We are beginning our final week of studies at Jerusalem University College and I’m still marveling that we are here, getting to walk around and see and touch this place. We spent several days last week in the desert, where both the heat and the beauty were incredible, and where Isaiah 40 and Psalm 90 with their words about the frailty of human life and the faithfulness of God spoke with a new (and ancient) depth and power.
And today we are in Jerusalem, where celebrations and protests are anticipated because it’s the 55th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem in 1967. There’s some anxiety in the air, and a much greater police presence.
Last Sunday we worshipped with Christ Church, the first Protestant church in the city, and today we worshipped with a small English speaking congregation at Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, the second Protestant church in the city. It wasn’t by design, but seemed fitting. Both services were beautiful and left me missing Boston Square and feeling connected to you at the same time. Last week, during the communion liturgy, just after we proclaimed the mystery of faith (Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again), the congregation also said: “We are brothers and sisters through Jesus’ blood. We have died together, we will rise together, we will live together.” What a powerful statement of unity. It had me thinking about some of the ways we’ve experienced this at Boston Square. And it had me thinking about how important it is for Christians to learn to live together, because we’re going to be doing it for a long time.
This morning’s service included prayers for peace for Jerusalem today as well as prayers for Christian unity and the sermon was on John 17 and Jesus’ prayer for unity. It was challenging, especially as we pray for the Christian Reformed Church Synod as it convenes and we wonder what will happen, and what unity might mean or cost . . .
Yesterday and today Jay and I visited the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the traditional site of Jesus’ crucifixion and burial. You could smell the incense before you could see the church. There are chapels and altars everywhere and at the site of the tomb both yesterday and today there was a priest ushering people in and out. Part of his job seemed to be keeping people who were wearing shorts from entering the tomb area. His expression was very stern and we saw him turn people away and I keep wondering about it. Is he trying to teach reverence for God? To keep people from treating holy things too casually? And what it is like to be turned away? Is it experienced as rejection? Does it prompt reflection? Do they come back later in pants? Does the priest wonder about the people he turned away? And what does this communicate about Jesus?
One of my favorite sites we visited this week (after our time in the desert) was Jacob’s Well in Samaria, where Jesus asked a woman for a drink of water. (We actually got to drink a sip of water from the well!) We heard about the differences between Jews and Samaritans (who are still around and still live there) and how each group thinks they are more pure or faithful to God than the other. The questions of who is in and who is out and who is faithful and who is not were big then and they are big now. And Jesus didn’t hesitate to cross the lines and borders in inviting people to follow him.
Paging through the Corrymeela Prayer Book this morning, I came across this Prayer for Groups that I’m sitting with today as I pray for peace in Jerusalem and for peace among Christians:
God of groups,
You are within and beyond all of our borders,
our names for you; our words about you; our gatherings;
our stories about you.
We seek to praise but sometimes we imprison.
May we always be curious about what is beyond borders,
going there gently, knowing you have always been there.
We ask this because we know that
you are within
all our groups and our stories.