Sing: Shall We Gather at the River, UMH 723
Once we were safely ashore and back on our bus we continued down (south) along the Eastern shore of Lake Galilee. It wasn’t very long before we knew that we were coming to the south end of the lake: the hills on our left began moving away from the lake and were displaced by flat plains of cultivated fields. According to all the maps I have ever seen the Jordan River flows south out of the southern tip of Lake Galilee, but fact is stranger than fiction. The actual outlet of the Jordan River is about .5 miles northwest of the southernmost part of the lake. Then the river does not flow south but for the first ¼ mile it flows west/northwest.
After we crossed the river we took a quick left and stopped at the Yardenit Baptismal Site on the Jordan River, which is owned by the Kibbutz Kvutzat Kinneret. There are no Biblical references or archeological evidence to baptisms occurring here in ancient times. But it is possible that some Christian baptisms did occur in or around this site. However, this site was created in 1981 by the Israeli Ministry of Tourism as an ideal place for Christian pilgrims to be baptized in the cool waters of the Jordan River. At least one expansion has been made to this site and it now serves over 400k visitors per year.
Coming out of Lake Galilee, the waters of the Jordan River are a beautiful green that reminded me of the Guadalupe River in Texas or the Green River in Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky. There were five of us from our group of 23 who wanted to reaffirm our baptisms in the Jordan River that day. We were given white robes to wear but we had been warned ahead of time that these robes become see-through when they get wet. So we had other garments to wear under our robes as we prepared ourselves for this wonderful experience. What none of us was prepared for was the water temperature. I was cold. It was January 8, so we should have had some idea that it would be cold but it was really cold. Did I mention that the water was cold? Well, it was!
We took photos first – a very good idea! Then Steve waded in to act as our baptizer – God bless him! He did a great job: we all got dunked and then headed as quickly as possible to the changing rooms where we could take a wonderfully warming shower. While I was waiting my turn in the river, I used my empty Coke bottle from lunch to capture some Jordan River water to bring back home with me. I have used some of that water in every baptism I have done since and still have most of it left.
What a wonderful experience! And what a wonderful first day in Israel.