painting interpreting the story of the hemorrhaging woman (Mark 5:25-34). We all gathered in the room, sitting along the outer edges, on benches constructed from rock. As we took in the amazing painting, our guide explained to us the construction of the room, and how the floor we stood on was actually a first-century Roman road, one that Jesus likely walked during his ministry in Magdala.
The archeologists had carefully picked up the road, laid a foundation, and placed the road back as they found it, recreating it in more stable form, and then built this amazing church around it. There was an audible gasp among our fellow pilgrims in the room and the atmosphere was immediately transformed. Classmates removed their shoes and prostrated themselves on the floor. It was as if you could close your eyes and hear the cacophony of voices as the mob of people surrounded Jesus, shouting and calling out to him. And then as if in slow motion, one woman, who was told she would never be healed from her illness, risking everything by being in public with the men of her small sea-side town, reaching out in faith, through the barrier of people, hoping for healing if she could only- Touch. His. Cloak. “Your faith has healed you.” Jesus said. Her story reminds us that our calls are not always socially or culturally acceptable, it may be dangerous, or challenging. But our faith in Jesus Christ gives us the courage and strength to stretch our arms out and allow Jesus Christ to work through us in a broken world.