Most of you now know that I will retire from the pastorate on the last Sunday in August. I’ve been with you for some time and have enjoyed being your minister. Diana and I have no plans to move from our home in Hook, so I will be around but not in any official capacity.
I had the privilege of visiting Israel in March. With 22 other Pilgrims, we landed at Tel Aviv and drove to Jerusalem where we stayed in an excellent hotel opposite the Damascus Gate to the old city. The next day was stormy with rain, wind, and snow! I had looked forward to much warmer weather but instead it was typically British. However, it didn’t last, and it got better. We had two excellent Palestinian guys for our guide and driver. They were Palestinian Christians and they looked after us, took care of us and treated us with the greatest of respect.
We were in Jerusalem for 4 fascinating and exhausting days. We saw the Garden of Gethsemane, the Kedron Valley, the Old City, the remaining wall of the Temple where the Jews pray and cry for its destruction by the Roman occupiers. We visited Bethany where Martha, Mary and Lazarus lived. It’s only a mile from Jerusalem and when Jesus stayed with them, he walked over the Mount of Olives to the Temple in Jerusalem. He would need to take a 5-mile detour now due to a great wall that separates Bethany, which is Palestinian, from Jerusalem. In Bethany, which is a poor town, we visited the Jeel al Amal Boys Home for orphaned boys. I was very impressed by the Home and the people who run it. They give the boys opportunities they would not otherwise have. Some have been able to have education abroad and have gained careers as doctors, scientists, and engineers. I felt that was where the Spirit of the Christ would be.
The next day we went to Bethlehem, another poor Palestinian town where we had lunch at the Bethlehem Rehabilitation Centre. Again, we were warmly welcomed. In Jerusalem we walked the Via Dolorosa, believed to be the route Jesus took on His tortuous walk to Golgotha where He was crucified. We also visited so many churches I got to the point that I couldn’t go into anymore. As a Protestant Non-Conformist, I believe a church is only such when there is a congregation worshipping there.
We left Judea and headed north to the Region of Galilee. On the way we passed all the pretty, modern, white-painted bungalows and apartment buildings of the Israeli people, quite different to the Palestinian towns we saw in the West Bank. I loved Galilee. It was there one could imagine seeing & meeting Jesus. It was where Jesus began His ministry and where one could imagine Him being happy. More about Galilee another time.
Our trip was organized by Rev. Hugh-John Wilson, who made a wonderful organizer and leader. We are all grateful to him for getting us there and bringing us back safely. The group was one of the friendliest, happiest & most humorous I’ve ever been with. God bless them all. We had to consider what we learned or felt or took away from the pilgrimage, and I would say it was a varied experience of wonder and surprise as we explored the land where Jesus had lived & known very well. However, I was struck by the similarity between now and the time of Jesus. The ordinary Jewish people were treated very badly by the Roman occupiers and by their priestly elite. Now, in their place, we find the Palestinians being treated as second class citizens. It is sad. Psalm 122 says,” Pray for Jerusalem”. When Jesus approached Jerusalem, He wept for her. Let us pray for peace in Jerusalem, which is synonymous with Israel
God our Father, hear the prayer we offer for the Holy Land where Jesus lived. We pray for peace & harmony between the two nations that share the country of Israel. May the Spirit of Christ, the Prince of Peace draw them together. We pray for their young people, that through them a new understanding of shared nationhood may develop. We pray also for the leaders of Israel & Palestine to work for peace & forgiveness so that an example will be shown to the world. This we ask in the Name of Jesus. Amen.