Saturday morning began our long journey from the Holy Land back to the places where we all began this journey, and, true to the spirit of the trip, we made use of every available moment that remained to us before we boarded our flight to the U.S. We began the day by visiting the Herodium, the tomb Herod built for himself on his self-made mountain, then saw the model version of Jerusalem and had a too-short visit to the amazing Israeli Museum, a stop at the Garden Tomb and a closing communion service, followed by a visit to the Tomb of Lazarus in Bethany, a walk along the Mediterranean at the city of Joppa and an amazing close-of-trip celebration in Tel Aviv. You can read more about the details and see some great pictures on my friend Tony’s blog. And yes, all of that was followed by an 11 hour flight back to the U.S. — not to mention the various connections required to get us all to our home destinations.
I must admit that as I spent that last day driving through the land of Israel, staring out my bus window that had been my friend for 10 days of exploration and learning, I just couldn’t imagine leaving that land. The pull on my heart and my soul was so strong that I was not at all certain how I would adjust to a return to “real life”. How would I survive life “beyond the bus”?
But even before the jet lag began to fade and the complete exhaustion that came from the combined affects of an exhausting seminary year (from which I had no rest before the departure) and a grueling 14-day-in-10-day tour of the Holy Land began to subside, I had an experience of coming home that I did not expect. Instead of feeling wrenched from the rarified atmosphere of exploration and learning, and the camaraderie and the wonder that was the past days of travel, I found that all that was old and familiar had new life, new vitality, new depth. As I rode towards Washington through Delaware and Maryland, I wondered at the lush green surroundings and the amazing abundance of water, and I was reminded of the bounty in which I live. And as we drove easily from one state to another, with no checkpoints or border crossings, no big red signs telling us that the town off the exit ramp might be dangerous for us to enter, I was reminded of the blessings of peace and choice that characterize our way of life.
For me, much of this trip was about replacing missing puzzle pieces…pieces of knowledge, pieces of my Self. As I stood in the Canaanite room at the Israeli Museum and looked at relics that I had long ago studied, I felt a coming together of lost things…lost things in the history of the world and lost things that are part of my own soul. As I stood with a friend in front of the worn pages of the Aleppo Codex, tears came to my eyes for not the first time on this trip. So, so, many things that were only ideas before were made real and tangible and rich by this experience. I think it fair to say that I experienced a true homecoming, a homecoming to yet another version of my true self.
That first morning back, as I sat down to breakfast and as we went back to our morning practice of reading from Scripture over breakfast, the words of John 15 that we read echoed in my being with a depth and dimension that was impossible before I had stood on the land itself: “I am the vine and you are the branches.” In ways that will unfold as my life moves on, I am now and forever, attached to the vine that grows in the desert of Israel.
And so, in coming home, my homecoming continues. I can’t wait to see where the rest of this journey takes me. Because, my friends, these days on the bus and all that came with them will always, always, be a part of me.