At the end of Passover seders all around the world, Jews express a fond hope: “Next year in Jerusalem.” This is not, I have recently learned, a geographical aspiration. It is a spiritual vow: may we find ourselves a year from today in peace, living with integrity with our neighbors. My friend Rabbi Avi Olitzky told the kids at Breck a few years ago, don’t think that Passover is just about how ‘we were once slaves, but now we’re free.’ There is a part of each of us that’s Pharaoh, too.
Wise words for a financially-fortunate, white, Christian, American, heterosexual couple in good health to ponder as the moon reaches full this Passover.
Just because you are in Jerusalem, the holiest of cities, does not mean you’ve arrived. Jews living here don’t say anything different at the end of the meal. They, too, say “Next year,” because “Jerusalem” refers to a state of shalom, peace, nirvana, or wholeness that, Lord knows, is not yet here.
Walking home from dinner last night at St. George’s Anglican College in the Holy City, I snapped this photo of the Passover Moon:
Lynnell and I are taking a ten-day course at St. George’s called “Easter Fire,” referring to the tradition of kindling a new flame on the eve of Easter in churches all over the world. By coincidence, Passover, Orthodox Easter, and Western Easter all fall in the same week this year. Every day, our group of thirteen pilgrims from the US, Canada, and Australia visits several sacred places in or near Jerusalem to get a clearer sense of the meaning of Jesus’ life, teachings, healings, death, and resurrection.
Today, for example, we visited the place of his baptism, and saw these two white doves:
We renewed our own baptismal vows, promising to seek and serve Christ in all persons, to love our neighbors as ourselves, to persevere in resisting evil, and to work for peace and justice in the world. All very sobering vows. Later we sat in silence atop this mountain in the desert above Jericho. Our Chaplain reminded us that the prophet Elijah had found refuge in a cave right here, before traveling to the mountain where he heard the “still, small voice” of God. Another translation calls it “the sound of sheer silence.” Jesus also sought the quiet of the desert in these hills, trying to make sense of his vision of a dove coming down on him at his baptism, and a voice calling him “Beloved Son.” We only had a half hour, but we looked down on cliffside caves, huts, and a modern monastery where for 1700 years monks and nuns have sought the voice of God by fleeing the noise of daily life. I felt serene and wise until a pushy teenager who’d pestered us on the hike up the hill mocked the way I told him “no thank you.” He was having a bad day, I guess, frustrated at not selling anything. Jesus wouldn’t have laughed at him like I did.
Yesterday, we climbed up and down the Mount of Olives with thousands of others recreating Palm Sunday, passing this Jewish cemetery along the way. Visitors leave stones instead of flowers, honoring the dead.
We got to the bottom of that steep hill and then began climbing again, through a Muslim cemetery. Since the Messiah is expected to take this very path, being resurrected on the last day on the slopes below the Holy City puts you at the front of the line! Our Palm Sunday procession ended up at the Lions’ Gate of the Old City of Jerusalem.
The day before, we had paraded from a church in Bethany, a couple miles east of Jerusalem, to the tomb of Lazarus, a tiny passageway into a stone tomb too claustrophobic-sounding for us. These boys had a good perch, though, and we had a great cup of Arabic coffee while waiting for our braver fellow pilgrims to enter and emerge.
The Separation Wall is visible above the white car at the far right, up the hill. A guy who works at the college used to have a ten-minute commute from this town. Because of the Wall and checkpoints, it now takes him an hour on a good day, and two hours a few times a month.
The day before that, before our course started at St. George’s, Lynnell and I paid a visit to Christ Anglican Church in Nazareth, an historic Palestinian Christian center of education and worship which was once the sister parish of our own Christ Church Detroit. We had coffee with Fr. Nael, and I snapped this picture from behind the altar.
We also visited a replica (below) of the synagogue of Jesus’ youth in Nazareth. In those days, synagogues were more community gathering places than houses of worship. That role was played by the grand Temple in Jerusalem, recently expanded by King Herod. But within a couple of generations of Jesus’ death and resurrection, Jewish rebellions against oppressive Roman rule led to the catastrophic destruction of that Temple in 70 CE; and synagogues like this one took on the role of housing prayer, study, and celebration for Jewish communities all over the world. Here some Christian pilgrims from Hong Kong heard about Jesus’ first public preaching in his hometown. He didn’t win any converts. In fact, his neighbors, having known him since infancy, didn’t buy his new role as rabbi, healer, and prophet. He didn’t call himself Messiah quite yet, but that would have really angered them.
In Nazareth, we stayed in this guest house, called al-Mutran in honor of the Arabic word for Bishop, whose house is next door. The Old City of Nazareth is full of great cuisine, amazing churches and mosques, and not nearly enough tourists.