Friday May 1:
When Kevin Clark read the words of Psalm 122 during our evening prayer time after arriving in Jerusalem, they seemed especially meaningful: “Let us go to the house of the LORD. Our feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem…Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: ‘May they prosper who love you. May peace be within your walls, and prosperity within your palaces.'” Jerusalem is contested ground in a conflict that often seems without solution.
Jerusalem is a place of importance to all three of the great monotheistic faith traditions–Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Over the next three weeks we will converse with people from all three of these faith traditions; people who thirst for justice and peace for this particular place.
Saturday May 2:
This day we spent on a walking tour of the Christian and Armenian quarters of Old City Jerusalem. I am challenged by the intense expressions of faith of pilgrims from all over the world as they visit places like the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Practices like lighting candles before icons and touching a stone slab that has been anointed with fragrant oil seem strange to me. I have much to learn from Christians who know how to worship using all their senses.
A highlight of our afternoon was a visit to a first century tomb. Our guide Tony has never seen it open before. We had just scrambled down into this dark, damp hole in the ground when two Jewish girls shouted after us with great concern. Apparently they were worried that we had gone somewhere dangerous. Their parents figured out that we are in Jerusalem learning about Jesus, and so they assured their daughters that it was alright for us to go down into the tomb. Tony told us about how bodies were prepared for burial in the first century, and read one of the gospel accounts of Jesus’ resurrection as some of us sat on the slabs used for anointing bodies before burial. A very profound experience!
During our visit to Tantur Ecumenical Center, Father Michael McGarry discussed the situation in Israel-Palestine. He took us up on the roof to show us the separation barrier or wall separating Jerusalem from Bethlehem, and he reminded us to be sensitive and careful in our use of language and in how we listen to and tell stories. Earlier in the day, our guide Tony had told us that the church most Western Christians call the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is called the Church of the Resurrection by Middle-Eastern Christians. The different names we use for things can change the meaning of what we are saying. –John Harding
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