“As Jesus came near and saw the city [Jerusalem], he wept over it, saying, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.”
I had the opportunity to go to Israel and Palestine for the first time. I am pretty sure it is every pastor’s dream to go to the Holy Land and walk where Jesus walked, so this was a big deal for me. I am also in what I call my “Jesus years”—in the age range that Jesus began and engaged in ministry, so although I am definitely not the Son of God, it felt unique to be going to this land also as someone who is newer in ministry and engaged in it.
After nearly 24 hours of total travel time, I arrived to Tel Aviv with my head in a fog, climbed into a shuttle bus with my fellow travelers with the Peacemaking Program of the PCUSA, and we drove another hour or so into Palestine, to the city of the birth place of Jesus: Bethlehem. It was night when we arrived, and after a brief walk through the empty city streets, I hit my bed exhausted and fast asleep.
I woke up to the Muslim call to prayer and the streets of Bethlehem coming to life early in the morning. We had a beautiful view of the land. As we began our meeting as the planning team for the Peacemaking Conference in 2014, we turned on our computers and got connected to the internet. All of us were hit with the news that the conflict between Israel and Palestine was beginning to escalate with missiles. It is a bit jarring to read news like that and be in such close proximity to it all. Here we are talking about peacemaking and thinking of ways to engage people to the situation in Israel and Palestine, and violence begins to break out around us. And yet, we looked out the windows to beautiful sunshine, people walking along, the markets opened and alive, and droves of tourists flooding the streets of Bethlehem. It was surreal.
There is almost too much to say about my time there overall. I am carrying different pieces of the trip, and each holds something very different for me. I hope to be able to continue to process my time, but I will share some pieces with you. Some of those I hold with open hands are: Engaging in conversations with Palestinian Christians in Bethlehem; reading scripture for the Sunday worship at Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem; a conversation with a young Palestinian taxi driver about his experience living within walls; walking through a check point to Jerusalem and then immediately having the check point close behind us (which meant that we were not sure if we were able to go back to our hotel that day); standing on the Mount of Olives overlooking the old city of Jerusalem; praying in the Garden of Gethsemane; praying at the Western Wall; having an air raid siren go off briefly while we were in Old Jerusalem; and going through the scrutiny and 4 different security points at Tel Aviv airport trying to return home.
I hope to share more in depth with you-but my prayer today is that we, as the people of God everywhere, will recognize and be able to see the things that do make for peace, even in what seems like a hopeless situation. I want to share with you that there are people on both sides of the walls, in Israel and Palestine, that hope and work for peace. May that compel us to continue to do the same.