Maybe it's because I'm too cheap to ever pay the fees on Ancestory.com so that I've never been able to delve too deeply into the history of my own family of origin. Or maybe it's because I've never traveled to Ireland, which is where some of my folk are said to have come from, but for some reason, each time I visit this storied land, I always find a sense of home, a sense of belonging here. There is something magical about walking along the shores of the aqua blue Mediterranean with the salt spray tingling my nose as I pass through limestone ruins and cobblestone streets, each step with a story to tell.
Short on any sort of immediate family history then, the stories I cut my teeth on were from here; the stories about Moses and David, Deborah and Abigail, Mary and Jesus. And so, when I am here, I have a sense of visiting the 'old country' if you will. A feeling that I have been here before or that I am at least familiar with the scene such that the story loving child in me comes alive.
Today we leaned on centuries old pillars where Old Testament folk like King Hiram and Queen Jezebel passed through carried on elaborately decorated litters borne up on the shoulders of slaves. We walked down the road from the ancient sea port where we know Jesus himself and the apostle Paul to have traveled. And standing there, if you are very still and you listen closely, you can hear it on the waves crashing into the sea shore; the voices of the fisherman and merchants bartering over prices for fresh Phonecian fish. You can hear the minstrels playing happy music for the weary sea travelers and hoping that a shiny gold lira bearing the likeness of the emperor Tiberius will be tossed into their baskets; at least enough to purchase a day old loaf of bread. You can hear the children laughing and running in the streets, their leather sandals slapping the pavement with each quick step and the women calling out to them scoldingly as the women themselves carefully examine the rich purple fabric in their hands.
It is onto this scene that Jesus walks and encounters the Syrophonecian woman whose faith and perseverance move him to heal her daughter (Matt. 15). It is here that Paul landed and stayed 7 days with early believers who encouraged him not to press on to Jerusalem for fear of his life. It is here that Paul and all those in his company knelt on the beach before boarding the ship once more to pray for their safe return (Acts. 21).
Further into the city on that same Roman road lies the grand Hippodrome, a 40,000 seat Colosseum constructed in the early 2nd century by emperor Hadrian to house chariot races and other Olympic games. In the center now stands ruins of a church dedicated to the martyrs who lost their lives on this same sand; a reminder of the juxtaposition of the rise and glory of the empire and the fierce fires of persecution for the early church. And though the persecution was merciless, the church endured. Still today, carved into the bricks are crosses and symbols of peace left there by pilgrims. Crusaders stopped at this site to pay their respect on their way to Jerusalem.
It is a bible teacher's dream to stand in this sand, to hold in my hand a mollusk shell and to open wide my arms and breathe in the salty air listening to the palm trees whip in the breeze; to stand here, to take all in and to remember.