A little more than a week ago I returned from my first trip to the Holy Land on a pilgrimage with Bishop and Mrs. Trimble and thirty-four other participants from the Iowa Annual Conference UMC. This past week I’ve been trying to absorb spiritual impact of this experience on my life and ministry.
When I agreed to go to Israel and Palestine I knew I would see locations which we read about, preach about, and talk about in church every day. We sat in a boat on the sea of Galilee, many of us stood in the Jordan river as Bishop Trimble helped us remember our baptisms. We walked the streets of Capernaum and gathered at the Garden of Gethsemane. I knew that I would see those places.
But the spiritual impact of being in places where Jesus walked, taught, preached, and yes gave his life for us, was powerful! I have been preaching the gospel of this Jesus whose steps we followed for more than 25 years. That gospel felt as real, immanent and powerful as it ever has at any point in my life and ministry.
There were so many good things about being on the trip. It was wonderful to be with colleague for a week and a half and get to know them better. It was good to travel with Bishop and Mrs. Trimble and hear their insights and experiences about the Holy Land and about ministry. It was great to travel with eight other friends from Grace United Methodist Church who I see weekly but got to have a wonderful shared experience with on this pilgrimage.
Along with the trip being powerful, moving, and spiritual it was also sobering and even in places a little painful. It was tough to see the divisions that exist between Christians, Jews, and Muslims in a land that all three faiths call holy. It was tough to see the wall around Bethlehem and know that people suffer because of the security measures involved all over the Holy Land no matter what you believe about the need for security in this very divided land. It was tough to hear a faith leader tell us that religion has as often led to division as it has led to unity in a land filled with holy places and places of worship.
As we traveled I also learned a lot about the geography of the place Jesus called home. I learned why you “go up to Jerusalem.” I learned that so many of the cities Jesus saw as he preached and taught were set on the hills an valleys of the land around him. So the words, “A city set on a hill cannot be hidden” gives new meaning as I saw much of Jerusalem and also Nazareth built on the hillsides.
I am going to be integrating and processing this experience for a long time and I know also that I’d like to return again some time in the future as the Lord wills.
While we were in the Holy Land our Bishop encourages us to pray for peace. And so now on my continued prayer list are prayers of peace for the peace of Jerusalem, the peace of Israel, peace for the Palestinian people, peace among people of good will of all faiths in that land, and that all of us would be instruments of God’s peace wherever we are.