Friday, April 22, 2016

Horizons of Jerusalem

What is the difference between being a pilgrim and a tourist? Over the years, I've given this some thought. I have nothing against tourism, but I do think there is a difference. I come to the land of the Holy One as a pilgrim,with some intentionality, and expecting to be changed for good by this experience.

Fortunately, St. George's, the brothers from SSJE, and our excellent guide, Canon Iyad Qumri make this work much easier than it would be on my own. They serve with wisdom and a sense of purpose. Today we began by laying the groundwork. Iyad, a Palestinian Christian, is very good at what he does. He is a born teacher who reminded us how it is that we can go to places and say, "this is where such and such happened..." with some degree of confidence. As early as the fourth and fifth centuries, many of these sites were claimed after the conversion of Constantine. Churches were built there, later destroyed, later re-built on the same sites. Archeology can't get us back to the first-century but it many cases it can get us pretty close.

Even so, one may wonder. Brother Curtis addressed those concerns this morning in his meditation at Morning Prayer, asking us:
Did it really happen here? You might wonder, did this event in Jesus’ life happen on this very spot? That question will follow us throughout our pilgrimage. Sometimes the biblical scholars, the historians and the archeologists are in agreement; sometimes they are not. The graceful answer to the question, in any event, is: “This is where the church has remembered that __________.” No matter whether subsequent history and scholarship has confirmed or disconfirmed that some sacred event literally happened at this specific place, pilgrims like us, down through the centuries, have come to this setting with that belief. Their presence and their prayers, and we joining them, have made the site holy.
Their presence and their prayers, and we joining them, have made the site holy. That is not for nothing.

So today was focused primarily on getting us oriented to what lies ahead. We are all excited but also all still dealing with jet lag. Today was a wonderful beginning. Included in it was a midday meal to remember, at the home of a Palestinian family that served us soup and salad and clay-oven baked chicken, potatoes, and onions. And some Turkish coffee. They showed us such gracious hospitality - yes, we were their "customers" but we were also welcomed as family. As their guests.

I was reminded of my very first visit here, as a college junior in the spring of 1984. A man invited my friend, Rich, and me to visit his home and he gave us lunch and olive wood crosses. We hesitated to say yes; maybe it was crazy to do so. But something told us it was okay. Today felt much the same - minus the risk of being all alone in a strange land. We were with people we trusted. But that same spirit of generous hospitality was present.
I am privileged to be in this thin place, walking where Jesus walked. But sharing a meal can be practiced anywhere. And I truly believe that in the breaking of the bread, sometimes our eyes are opened to the presence of the risen Christ in our very midst. Today was one of those days for me.

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