Today, after waking at 4am (which was actually 5am because in Turkey this was the weekend we had to move our clocks ahead) I awoke from my sleep, prepared and had a hurried breakfast, then made my way down to the hotel lobby to get on a bus headed to the port of Kusadasi. Once through passport control, we boarded a ferry headed to the Greek Isle of Patmos.
It is a four hour journey from the port of Kusadasi to the Isle of Patmos. As we sailed out of the harbour and toward the open Aegean Sea, many slept because of the early hour, some were reading, while others listened to music and still others bantered about in friendly conversation.
There was a sudden flurry of activity when one of our guides indicated that the island off the bow was our destination - the Isle of Patmos. Today it looks like a beautiful sparkling gem in the middle of the Aegean with a quaint little harbour in the cove and white stucco buildings rising from the waters edge and up the hillside, one after another. I wonder what it looked like on John's first approach? This was to be where he would serve out his exile at the hands of Domitian. Almost 90 years old now, he was the only living disciple left. And now he would be stuck here.
It is the Lord's day. Sunday. And from the boat we board the bus that will take us, first to the monastery built in memory of John the Beloved, then eventually, to the cave where it is believed that John found shelter and lived during those years of exile.
There are a lot of 'oohs' and 'ahhhs' as we climb the hill and we all see the incredible view that stretches out below us. Once at the monastery, we scramble around, taking pictures, not caring much about the very Catholic explanations of the artwork and the icons. Then we board our bus and continue to the 'Cave of the Apocalypse'. Seriously, that's what they call it.
We make our way inside and down 40 steps to the cave. Of course there is a Catholic building built on this site as well. And as I enter the cave, I don't know what I expect to feel but there is this moment. Looking toward the area hewn out of the rock where they say John slept, and realizing that it may have been right here that John wrote the words of Revelation, I'm not going to lie, it is an overwhelming feeling. We sing 'He is Lord' in the cave and as it reverberates along the rough walls, maybe it is just me - but the presence of God seems very near.
Back outside, our Professor reads the text to us as we sit on bleachers cut into the hillside above a tennis/basketball court.
Revelation 1:9-11 (NIV)
9 I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.
10 On the Lord's Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet,
11 which said: "Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea."
We are reminded that in an exchange between Jesus and Peter many years before that Jesus had told Peter that he would die for Him - Peter had seen John following behind and had asked 'What about him?'
Jesus had replied - 'if I want him to stay alive until I return, what is that to you?'
Professor Griffin reflects on whether or not John recognized the voice that he heard on the Lords day? It makes me wonder too. Did John think that maybe Jesus was coming to take him away from this exile to be with him? Who really knows.
But in the end, Jesus had come with another task for John. Write what you see and send it to the seven churches.
We sing an old song there on the hillside....'John was in the Spirit, on the Lords day. He heard a voice from heaven...' you get the idea. And then we pray together and make our way to the bus.
I think to myself, John was nearly 90 years old when Jesus entrusted him with this task. I'm only 43. Speak Lord - I'm listening.