The same day (April 22, 2012) a new Lutheran pastor was ordained at the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Jerusalem (see above pic) CBS aired a story on its program “60 Minutes” about Christians living in the Holy Land.
“The Last Christian Village in the Holy Land”
It is called the Holy Land because the geography has special relevance into the figures, events, and locations to three world religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) accounting for close to a third of the global population. When my wife was in Jaffa last fall she saw the beach where the story of Jonah is set before he sought passage to Tarshish. Walking the Via Delarosa and entering the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem and the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem also had great impact on her understanding of the stories, events, and faith that surrounds them.
I haven’t been to the Holy Land, but I have been to the “Other” Holy Land for Lutherans – Wittenberg, Germany, several times. One of the great lessons I have learned from those experiences is that life in those sacred spaces continues – the sites are not just museums to admire and take pictures in and around – but life goes on all around them, and is constantly changing. In Wittenberg for example, the streets are now lined with small kiosks for visitors highlighting pictures from life during the DDR years, and many of the restorations that have taken place since 1990. Many things are being prepared during this “Luther Decade” in preparation for the 500th anniversary of the Ninety-Five Theses in 2017. But besides this – life continues. Low employment in former East Germany means that since reunification the population has declined as people seek jobs elsewhere. There are families raising kids and thinking about the future, local and national politics playing out around town, faith communities struggling in the midst of modern secularism, and many small businesses and their owners trying to capitalize on the tourist boom to make a living.
Back in the real Holy Land, life continues as well. It is not just an open air museum, but a living place with people, politics, rivalries, small business, various faith communities and the challenges of daily life. Add to the mix the global interest and constant stream of religious pilgrims, the centuries and generations of bloodshed between these groups, the Israeli government’s occupation of the West Bank, the relationship of the United States with Israel, the Western fear of Islam, The Middle East as a whole and as individual nations with a variety of issues that entails, the growing international support for a Palestinian state, checkpoints and violence, the local politics of families and neighborhoods, and a whole host of other issues that are far beyond my perception and/or understanding and the Holy Land starts to sound – not like a museum – but a very complicated place. It is a place filled with historical significance and current relevancy.
Instability is a constant concern. I had the opportunity to sign-up for a trip to the Holy Land while I was in seminary. Violence broke out that year, and so the trip was cancelled. In the years that followed, the attack on the United States in September, 2001, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that followed, and national politics here at home have only added layers of complexity to what is difficult to comprehend. One of our young adults from St. Michael’s lives in nearby Syria. With the violence currently taking place there, her safety is often on my mind adding a personal connection to the world politics involved in the region.
In 2007, Bishop Munib Younan of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (a mission partner of the New England Synod) came to our Synod Assembly as the speaker. He spoke of his faith and experiences as a Palestinian Christian leader. A close colleague at the time who had been to the Holy Land a couple of times told me, “Listen closely. Younan may eventually be martyred.” Five years later (thanks be to God!), he is still leading, teaching, and preaching, and continues to be an international presence in the Lutheran and wider Christian community.
I would love to go to the Holy Land. I find the current challenges and the rich history intriguing and enticing. It would be amazing to walk where Jesus walked, to see some of the landscapes he and other Biblical figures saw, and see how people over the centuries have commemorated sacred sites with churches and landmarks. It would be interesting to see how contemporary Christians, Muslims and Jews occupy the same spaces, and see those struggles first hand. It would be fun to take a trip together. In the meantime, I pray for peace. I invite you to join me.
Go in peace. Make peace wherever you go.
Shalom, Salaam, Peace,
“But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I am coming to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe.” (John 14:26-29)
Here is an October 11, 2011 report from the BBC:
“Guide: Christians in the Middle East”
Here is the February 17, 2012 report from the Fellowship of Middle East Evangelical Churches (FECME – Lutheran, Anglican and Reformed)
“Evangelical and Christian Presence in the Middle East”
Bishop Munib Younan (Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land)
The ELCJHL is a direct mission partner of the New England Synod of the ELCA.
Our Missionary – Pastor Elly McHan – Communication Secretary for the ELCJHL.
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