Sunday, June 24, 2012

2012.06.24 Israel With Love

The Anglican College of St. George’s in E. Jerusalem organized this pilgrimage according to themes from Jesus’ live as recorded in the New Testament and many Old Testament stories related to biblical sites and history as well.

It is hard to separate, if one even should or can, culture from religion.

Because of the pace of things, on the move non-stop every day, and the overwhelming range and amount of input, read stimulation, I have no time even to know what I have seen. 

It gives me an idea what it must have been like for Jesus, on the go and in the rush of his important mission to change the hearts and minds of his people. As a radical god-man confronting the establishment he must have imagined he’d have little time before authorities would silence him forever— or not.

There are 18 “pilgrims” on this course, The Palestine of Jesus.  We come from USA, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.  Most are clergy.  The few laypeople, however, are more fervent:)  We are men and women about equally.  We are on the older side, therefore representative of the progressive Christian church in general.   We do have our token male seminarian who is in his 20s and who receives a bit too much mothering I’d say :)

It will be no surprise to most of you that Dick and I are out of step, not quite embracing the same brand of Christianity and theology as others.  But we are here!

The course is organized around different biblical themes and places each day:  The Holy City; Nativity with special emphasis on holy women; Living Waters (including float in Dead Sea, Jacob’s Well)—water is survival here in the desert and water is power; Qumran and Masada, the last painful gasp of the Jewish rebellion and attempt to hold onto their land and sovereignty; Galilean Ministry of Jesus, including ministry of Israel’s prophets; “Who am I for you?” Jesus asks along the way (some of us may be secretly as clueless as the first followers;) Golan Heights, West Bank, water sources for Jordan River ( not deep and wide); wade and renew our baptismal vows in Jordan; boat ride on Sea of Galilee; Mt. Tabor to be transfigured—does our divinity shine through as Jesus’ did?—dimly on occasion I guess; “Jesus Wept!”—spiritual and political streams in Jesus’ day and no wonder he wept, still weeps; Mt. Zion and Garden of Gethsemane; “ Am I my brother’s guardian!” Visit to Yad Vashem ( holocaust museum) in Jerusalem;  visits to Jewish “settlements” in West Bank, Bethlehem of Ephrata; visit to Palestinian refugee camp also outside Bethlehem; Patriarchs & Matriarchs” tombs in Hebron; and we will finish up as Jesus did, more or less, with Church of Resurrection, Holy Sepulchre and walking the way of the cross (stations established in approximate locations) down Mt. of Olives and into the temple area and Calvary where crucifixion took place. I hope that cross doesn't weigh too much!

AND FINALLY THE ROAD TO EMMAUS on which none of us would recognize Jesus with us I bet—unless of course we picked up a whiff or two of his presence in each other.

Having the topography that is approximate to Jesus’ travels is very helpful  There is little doubt among scholars that he was an historical figure and that his place of operations was Israel. The general areas where biblical events happened is known. The exact spot of each one is not known.   That is enough for me. I don’t need to know X marks the spot, only that X likely happened somewhere in this region. 

A few highlights:
    -Gethsemane, which means olive press, has olive trees that are 1880 years old—gnarled and bent they still yield fruit. Hope for aging.
    -open field near mikvah baths on Mt Zion used by Essenes who bathed twice daily for purification as the Sons of Light (no daughters) and  where Pentecost and Lord’s Supper might have taken place. There was no church in this area, hence……... no RC mass going on, no singing charismatic or pentecostal groups, no endlessly wordy Anglican prayers, and no gawking American tourists scantily clad, and no trash.
    -Quote on wall at Yad (remember) Vashem (names), holocaust museum:  “Now is the time to sanctify life, not the time to sanctify God’s name through death…” Ponder this. I forgot the rest as we could take nothing into the museum, but the sense of it was encouragement to Jews in holocaust to have hope in life and to choose it and not to glorify death, especially such a death as befell them—and many others throughout history. The deadly drumbeat of sin goes on and on. I thought of words of God to the people in Deuteronomy: I have set before you life and death , good and evil...choose life that you may live…”
    -Palestinian man , age 24, Hamse, spoke to us in the refugee camp where he was born. Conditions are miserable, yet the will to live lives on.  Hamse is studying psychology and social work in a university in the camp but he is afraid to graduate because where can he go?  Future thinking is dim but education brings some hope, and prayer.  “I’m afraid to die before to do something, to leave a print for me.”  God/Allah?  “I know Allah when inside myself I choose the good way and pray a lot.” 
    -a survivor of holocaust spoke of how at age 7 she crawled over dead bodies and got out of the pit (mass grave) she was supposed to be buried in.  “They shot. We were supposed to fall into the pit. They missed some of us.”
    -The new Dean of St. George's Cathedral here, Hasam Naoum, the first Palestinian Christian to fill this post, told us that, because of all the many and confused identities and fears of loss of identities in this land, it was a time to strive for justice and equality. BUT not to strive so hard for justice that you lose sight of mercy and compassion, two spiritual virtues that are even more necessary just now.

So........ how may people have died for us? Jesus is not alone. Many have died at the hands of others or by their own as martyrs or in despair.  They die. They are remembered as signs that we must work to help each other retrieve the spiritual side of our human nature.

Yad vashem. Remember a name.

Every day is “Jesus wept” day.