Saturday, April 30, 2016


One last post as I begin to pack up and get ready to head home. First of all, in my post from yesterday, I was relying on my memory when I quoted the late Marcus Borg about Emmaus. And then wondered why, when I googled "Borg Emmaus" I couldn't seem to find it.

In fact, the quote I was trying to retrieve comes from John Dominic Crossan. (Although I do think at some point I first came across it in a book or article where Borg was quoting Crossan!) Maybe. Maybe not.

But for anyone interested in getting it right, you can click here to the prologue of Crossan's The Power of Parable. Here is the quote I was trying to get to:
A first clue that Luke 24:13-33 was meant as a parable and not history is that when Jesus joins the couple on the road, they do not recognize him. He is, as it were, traveling incognito. A second one is that even when he explains in detail how the biblical scriptures pointed to Jesus as the Messiah, they still do not recognize him. But the third and definitive clue to the story’s purpose is in the climax and it demands full quotation:
As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” (24:28-32)
That is parable, not history. The Christian liturgy involves Scripture and Eucharist—but they are not equal. The Scripture—even interpreted by Jesus himself—will do no more than create “burning hearts,” that is, hearts ready but to do what? The Eucharist invites the stranger in to share one’s meal and find that the stranger is Jesus. You will notice that the key verbs, “took, blessed, broke, gave,” in the Emmaus story’s climax were also used in the Last Supper’s Passover meal before Jesus’ execution (Mark 14:22) 
That story is a parable about loving, that is, feeding, the stranger as yourself and finding Jesus still—or only?—fully present in that encounter. That was very clear to me decades ago and I summed up the ancient Christian intention and modern Christian meaning of that parable by saying that “Emmaus never happened. Emmaus always happens.” That is, by the way, an introductory definition of a parable: a story that never happened but always does—or at least should. (emphasis mine)
In his homily today, Brother Curtis said all of this far more succinctly: "this story is true, whether or not it happened." Indeed.

We gathered at one of eight "Emmauses" today - a different one from the one where I shared the Eucharist with pilgrims six years ago. I think they are all the "real one." Emmaus is the road that leads from Jerusalem to the east and west and north and south. It is the road to Tel Aviv, the road to Worcester, the road to Hawley. Emmaus is code-language for being a people on the Way - a people who encounter Jesus in Word and Sacrament whenever the bread is taken, and blessed, and broken, and given - wherever the stranger is welcomed to the table.

A new friend and fellow pilgrim, a priest from England named Andrew, presided  at today's Eucharist. As part of our liturgy he blessed our icons and crosses and other remembrances that we'll be taking home with us to remember this experience or to share with others. I am grateful for the traveling companions I've shared this pilgrimage with, and those of you back home who read this blog faithfully. I hope if you have not yet come to this land of the Holy One that your time comes to do so. But whether or not you come, I hope you experience Emmaus wherever two or three gather together in Christ's name and the Word is proclaimed, and the Meal is shared.

Shalom/Salaam. God's peace for all.

Friday, April 29, 2016


Yesterday afternoon after a full day of a compressed "Holy Week" we traveled to one of the oldest monasteries in the Palestine Desert, founded in the year 455 by the abbot, Gerasimus. While there, Brother Curtis told us this wonderful story of Gerasimus and the lion. And then he invited us to the holy practice of wonder.

Each of my trips to this land of the Holy One has been special. All have been intense. I've not said too much in these posts about politics - not because I am afraid to talk about politics, but because the issues here truly are so complex. There are not just two sides. There are many, many sides - and each time you feel you have some sense of where things are, things shift. It would be hard enough if it was just Israelis and Palestinians left to figure this out: but there are the surrounding Arab nations, and all of the global interests (including and perhaps most particularly US interests) in this region that make it so very challenging. Each time I come here I find myself recommitting to respect the dignity of every human being. But what that means in practice, in terms of finding peace in Jerusalem, is not so easy.

So it's easy to feel overburdened. Our hearts have felt quite heavy, and even broken, on this pilgrimage and more than a few tears have been shed. Some member of our pilgrim flock asks each speaker we encounter, "what can we do?" The answer is always the same - pray and tell our stories. Tell how your stories are intertwined with our stories. But that does not seem like much in a world with so much pain.

And so Brother Curtis invited us to wonder. And then he said something he has said to me privately many times in the years he has been my spiritual director. "It is possible to have more than one emotion at once."  We can feel the pain of this land, and all of us do. But he encouraged us to also make room for wonder in our lives.

Today we travel to Emmaus. (If you don't know the story, from Luke's Gospel, click here.) I am not sure yet if it will be the same Emmaus I visited the last time I was here, because more than any other place, it seems, Emmaus is a movable feast. I've always appreciated what Marcus Borg says about Emmaus, suggesting it's not the same kind of historical event as the birth of Jesus or the resurrection. To paraphrase, he says something like "Emmaus didn't happen, Emmaus always happens; Emmaus is nowhere because Emmaus is everywhere."

I wonder if another way to say it is that the Emmaus story is something like the story of Gerasimus and the lion? That it requires of us that we make room for wonder, to know that we are always on the road to Emmaus, not just in the land of the Holy One but wherever the bread is broken and shared. The risen Christ does meet us on the road, and our hearts do sometimes burn within us. And every now and again our eyes are opened as the bread is blessed and broken and shared, not only in Holy Eucharist but in wherever a meal is shared and strangers become friends.

Below are some photos I took on the grounds of the monastery yesterday - signs of wonder as the journey continues.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.

The Way of the Cross

Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ your son our Lord. Amen. (From the First Station)
We went into the old city first thing in the morning today to pray the Stations of the Cross. But it's Orthodox Good Friday; so we were hardly the only ones with that idea. An incredible number of Coptic Christians (from Egypt) seem to be here in particular. As we walked, the city "woke up" - shopkeepers, soldiers, trash collectors (really!) and other pilgrims. Life itself was all around us. It reminds me of that great prayer by George McLeod, posted on this blog on western Good Friday.

To tell the truth, I've never been a huge fan liturgically of "The Stations of the Cross." But it most definitely works in the streets of Jerusalem!  (In fact, over the past few years I've discovered that when I do pray the Stations I would rather do it through the city streets of Worcester than in a church building.)

Today was a condensed version of Holy Week. Because it is in fact Orthodox Holy Week, we went a bit out of order (because of what is happening in the city): so we did Easter morning at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher yesterday afternoon; Good Friday early this morning, and then after breakfast we backtracked to Palm Sunday at Beth-Phage.

From there we walked to Dominus Flevit, the Church dedicated to the memory that Jesus wept over the city of Jerusalem.

And from there to the Garden of Gethsemane:

And then to one of my favorite churches, the Church of St. Peter in Galicantu ("crowing rooster.") I find it interesting to dedicate a church to Peter's greatest failure; there is something oddly reassuring to me about that! And also, it's the church is run by the Assumptionists - the same French order that is connected to Assumption College, a few minutes from my house in Worcester. It's built over the ruins of Caiphas' palace, and therefore the likely site where Jesus was held in prison and flogged before his crucifixion.

So much to take in. But a very powerful day for all of us. Later this afternoon, we are headed to St. Gerassimos, one of the oldest monasteries in the Palestinian desert, founded in 455. And then tomorrow it's Emmaus. Basically, however, we are coming to the end of this amazing time away, a rich experience for which I've been incredibly grateful.

One of the five pillars of Islam is the hajj - a pilgrimage to Mecca for all who can afford to do so. I think that in the spirit of "holy envy" I'd like to encourage all Christians who are able to do so to make this pilgrimage - to see these places - to walk in the footsteps of Jesus. I'm especially grateful to have shared this experience with old friends and new ones.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Church of the Holy Sepulcher

I've been trying to post something each day of my journey. Tonight's is an interlude of sorts. My last post was about our interfaith morning in the old city. In the afternoon we went to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the site of the crucifixion and resurrection. Part of the reason we went today is that this is Orthodox Holy Week - today was foot-washing, tomorrow is Good Friday, and then is the Great Vigil on Saturday. So tomorrow morning (at 5:30 a.m.) - on Orthodox Good Friday - we are praying the Way of the Cross, aka Stations of the Cross. But we won't be able to get into the Church of the Holy Sepulcher because of all the goings on there. So we went this afternoon...

It was my third time there. I was, quite simply, overwhelmed my first time there in 1984. Last time I was better prepared but it is still a kind of "holy chaos." One does not have a quiet reflective moment there. In preparation for our visit today, one of our guides shared a quote that I find sums up my own feelings, from the late Jerome Murphy-O-Connor, OP. Here is what he has to say:
One expects the central shrine of Christendom to stand out in majestic isolation, but anonymous buildings cling to it like barnacles. One looks for numinous light but it is dark and cramped. One hopes for peace, but the ear is assailed by a cacophony of warring chants.  One desires holiness, only to encounter a jealous possessiveness: the six groups of occupants - Latin Catholics, Greek Orthodox, Armenians, Syrians, Copts, Ethiopians - watch one another suspiciously for any infringement of rights. The frailty of humanity is nowhere more apparent than here; it epitomizes the human condition. The empty who come to be filled will leave desolate; those who permit the church to question them may begin to understand why hundreds of thousands thought it worthwhile to risk death or slavery in order to pray here. Is this the place where Christ died and was buried? Very probably, Yes. 
So with those words, let me simply share some images, and leave it at that. Those who have been here before will be reminded of their experience; those who have not been may get a glimpse.


This morning, in about two and a half hours, I prayed in three holy places. First, we came to the Western Wall. We made our way through the crowds on this last day of Passover to offer our prayers to God. From there we proceeded to the Temple Mount, to the Dome of the Rock. We were not allowed to pray inside the mosque but we spent some time on that holy ground. And then from there we went along to St. Ann's Church - St. Ann being the name the tradition has given to the mother of Mary, the grandmother of Jesus.

(Or, as the priest there called her, "Granny Annie") The congregation is built next to the pool of Bethesda, where Jesus healed a man who had been sick for thirty-eight years. (See John 5.) We offered and received prayers of healing and anointing there among our band of pilgrims.

One of my favorite verses in the Bible is a little known one - it's Genesis 25:9. (Unfortunately it never comes up in the Sunday lectionary.) But in that text, two brothers - two sons of the same father - come together to bury Abraham and say their goodbyes. And then they go their separate ways...

Boy, have we gone our separate ways! Yet we are children of Abraham: Jew and Muslim and Christian. All of us. A generation after Isaac and Ishmael, and to this very day, we are (according to our sacred texts) cousins.

As this pilgrimage nears its end, I am praying for the peace of Jerusalem - at the Wall, at the Dome, at the Pool of Bethesda. I believe God hears all those prayers and not mine only but those of all who come, praying in many languages. The question is this: are we listening to God, and to the prayers of our cousins?

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The West Bank

This morning we left Nazareth and traveled through the West Bank and back to Jerusalem. This post is about food, politics, and religion - all of which are intertwined in the Bible and in the land of the Holy One. 

Our day began with a 25 minute delay at the check point. Why? We don't know, and we couldn't ask. The soldiers didn't look in the mood to answer questions. We had gotten there about twenty minutes early to be in the front of the line, so basically we sat for forty-five minutes. And then our journey continued.

Jesus made this same journey - see, for example, Luke 17:11-19. Jesus is making his way to Jerusalem, along the border between Samaria and Galilee, when he heals ten lepers. Tradition says it was in Burqin - we stopped at the church there, where I took a picture of the icon you see to the right.

There was one who turned back to say "thank you." And he was a Samaritan. The story is not only about the importance of gratitude, but also about how the "other" sometimes teaches us more about our own faith than our fellow "insiders" do. Jesus challenges his followers in a similar way when he makes the compassionate Samaritan the one who shows mercy in one of his parables.

We continued along our way to St. Photini, the Greek Orthodox Monastery in Nablus, where Jacob's Well is found. We climbed down to drink from it. See John 4:1-30  if you don't know the story that we remembered there. Once again, Jesus encounters a Samaritan - this time a woman - and they engage in conversation that opens the door for reconciling old animosities.

So as we have been doing, we visited old churches - built upon centuries of memories. Christians are a very small minority in the Holy
Land now - around 1.5%. But those who are here trace their ancestors back to the earliest
Christians. We come to these churches and they are in danger of becoming museums, but at the moment they are still alive with real Christians. Nablus, for example, is a city of about seven thousand - with just seventy or so Christians.

Nablus is famous for its kanafeh. I passed because of an allergy to pistachios sprinkled on top, but it looked pretty amazing and I have it on good authority from many of my fellow pilgrims that it was. Even though I didn't eat any of it, however, I made a new friend.

We came, then, to Taybeh, the only 100% Christian town in the Paletinian Authority. There we visited the ruins of the fourth century church of St. George. It is a beautiful spot used by three congregations: the Roman Catholic parish, the Melkite (Eastern Rite Catholic) parish, and the Greek Orthodox parish.

From there we headed to lunch, and then to a tour of the Taybeh Brewery. (I bet you didn't see THAT coming!) In fact this is the beer we have been drinking throughout our time here, both in Jerusalem and in Nazareth.

The family - at least the younger generation - were born in Boston. They young woman giving us the tour told us she lived in Boston until age ten, moved back to Palestine, went to college in Boston, and then came back home. Her brother and her cousin have done the same.

Ponder that for a moment. Anyone who knows me knows one reason, at least, that I enjoyed the brewery. But there is much more involved than my love for beer. This is about sacrifice, and hope, and economic development. And religious people should never minimize the last of those: otherwise we make people dependent on our
charity forever. This family has come home in order to establish a business - not just a microbrewery, but a hotel and now a vineyard as well. They bottle olive oil for their neighbors too - as our host told us, locals don't buy olive oil - they make their own. But if they can export some of it, they can make some money. All of these things employ people. This is a very good thing, because you can't help but notice the poverty difference between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. It's real. The United States gives a lot of money to Israel; not so much to the Palestinians. This isn't the place for a long political discourse - and as I said in an earlier post, I get it that it's complicated. The history is long and often tragic. But  I do believe that in all places where there are dividing walls, Christians are called to pray and to work for reconciliation.

And that our prayers alone are not enough. I believe that when we take the long view we know in our bones that there is no peace without justice - and our destinies are intertwined: male and female, rich and poor, young and old, Christian and Jew and Muslim, first and second and third world. And yes, Israeli and Palestinian.

When Jesus encountered a Samaritan woman at the well and a Samaritan leper who said "thank you" and when he made a Samaritan the unlikely "hero" of a story where the priest and the Levite don't come off very well, he was (and is) challenging us to engage in this hard work of reconciliation.

I have a cookbook at home called Jerusalem: A Cookbook. The two authors were born in the same year, and both are from Jerusalem. But one of them is from East Jerusalem, where I am now writing this post (we're back at St. George's) and the other is from West Jerusalem. I highly recommend the cookbook, filled with beautiful pictures, great recipes, and much wisdom. They believe, as I do,  that in the end shared hummus recipes will be the way that leads to peace on earth.

I would just add that beer and kanafeh also help.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Lake

I lived the first eighteen years of my life in northeast Pennsylvania, most of those years in a town called Hawley. Even though I am now fifty-three years old, and have never lived there since that time - even though I've lived in Massachusetts longer than Hawley - when someone asks me where I am from, I still say, "Pennsylvania."

Jesus was said to have been born in Bethlehem of Judea. That's important, but the circumstances around his birth and the reason his parents ended up there were complicated.

Jesus spent the last week or so of his life in Jerusalem and perhaps made other pilgrimages there before then. It matters where he died, and where he rose again.

But Jesus was from Nazareth - in the hill country. He moved from there to Capernaum, on the Sea of Galilee - which is really a lake. On this pilgrimage, as I was both of the first two times I came here, I feel connected to the Lake and to the small towns around it more than Jerusalem. I love Jerusalem but it's complex, louder, and harder to get your bearings if you are basically a small-town kid. There is simply something more familiar for me about the towns around this Lake.

I think that one might say of Jesus (as is said of many small-town boys) - "you can take the boy out of Nazareth, but you can't take Nazareth out of the boy."

Jesus lived and breathed and walked and taught and healed and ate and drank and laughed and cried and dreamed and loved in and around the Lake. It is a familiar place for me in many ways.

Six years ago I blogged a lot about the details. You can read those posts, if you are interested, here and here and here and here. This time around, I want to just let the pictures below speak for themselves.