One thing I mentioned on January 6, 2010 was that Rudolf Bultmann never made that trip. Now for those who don't know, Bultmann was a giant in New Testament scholarship. But learning that little fact has stayed with me since returning home. Bultmann taught a generation of seminarians to look for the "existential" meaning in New Testament texts and there is wisdom in this, to be sure. As Brian Wren's great Easter hymn puts it,
Christ is alive! No longer bound to distant years in Palestine,
he comes to claim the here and now, and conquer every place and time.
I can say "amen!" to that as I think Bultmann would as well.
The deepest truths are not either/or truths, I've discovered, but both/and. It is true that the living, resurrected Christ is not confined to "distant Palestine." Even so, Jesus of Nazareth lived and spoke, was shaped by a particular place and time: "distant Palestine." That is the scandal of the Incarnation. A year ago I entered more deeply into stories I had "known" my whole life because of little things that gave a new context and that new context birthed new meaning. The smells and sounds of the old city; the taste of fish on the shores of the Sea of Galilee keep us from thinking that truth is only "existential." It is also here, now, particular, unique.
If we mean to encounter the living Christ we need to learn to pay attention to place, to pay attention to our own journeys, to pay attention to the details in our own lives. It is true that we don't have to go to Israel to find Christ. But we do have to go somewhere! We have to go more deeply into the unique circumstances of our own lives. It is in that very specific moment when we fall in love, or when we say, "I'm sorry I hurt you," or when we cut into a perfectly prepared steak served with a wine that has waited it's entire life to be poured for that meal; it's when we watch our child receive his diploma or stand at the foot of that grave at Green Gates Cemetery that we experience God as alive, here, now, real.
The danger of "existential" faith is that it can hover in mid-air, everywhere at once. The season of Epiphany, I think, is for remembering that God breaks in here, and now, changing the ordinary into the holy, like water into wine.