Jews, Muslims, The Holy Spirit, Jerusalem, and GWU
The most emotional day of my trip to Israel was, by far, the day we started by visiting the temple mount in Jerusalem. In many ways, it was a culmination of what the trip was slowly becoming to me: a journey. Seeing the Holy Land and moving from one place to another was just part of it. There was something going on in me; in all of us. As a group we were growing together. There is a bond built between people who experience this together. We watched out for each other, loaned money to each other when we were short, cared for each other when we were sick, prayed together, ate together, saw each other sweaty, tired, and with bad hair. We woke each other up in the mornings, encouraged one another as the toil of the travels took its toll on our bodies, and we worshiped with one another on a daily basis. All of this at the places Jesus walked. So, there was a bond being built among us that cannot be duplicated in any other setting.
But the journey the day we visited the temple mount was one of its own. I was unprepared for how I would be so impacted that day. After a long wait in a long line, we were finally cleared by security to enter. The security check was thorough, and done by men with machine guns at their sides. To get on the main part of the mount, we had to walk over a bridge that crossed over the area below where the Western Wall is. I was not ready for what I saw and heard. Between the planks of wood built onto the walkway that partially concealed the view below, the area was busy! Lots of moving about, music playing, large crowds of people everywhere, and the wall being faced by an innumerable number of ultra-ortodox Jews rocking, praying, and reading from Torah. For reasons I still cannot put my finger on, it moved me to tears. I was weeping, all the while brushing the tears away so I would not have to tell my peers what was going on with me, because I still did not know myself.
As we turned the corner on the walkway, in the corridor that would eventually empty out into the mount and the area of the Dome of the Rock, a row of riot shields were stacked and ready to go. After passing by them we turned the corner to another scene of busyness, as Muslims spread out across the area in front of their mosque praying, and studying the Qur’an in groups. The entire scene was too much to take in. Right there on the edge of the walkway, you could hear Jews praying loudly at their wall, unable to enter on the mount that supports it. On the other side, were Muslims praying on the mount to the same God of Abraham. Two groups, same God, both claiming that that God had given them rights to this mound of dirt, in a city divided by walls and fences, all crying out to God that he would vindicate them in the face of the others. One group with a wall they kiss, the other with a magnificent building that overshadows the city and demands to be noticed. All praying, similar prayers, and completely divided. I sensed that Jesus still weeps over Jerusalem.
From there we moved passed the Pool of Bethesda, where we paused for a brief devotion before entering St. Anne’s Church that sat on the corner of the block. St. Anne’s Church is a beautiful edifice with high domed ceiling that lends itself to awesome acoustics within. The church is built on the traditional site of the home of Anne, the mother of Mary. We had made plans to enter the church and sing some hymns to take advantage of the unique sound that is heard when voices are lifted together in its sanctuary. As we begin to sing, there was an emotional, and Spiritual, charge to the singing. In a moment our entire group found itself in the rapture of worship, as tears flowed, and hands lifted, we worshiped God together. A few moment later other tour groups entered while we were singing. One of the groups had traveled from Nigeria. The others in these groups started singing with us, with their accents and excited worship, they sang with us with all they had. Time stood still. In an instant we were in a heavenly place.
It was then the gravity of the scene stuck my heart the hardest. A few yards behind us were two groups, divided against one another, in a place they call holy that is land-marked by security checkpoints and rows of riot shields. And here we were. People from different races, different denominations, different native tongues, all worshiping the same God together with His Spirit brooding over us. What the people behind us didn’t know, is that Jesus wants to bring them together. Jesus wants to bring all of us together. Here, in this holy place, we worshiped God together, without walls, without security, without guns or shields.
I can imagine Jesus standing on the Mount of Olives over 2,000 years ago and gazing over those city walls onto the Temple and weeping because of what he saw there. Courts that divided worshipers by race and gender; markets that profited off the retail of sacrifices; Pharisees with their long faces who decided who was clean and who was unclean; the poor dropping their last mites into the Temple treasury; and Jesus who wanted to bring them all together to worship the same God they all were trying so hard to please.
The church should be the people, and provide the sanctuaries, where all people can come together and worship God in unity. It is our sacred trust. It is here where the Spirit broods and people find peace. It is here where God meets us. Not in our prayers to be justified in front of our enemies, but a place where there are no enemies.
“For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups. Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death.” Eph 2:14-16, NLT
Oh yeah, and that group from Nigeria that joined us in St. Anne’s? They met GWU there last year doing the same thing. If there was any doubt that this moment was not set up by God, this alleviated it. What are the odds that another group from another part of the world would end up in the same place doing the same thing one year later? And that would not have happened if our trip had not been delayed for three days! If you want to catch a glimpse of that moment, check out the video below.