Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Lenten Reflections from Jerusalem

Some thoughts from our Chaplain, the Reverend Luther Zeigler, who is currently away on his first trip to the Holy Land. This piece was written from Jerusalem on Tuesday evening, March 11, 2014. The photo is from the shores of the Sea of Galilee.

We landed in Tel Aviv on the afternoon of Ash Wednesday. While most of my fellow priests in the States were busy with traditional Ash Wednesday services, here I was thousands of miles from home trying to stay awake after hours in the air and in airports. We had made our way from Boston, through Frankfurt, finally arriving in the city whose name is taken from the Book of Ezekiel and combines elements of both the old and the new. Aviv is Hebrew for "spring", symbolizing renewal, and tel is a man-made mound accumulating layers of civilization built one over the other and symbolizing the ancient. To be sure, I missed participating in the services that mark the beginning of Lent, but yet it felt entirely right to be experiencing Lent this year in a different way by visiting this holiest of lands.

Over the ensuing five days, we travelled all over Israel, taking in both the old and the new:  In Tel Aviv, we learned of the dramatically courageous birth of the nation in 1948 in Independence Hall, listening to the recorded voice of David Ben-Gurion announce the establishment of Israel to choruses of Hatikvah; we went to the coastal town of Caesarea built by Herod the Great where Paul was imprisoned and the first Gentile (Cornelius) converted to the faith; we visited the head spring of the Jordan River at Caesarea Philippi where I had the chance to collect some holy water; we stayed in a kibbutz on the Israel/Lebanon border where we experienced a distinctively Israeli form of communal living; we toured the Golan Heights, feeling the tensions of life in this country as we peered into both Syria and Lebanon from Mount Bental; then we headed south to the Galilee, where most of Jesus' public ministry occurred, visiting Peter's home in Capernaum, the ruins of the synagogue where Jesus challenged the Pharisees, and the Mount of Beatitudes from which he preached the Sermon on the Mount; we crossed over to Nazareth, touring the Church of the Annunciation and St. Joseph's Chapel, where the great story all started; then, we headed south along the Jordan River, stopping at the site traditionally associated with Jesus' baptism, as well as the spot where Jacob wrestled the angel near where the Jabbok and Jordan Rivers come together; and then, finally, yesterday we arrived in the magnificent city of Jerusalem, where we now begin four days of exploration.

It is difficult to identify any single highlight of the trip thus far, as all of this has been an extraordinary experience for different reasons. But I will say that our tour this morning of Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust Museum, left me emotionally overwhelmed. I have studied the Holocaust a great deal and toured the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC, many times; but Yad Vashem is something more. While it is impossible to capture the enormity of the evil perpetrated upon the Jewish people in the Holocaust, this museum comes as close as humanly possible to conveying the pain, the suffering, and the death of that tragic era. At the same time, Yad Vashem also is a monument to hope, resilience, and faith. It is something to be experienced.

Thus, as I sit here in my Jerusalem hotel this night, my prayers are filled with a complex mix of emotions: enormous gratitude for this opportunity to visit the Holy Land; great humility in standing amidst such history; a true sense of wonder and awe at what has happened here; mournful lament at all the violence that has plagued this region and its people; but also a sense of hope that, even in the midst of such conflict and loss, God is still imploring us all toward that place of reconciliation that is the New Jerusalem. Dear Lord, deliver us.

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