It certainly was a fascinating time, this journey to Israel. To be in a group of mainly clergy (there were a few religious and a lawyer) with all our denominations, travelling together to see both the history of the land in terms of the Bible and the current situation of the land was defi-nitely an eye-opener in that words previously known from the past became better known and the news be-came better understood! I’ve put some of the photos on Ascension’s FB with the briefest of comments.
Two things struck me quickly about the geography. The first is that the place is very small. There are 5½ Suf-folks in Israel! It doesn’t take too long to get anywhere these days – from the north to the south – and east to west isn’t all that wide and of course looking eastwards gets you looking at Jordan. I definitely hadn’t appreciated how close Bethlehem and Jerusalem are – I stayed just outside the wall surrounding Bethlehem and looked into it all the time and walked to the Lutheran Church in Bethlehem for Sunday service and contemplated walking from Jerusalem to my lodgings (just over 6km) but took a bus in-stead. The towns along Lake Galilee quickly came closer together in my mind (but still a good walk!). The second thing the struck me was the terrain. It changes so quickly. There are de-serts and wilderness in the south and better lands for crops in the north. But it was the mountains and hills, up down, up down so close together that made the words ‘mountains’ and ‘hills’ and ‘wilderness’ in the Bible stand out straight away.
Of course one goes on pilgrimage to such a place and there are lots of people from around the world doing that! It is definitely good to see and visit places – mainly churches now that point to an event in the biblical narrative – especially of course, to do with Jesus. However I also had quite an ambivalence about some of my experiences and thought on occasion ‘He’s not here – he’s risen!’. Seeing the traditional tombs of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah (I did-n’t see the others reportedly there) in a building that is today part mosque part synagogue brought crashing home to me a disjunction in my mind that I hadn’t appreciated before – that the land wasn’t empty when one closes the New Testament. Yes, I know some history (the destruction of the temple, the visit of Helena, the Crusades, the Ottomans) but there is 2,000 years of history of the land which I need to understand and appreciate to also understand the current situation today. Of the five ‘centres’ of Christianity in all these early centuries – Rome, Antioch, Alexandria, Jerusalem, and Constantinople – I found myself ‘blank’ on Jerusalem a fair bit! (Ok, don’t ask me about Alexandria either! More reading to do!)
I was honoured to be selected to go on this trip. I hope I won’t bore you with stories and ex-periences. Jesus isn’t an ‘everyman’ fable – he did exist in a certain time and place – and it is that place that has come into focus for me. But going there hasn’t made Jesus ‘more real’. He is alive and graciously comes to us in our places through words, water, bread and wine so that we might live with his peace no matter what else is going on. — GS