My story is one of two walls. You are probably already there ahead of me. This trip begins in Berlin in 1990 with a group of pilgrims who have accompanied me to the Oberammergau Passion Play. Only months before, the Berlin Wall had been opened and the world had a chance to take a deep breath. The "Cold War" had ended - a reason for thanksgiving for those of us who had grown up with the instructions to "duck and cover" under our school desks. It was a wondrous moment to stand there and swing a hammer against that Wall. The pieces that I knocked off are still part of my collection of travel artifacts. It made Oberammergau and the story of God's love in Jesus' passion an incredible experience.
But then there is the second wall of my story, not a wall coming down, but a wall going up - nearly all the way up at this point, all 436 miles of it.
I was in the Holy Land when the Palestinians declared statehood and when the first intifada began. My hope for a two-nation solution and even more, an international Jerusalem is a daily prayer. I have felt at home there -- and you will too -- since my foot first hit the tarmac in Tel Aviv. I rejoice in my friends, both Palestinian and Israeli. Their hospitality is my fondest memory of pilgrimages that have included walking where patriarchs, prophets, and kings lived and died; where Jesus was crucified and resurrected.
It is for this -- to remember God's unconditional love for humanity even in the midst of our inhumanity and crosses -- that we come to this place. It is to remember that God will not allow His love to die. And to make the point, He sent his only begotten Son. You know the rest of the story -- back to my walls. Beyond the hospitality and what is normal caution when one travels today anywhere in the world as a citizen of the USA, there is the second wall.
It stands beyond Jerusalem, a monstrous scar on the desert's beauty. It is the "Wall of Separation." As you come to the Holy Land today, you will learn that your Israeli licensed guide cannot accompany you on one of your most important visits -- Bethlehem. In fact, you want to choose a tour company whose representatives in Israel/Palestine will be certain to provide a competent guide on the other side of the "Wall." You will pick this guide up after you have crossed through the "Wall," and drop them off before you cross back into Israel -- perhaps having to walk through the "Wall" showing passports to meet your bus on the other side. All this, I must conclude, is to make a visit to Bethlehem as inconvenient as possible.
While there is much I might like to say, this is not the time or place. This story is about how different it is to stand before these two walls. One offers the power of freedom and filled with the hope of a future filled with promise -- a deep breath. The other wall mocks power and its belief that it can circumscribe a world that God created for all his children, Jew, Christian, and Muslim et al., to enjoy at peace with Him and with one another -- the short and shallow breaths of fear and despair.
It matters not your politics as you visit the Holy Land as a Christian. What matters is that you visit. It matters that you come to bear witness to God's undying love for each of us. It matters that you come to pray for peace with the many, perhaps even the majority of Israelis and Palestinians, who join you in that prayer. It matters that we persist in crossing, no insist, on crossing the "Wall of Separation," insist on visiting with the dwindling Christian community in Bethlehem. It matters so they know they have not been forgotten. Then, perhaps one day we can stand beside what are only the remnants of this newest of our world's walls and take home its artifacts each bearing that most appropriate of Jewish epithets - "Never again!"
Written by :
The Rev. Richard F. Michael, MDiv.
Trinity Lutheran Church, ELCA
Staten Island, NY
3/6/2010 5:00:00 AM