Beloved of God,
As you know I am home after a trip to the Holy Land and Palestine. The trip was wonderful! As many of my travel-mates have said, this trip will transform the way we read scripture and will hopefully impact the way we preach. Seeing the terrain, walking those paths break open scripture in a way that no amount of study ever could.
Some of my travel mates struggled with the tendency to scoff at the holy sites. Yes, it is true that we cannot know for certainty that the site of the Holy Sepulchre is actually where the body of Jesus was laid, or the shrine of the Nativity is exactly the spot where Jesus was born. One can trust that sites like these have been imbued with a sense of holiness simply due to the millions of tears, prayers and adoration that has taken place there.
As I visited the Western Wall (the Wailing Wall) our tour guide reminded us that what remains of the temple mount is merely the foundation stones. The walls themselves rose even higher. At the time of Jesus the walkways around the Temple Mount would have been some 30 feet lower than these foundation stones. The debris from the temple's destruction has raised those paths so that one only sees the top portion of the foundation. (The walls rose even higher.)
As I offered prayers at the Western Wall, I was overcome with the sense that this ancient structure somehow bears witness and testifies to the one we call Lord. I was reminded of the passage in Luke 19, when Jesus entered Jerusalem before his crucifixion and was chastised by the Pharisees because he didn't silence his followers from shouting Hosanna. Jesus said, "Even if they keep quiet the stones themselves will cry out." I offered prayers that the stones might cry out to the glory of Christ and that they might stand as kind of witness to the deeds and wonders that Jesus did. This same sentiment struck me as we stood in the garden of Gethsemane among the ancient olive trees - some over 2000 years old. I reached through the protective fence to touch the rough trunk of one of those trees to offer a blessing which may have witnessed Jesus weeping as he gazed across the valley toward the Holy City.
Finally, I want to share with you that while I was standing in St. Anne's Church (which sits beside the pools of Bethesda) I was overcome with a sense that I will return to the Holy Land some day. I would like to invite you to consider whether you'd be interested in joining me. If a tour of the Holy Land is something that interests you, please let me know. Who knows, perhaps we can make our own special tour and witness these sites together.
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