“I am so sorry, but there is no room at this hotel” …. It is 4.00 am, we are weary travellers, arriving for our first ever visit to Israel, a little shocked at these immortal words, from a bygone age. Our forlorn faces suddenly revived and turned to smiles when our host then mentioned, “we do have some servant quarters available, around the back of the hotel.” Hey, if it’s good enough for Joseph and Mary ………
Looking down from the Mount of Olives, you are overwhelmed as history itself sprawls across the landscape. “Yerushalayim” the ancient Hebrew city meaning “City of Peace”, has grown into a vast metropolis whose foundations of old are layered beneath its modern exterior. The golden Dome of the Rock, where Muslims believe that the prophet Mohammed ascended to heaven on his white steed, looms imposingly over the fragile, segregated walled city, with its Christian, Armenian, Jewish and Arab quarters, a battleground for the three great faiths. The City of David leading up to Mount Zion, the old gnarled trees in the garden of Gethsemane, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built on a site that claims to be where Jesus was crucified, and the Golden gate, the place of triumphant return, all within a stones throw. As we take in this breathtaking sight, we realise that the incredible stories of Christ and the Patriarchs of our faith, would now become steps of discovery during a two week excursion into the Holy Land.
We had been invited to Jerusalem to take part in a three day youth gathering. The conference was being held in a kibbutz hotel overlooking Bethlehem, a significant southern outpost for the Israeli army during the Six Day War in 1967. The preserved archaeological ruins tell a story of constant bombardment and in the distance the newly erected defensive wall, a reminder of today’s ongoing struggle. Now 40 years later, 450 Jewish and Arab believers in Yahweh, and five hundred people from other nations were gathering to pray for peace and unity. We had not understood how unique this event was until a pastor mentioned that he did not know that there were this many messianic believers in the whole of Israel.
As a lead up to the gathering, in record breaking temperatures, we were taken on a whirlwind four day tour of the Biblical Lands. From below sea level near the Dead Sea in the south to the disputed Golan heights on the Syrian/Jordan border in the north, our knowledgeable messianic guide brought incredible historical perspective as we waded at the edge of the Jordan River and the Sea of Galilee, lapped water at the spring where Gideon’s army of 300 men were picked by God, collected 5 stones at the site of David’s encounter with Goliath, and meandered amongst the ruins of the town of Capernaum. It was here, at another “thin place” that I got a special moment of quiet saying Morning Prayer on the site of the synagogue that Jesus would have attended.
In our wanderings Rebekah and I have decided to make time for “hangin’ out”. Often it is during these times that God surprises us with very special moments. This time we had planned a further 8 days of “seeing what happens” in Jerusalem and here are some highlights.
We joined a Dutch friend, Bart, who goes daily to pray on the city walls, where a chance encounter gave us an unexpected window into the soul of the Jewish people. A group of young, potential Aliyah (returning Jews from the Diaspora to the land of Israel) Americans were walking the walls, led by an old Jewish man. As they passed we wished them “Shabbat Shalom”. His answer took me aback as he grumbled that there was no peace in Jerusalem. Noticing my drum, one of the students asked if I would play and I answered “OK, if you will sing us a song”. Strutting towards me the tour guide declared loudly that he would give me a song. As I struck up an Israeli rhythm, the moment overtook him and he burst into life singing and dancing. As he regained his composure he explained that his song was about rejoicing with joy on the walls of Jerusalem. Perplexed with this paradox in his heart he walked thoughtfully away.
It was a rousing blast of classical music erupting from an open window in the morning sunshine that inspired us to meet the occupant, a secular Chilean Jewish sculptress, who had been an Israeli citizen of 50 years. She lived just outside the walls near the Jaffa Gate, in an unkempt yet character filled home, almost museum like which had obviously seen better days. We discovered that her late husband was one of the most famous sculptors in Israel and had designed pieces outside Yad Vashem, (the holocaust museum) and the Israeli governmental buildings. We enjoyed a wonderful morning sharing life stories and travels over tea and cakes. Later, on hearing about our musical adventures, she asked if we would play for her… so the drum came out. As we left we sang a blessing and, after a moments silence, she opened her eyes, and explained that she had felt “a wonderful vibe as we sang”. She got quite excited as we were saying our goodbyes and has invited us to come back with other musicians to present a concert in her home for all her friends in the area.
A cash incentive to a smiling elderly, moustached Arab street vendor took us behind the scenes to the original Temple entrance, now paradoxically hidden amongst the colourful, bustling bazaars in the Arab Muslim quarter.
Through a friend of a friend we were able to meet a wonderful messianic Jewish lady who lived and worked in a pharmacy in an ultra orthodox town, east of Jerusalem. Her underground faith brought many remarkable stories of hope to her community in a regimental sub-culture that despises followers of Christ.
As we travel to the nations we are constantly humbled by the epitaphs of colonialism, and sadly in Israel our Christian legacy is even more poignant. Our forefathers’ history of spiritual apartheid and contempt for the Jewish people started with the Crusades. After the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215, Jews in England were marked with a replica of the stone tablets that Moses received and during the reign of Edward 1st all Jews were expelled and their property seized. A chance conversation with a Jewish shop keeper highlighted today’s continued misunderstanding between Jew and evangelical Christians. Interestingly he was very encouraged by the Celts and mentioned that he did not meet too many people that listened to the Jewish viewpoint.
Near the end of our time in Jerusalem I donned my kippah (skullcap), it was Friday evening and we were to taste devotion at the Wailing Wall, the beginning of Shabbat. Christianity during Constantine’s time separated itself from all dealings and associations with the Jewish people and now our calendars and celebrations are totally out of sync. This was to be a unique experience for us, mingling with God’s chosen people as they worship. As ten or more people gathered, the individual services started. Black suited, Hassidic Jews from Mea Shearim (an orthodox section of Jerusalem) with their distinctive curly side locks, rocked back and forth as they prayed and read, stuffing written prayers into the overflowing stone cracks, designer dressed youngsters clutching their tallith (Jewish prayer shawl) linked arms, jumping, dancing and singing, and all this right under the Dome of the Rock as the call to prayer rings out from the minaret tower.
Reflecting on our journeys at Nether Springs, the Israeli theme continued during Morning Prayer in our chapel, the first reading on our return was Psalm 122: 3-9.
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
“May those who love you be secure.
May there be peace within your walls
and security within your citadels.”
For the sake of my brothers and friends,
I will say, “Peace be within you.”
For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,
I will seek your prosperity.