On the second day after our arrival in the land of the Holy One, we were welcomed to St. George's Cathedral in East Jerusalem by Archbishop Suheil Dawani. He reminded us that his ancestors were present at Pentecost, when the Church was born (see Acts 2:11) and Christianity spread out from Jerusalem. And then he used the phrase "living stones" to speak of this continuous Christian presence in this place. It's a reminder that missionaries from the west don't need to bring the Gospel to this place; this is the home office. (See the rest of Acts.) But the need to be sure there are "living stones" even now is to be sure that these old churches don't become merely museums but that there continue to be vital Christian communities in this land.I've been reflecting on this phrase since that first night and trying to pay attention throughout this pilgrimage to those "living stones." Without a doubt, first and foremost there is Iyad Qumri - our Palestinian Christian guide. I mentioned in an earlier post that I first met Iyad's wife at St. George's College nearly a decade ago, and then met him when I was here three years ago with the brothers of the Society of St. John the Evangelist. Iyad is a businessman and a layperson. But he also sees his work as ministry. He works exclusively with Episcopalians and in addition to being a wealth of knowledge about the sites; he is committed to telling the story of the Palestinian Christians of this land. He is surely a living stone here and a witness to the risen Christ.
From The Rev. Dr. Richard M. Simpson
Rich's Rumination - The Living Stones
One of the other things that Archbishop Dawani said on our first night was that Jesus was a teacher and a healer. He went on to say that the Church, especially here, must be committed to education and healthcare if we mean to be his followers. The needs for both are very great. While Christians are increasingly a small minority in this land and Anglican Christians a small portion of that small minority, the Anglican presence in education and healthcare is huge. I think it's important for Episcopalians to know that our Good Friday offering, across The Episcopal Church, goes to do this important work here to serve neighbors in the name of Christ.Today we visited one such place: The Jerusalem Princess Basma Center - something like a Shriners Hospital in Jerusalem. The work they do is nothing short of miraculous. That work is part of what it means to be following the Way of Love. It is also about embodying hope in a land that can feel discouraging. It was inspiring to be there and it was also gratifying to feel that we are, in some small way, a part of that work with all of the "living stones" who work there.
From The Rev. Dr. Richard M. Simpson
Rich's Rumination - The Living Stones (Continued)
On the Second Sunday of Easter we worshiped at Christ Church (Anglican) in Nazareth. There we were greeted by a dedicated and enthusiastic young priest named Father Nael Abu Rahmoun, who told us he identifies as Arab, Palestinian, Christian, Israeli. Holding all four of those parts of his identity together is not easy, but he told us without one of those words he cannot be true to who he is as a child of God.What really struck me the most, however, as he spoke with us is how familiar the story of his congregation is. They were struggling before he came but his energy is helping some new and exciting things to happen. Even so, he is aware that growth can't be about his charismatic leadership, but about empowering lay people to share in this work. They have a building in need of lots of repairs and a budget not big enough to do all of that work. He spoke about the need to focus on mission in the neighborhood. And about building ecumenical and interfaith partnerships. I could have been just about anywhere in the Diocese of Western Massachusetts as he spoke about the joys and struggles of parish ministry in this time. I leave here committed to keeping him, and his welcoming congregation, in my prayers.I don't know if that's enough. But I am grateful for the witness of these living stones and these ministries that make a difference in people's lives. I'm grateful for the work of the Anglican/Episcopal Church in this part of the world and their commitment to strive for peace, and to work for justice - without which there is no peace.
From The Rev. Dr. Richard M. Simpson
Rich's Rumination - The Living Stones (Continued)
Just yesterday, my boss, Bishop Doug Fisher, asked me how this pilgrimage was different from my previous times in this holy place. This is my fifth time here - first when I was an undergraduate in college and now four times in the past decade. I told him that my head didn't hurt as much this time. There is so much to "take in" when coming here - beyond just a lot of new information. It can feel emotionally exhausting. It's complex and most of us - or at least I - like to simplify things. So it can be exhausting the first or second or even third time here. I'm now returning to semi-familiar places. You see things in new ways even if you aren't learning new information. So my head doesn't feel like it is going to explode with all of this input.
But on further reflection, I think what is different this time is that I'm even more deeply aware of these "living stones" who are members of the Body of Christ, who are committed to doing the work God has given them to do. I didn't add a picture of the brewery in Tabeh above but I could have. They, too, are doing the Lord's work because they are coming back to the West Bank after having gone to college in the United States. They are committing themselves to economic development and like Jeremiah buying a field in Anathoth (see Jeremiah 32:9 ) and in so doing they are, like Jeremiah before them, acting in faith and hope.
This is what living stones are called to - in this and every land. To act in faith. And hope. And love. And to not lose heart.
From The Rev. Dr. Richard M. Simpson
Rich's Rumination - The Living Stones (Continued)
This was my third pilgrimage with Iyad Qumri, and I’ve already scheduled a fourth one for 2019. What I love about working with Iyad and his colleagues is that I can trust them with absolutely everything. Iyad knows the Bible, hopes for peace, and loves the Lord. This trinity—knowledge, hoped-for-peace, and love of Jesus Christ means that whenever I bring a group of pilgrims they come back to the United States transformed. I trust Iyad and I commend his ministry of leading pilgrimages to anybody who wants something more than religious tourism.
From The Reverend Thomas James Brown
January 21, 2017
"Hello Iyad, Before we even left the United States, I felt safe about going. Through our leader, Sam, I had confidence in the confidence he has had in you. So I was ready to go!
And then there we were with you! You exude confidence! I never once felt unsafe or unsure of anything or anylace we went. I knew we would be fine!! And for that I thank you!
But also, Iyad, I must thank you for the entire experience of our trip. You worked so well with Sam and Mohammed (did I spell his name correctly?) to give us the absolute most wonderful pilgrimage! Your knowledge of the Holy Land is one thing. Put that together with your knowledge of the Bible and of your faith and you have an explosion of spiritual experiences that could not be imagined. Each "amazing" event was followed by the next "amazing" event. And each one deepened my spiritual experience of being in the Holy Land.
I appreciated as well your viewpoint and life as a Palestinian in Israel. You told the Palestinian story with feeling and grace. You demonstrated it with the friends who greeted you everywhere we went, with the speakers you provided for us, the places you took us to eat and stay in. It's been a pleasure to carry your story here and share it with friends and family.
Thank you Iyad for an experience of a lifetime!"
From pilgrim Linda Johnson
"I'd like to add some about the events that happened while we (St. Albans Episcopal Church, Harlingen, Texas) were in the Holy Land. Judging by the volume of emails, texts and blog comments I got, people here in the US were very worried about us being where we were when the conflict broke out between the Israelis and the Palestinians in Gaza. And I can understand that: I would have worried too, not knowing where my loved ones were in relation to the upheaval. But I'll say it again, with love in my voice for the worried ones: WE WERE FINE. We were with Iyad, he was watching out for us, and we were not close to the area of the attacks. . . . you gotta take the news you hear with a grain of salt! Better, take it with the whole shaker. I'm not trying to downplay the situation and the need for resolution, but there are things we Americans need to consider when we hear the news.
Iyad knows people everywhere and the safety of his pilgrims is paramount. When he thought things were unstable, he put feelers out to all his “cousins” to make sure what we should do, but we were never in any danger. He was just being prudently cautious. If you read back through my blogs, you see that we went shopping on the same day in the same place where there had been agitation just a few hours before (according to the US media). We continued to visit places, tourist sites did not shut down.
So would I go back again? Sure, as long as a I had someone I knew to guide me while I was there. I would want that in any case, because I'm more likely to make a social blunder that gets me in trouble than I am to encounter a terrorist. What does God in various incarnations keep telling us? “'Fear not! Be not afraid! Do not fear!'Maybe it's time to really live that way."
(excerpt from Julia Soper's ". .so I'm gonna be a pilgrim" blog)
From pilgrim Julia Soper
Excerpts from November 20, 2012
"In the weeks I’ve spent in this country, I’ve been shown hospitality and love, openness and grace from my Muslim bus driver, the Muslim owners of the shops I’ve dined in, the Muslim men and women who greet me on the streets of the towns I’ve been blessed to visit. Last year when I was here, I watched my Muslim friend, Mohammed, excuse himself from lunch to go and pray for the fourth time that day, humbly leaving the table to go and fall face first on the ground before his Creator, asking for forgiveness, and amendment of life while some of the Christians in my group were rushing through Holy Sites and flying through worship services to find the closest gift shop to collect more souvenirs for their overstuffed American friends and homes. . .
Don’t get me wrong, I strongly believe that the world needs more Christians, but what I mean by Christians are Christ-bearers who love peace and are completely filled with the joy of Jesus. The world needs more Christians like my guide, Iyad.
Iyad is a Palestinian Arab Christian, who greets his Arab friends, both Christians and Muslims, with a kiss and a hug. He walks around with his heart and his arms wide open to the world around him. . . . he’s going to let Jesus be in charge of deciding who gets to heaven and who doesn’t so that he can do what God put him on this earth to do. That is, to love and embrace others, to model Christ-like living in a way that I’ve rarely seen in my country, my church, or my home town."
From the Rev. Scott Brown
"Muslims and Christians in the Holy Land"
I have thought about our trip quite a bit. Mostly I think about being concerned for the treatment of the Palestinians and the full-blown apartheid we witnessed. I think about the sermon that last Sunday at St Georges about forgiveness and Bishop Desmond Tutu's Book of Forgiving which I ordered as soon as I got home. The priest said exactly what John had told us: that in Judaism and in Islam that forgiveness is not an important tenant in the same way it is for us as Christians. It makes me wonder if peace is even possible for Jerusalem, and it makes me grateful to be a Christian.
I'm also thinking about the recent death of Elie Weisel and his famous quote:
"The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference."
How ironic it seems that this message to all the world came from a Jew who survived the Holocaust, and how those words now seem applicable to the situation of the Palestinians in Israel.
I also think about Joel celebrating the Eucharist in the desert, the beautiful stream at the head of the Jordan River, and the First Century house below the Sisters of Nazareth convent with the rolling stone tomb.
I also think of the beautiful Garden in Gethsemane with the ancient (17-18 hundred year old) olive trees grafted to even older roots and John's question of us, asking us to what our lives are grafted?
I remember the massive size of the Western wall and how small I felt, and the intimate Chapel of Adam in the Holy Sepluchre with the tiny crosses carved into the walls. And so many times I've thought of the tremendous determination of Constantine's mother, Helena, and what she contributed to the history of Christianity. I love powerful women because I sometimes feel powerless.
I remember my awe at the coolness in the cave at Tekoa, and the blistering sun at Sephoris, imagining the Tectons building the city in that heat and the archeologists working, in the same heat, in their five foot square areas, gently brushing the dust away to reveal mysteries of the 1st century.
I remember the dust that coated my sandals and feet each day. And how that same dust coated the back of my throat. Now it makes sense that the washing of feet is so often mentioned in the Bible.
I appreciate so many "Ah-ha moments" as the trip, so well planned, unfolded numerous new insights and a better appreciation of the scriptures.
I think about leaving St George's guest house before sunrise to experience the stations of the Cross and how vulnerable I felt that morning as I carried the cross, through the trash strewn streets, hoping the Jews wouldn't spit on us .... and I remember the beautiful prayers we prayed from John's book, and that Simon of Cyrene was from Africa, and that no where in the Bible does it talk about the color of anyone's skin. I was reading John's book on a plane recently. Beside me was this very dark skinned African American young man in hip-hop clothing with his back-side showing. I'd seen him in the terminal and thought he looked a little frightening.... Then after I was seated on the plane, he came walking down the aisle and stopped at my row, waiting for me to get out of the way so he could sit down right beside me. Inspired by John's book, I tried to reach out to him. I jokingly asked him if he ever worried about his pants completely falling off and giggled. He laughed and said he needed a new belt! During the flight, we exchanged our travel plans and a few smiles. Sadly it was hard to understand him because of his accent and the background noise on the plane. But I was glad I reached out to him, and grateful that he was gracious in return .
Back to Israel:
I can still see Iyad standing at the front of the bus, drilling the important periods of Israel's history into our minds. I imagine him as a boy at the St Georges school learning those same periods. And I remember John's ebullient enthusiasm, teaching us about rolling stone tombs (No, we discovered, they are not shaped like giant round snowballs!...but large rolling discs...! And ultimately, I remember audibly gasping as I came down the bottom flight of stairs in the excavation at Sisters of Nazareth, and recognized the perfectly preserved rolling stone tomb right there in front of me! And I remember John explaining the significance of finally uncovering the third step of First century entryway.
I remember the anxiety I felt walking around the Dome of the Rock, being told it was the first day of Ramadan. And I remember the tension I felt as we drove through the Israeli military camps near the Jordan Valley, and the strange white concrete circles, below the overlook, where the bus stopped for pictures. I can still see that huge rotating antenna on the precipice above us to the West, and Jordan in the distance to the East. Something seemed strange there, and made me uncomfortable.
And I still remember the sadness I experienced standing in Jericho staring up at the graffiti covered wall, and Iyad pointing out where someone had painted "Made in America" near the bottom of the wall.
I can still hear the peaceful lapping of the water on the sides of of our boat as we cruised across the surface of the Sea of Galilee. I tried to imagine it in the morning mist with Jesus emerging as he walked across the water... ..Later, I was totally fascinated by the 1st century boat so beautifully displayed in the museum there.
I still think about the marvelous architecture and rich mosaics and wall murals of so many churches we saw, and the acres of terraced stone tombs, baking in the bright sun, with the view of Jerusalem in the background.
I remember my own visit to the Rockefeller Museum and the ancient terra cotta coffins with the curious smiles. And I remember the deep carving and rich iconography of the original stone lintels from the Holy Sepulcher. I was drawn to the First Century ossuaries.... and the lovely Roman-style mosaic remnants there.
Finally, I remember the generosity of those kind individuals who loaned me the shirts(etc) off their backs when my bag was late, and the cross Father Rob gave me which had been blessed in so many locations of our trip. I make sure I wear it when I need courage, wisdom or peace.
How fortunate I feel to have shared these experiences with Pilgrims from our own St James (and the Diocese of Louisiana). And I feel so blessed to have these extraordinary memories.
From Ann Ferguson
"We have arrived in Jerusalem in time to hear the call to prayer. Long flight but glad to be surrounded by Beginnings."
- Bishop Morris Thompson, Diocese of Louisiana
"This Christmas will be even more meaningful for me as a result of our experience walking in the places where Jesus walked."
- Pilgrim: Tom Hoffacker
"Being able to read the Christmas scriptures at the place of Jesus' birth was incredibly moving. "
- The Rev. Adam Trambley
"As I returned to the US and listened to friends and family stress about the “danger” of life in Israel, I had to hold back my chuckle. I never once felt endangered or scared. I was too busy soaking up the depth and width of God’s love for the world and for me. There was nothing to fear, nothing to fret, nothing to worry about. I was walking in the footsteps of Jesus, surrounded by millions of God’s fellow precious children. "
- The Rev. Adam Trambley
I was glad when they said unto me,
"We will go into the house of the LORD." Amen.
Sermon Preached by Scott Street
Parish of the Epiphany
May 6, 2015
1 I was glad when they said to me, *
"Let us go to the house of the LORD."
2 Now our feet are standing *
within your gates, O Jerusalem.
3 Jerusalem is built as a city *
that is at unity with itself;
4 To which the tribes go up,
the tribes of the LORD, *
the assembly of Israel,
to praise the Name of the LORD.
5 For there are the thrones of judgment, *
the thrones of the house of David.
6 Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: *
"May they prosper who love you.
7 Peace be within your walls *
and quietness within your towers.
8 For my brethren and companions' sake, *
I pray for your prosperity.
9 Because of the house of the LORD our God, *
I will seek to do you good."
If that reading from the Gospel of John sounds familiar to you, it’s probably because we just
heard it read last Sunday. Thomas chose not to preach on this text; following his lead, I have
Instead, I am preaching on today’s psalm whose poetry evokes the lure and sacredness of
Jerusalem. Whether by chance or the Holy Spirit, Psalm 122 is assigned for today, and so am
I, and the moment I realized this, I knew what this sermon would be about. I have always
loved this text, especially singing it, which I had the joy of doing at Brett and Dave’s wedding
almost 15 years ago. And the psalm has gained added meaning for me since my pilgrimage
to the Holy Land last January. For in Jerusalem, I met the Word made flesh dwelling among
When we arrived at St. George’s College in Jerusalem, each member of our pilgrimage group
was asked to name one thing we were hoping to get from the trip. I said I was hoping to meet
Jesus. I was kinda hoping I’d meet him in bodily form like the Apostles did after the
resurrection, but I figured it probably wouldn’t happen quite like that. If it happened at all.
The following two days were jampacked.
On our first full day, we took a quick bus trip that oriented us to the city, and we then walked to a number of important sites to learn our way around old Jerusalem. Our various stops were highlighted by Iyad, our Palestinian Christian guide, reading scripture passages that gave us a biblical context for what we were seeing. We met with Archbishop Duwani, bishop of Jerusalem, who spoke eloquently of the challenges of being a tiny minority religion in a very complicated situation. He spoke without rancor, and his message was one of hope in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges. We also heard from Dr. Amad, an Arab Muslim Palestinian who earned his PhD at Duke. He described the challenges he faces as a nonJew living in an occupied land, and he spoke with warmth and humor, sometimes tinged with sadness. He said, rather matteroffactly, that he was hopeful that the current stalemate between Israel and Palestine could be resolved with the twostate solution sometime in the next 150 years. 150 years! That’s forever in my mind, but a mere blink in a land that measures time in increments of millenia.
On day two, we went to Bethlehem, and, as you may have heard at adult class on Sunday, it
was a bittersweet trip for us. We saw the place where Jesus was born, and we worshipped
with the Franciscans in the lower reaches of the Church of the Nativity, scant feet from the
place where baby Jesus laid; for me, it was beautiful, spiritual, otherworldly. It was holy.
My mood changed abruptly when we saw a different view of Bethlehem. Iyad, standing
beside a fence with barbed wire above his head, spoke about the concrete Wall that
separates Palestinians from Israelis and which loomed before us. He told us the truth of
Bethlehem today: it is a prison whose walls surround the city and imprison its nonJewish
citizens. Iyad expressed pain, anger, determination, and also hope. He was talking about his
land, his home, his people, being treated in this way, and the depth of his feelings touched the
depth of mine. After this rollercoaster day, my heart and mind were swirling, and perhaps my spirit was sinking a bit.
On the third day, we rose early to go into the old city to visit the Western Wall and the Temple
Mount. Sharing perhaps the single most sacred location in the world, these two places are
held holy by Jews, Muslims and Christians alike; they are places where God is sought and
found. I was anxious for a connection with God, a spark of contact that would energize my
spirit. Maybe this was where I would meet Jesus? Alas, these places did not provide that
spark for me.
Then we walked a short distance to the healing pools of Bethesda, a place where Jesus cured
a man who had been ill for many years. Here we held our own healing service in a beautiful
courtyard adjacent to the ancient pools. We sang a simple chant as we awaited our turn for
the laying on of hands. When Mary and I approached our healer, Thomas, he asked quietly
what we would like to pray for. I said, pray for the Palestinian people and pray for the peace
of Jerusalem. And so he did. Though I don’t remember exactly what he said, at one point, he
used the word “hope,” and at that very moment, I got the message, I made the spiritual
connection: Jesus was a Palestinian, just like the people we were meeting. Jesus came from
the same land as they, the same culture, the same roots. And God’s great gift of hope is
deeply instilled in these people, just as it surely must have been in Jesus. John writes in his Gospel that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Here, in Jerusalem, the Word of God had come alive for me.
I came to believe that to get to know the character of the Palestinians was to get to know
something about the character of Jesus, and vice versa. Here are some examples:
Iyad is a teacher and leader who speaks with authority and quotes scripture freely and
movingly. You get the message when he speaks. Many times, when we needed it most, he
miraculously found bread for us, broke it, and shared it with us. He had two phrases that he
used frequently during the pilgrimage. “People, have I told you today that I love you,” he
would ask, often with a laugh. In one sense, it was a running joke, but it was also much more,
and it always buoyed us. His other phrase was: “Yallah, let’s go!” Yallah is Arabic for:
enough sitting on the bus it’s time for action. Yallah! Iyad is not Jesus, of course, but because of him, I now have a sharper image of what it might have been like in Jesus’s day. I can better picture Jesus teaching with authority, quoting scripture, breaking bread, telling his disciples he loved them, and sharing with them the message of hope. And when Jesus said to the Galilean fishermen who were mending their nets, “follow me”, I now think it might of been less a gentle invitation and more a case of Yallah! Let’s go!
In another parallel, Palestine today is an occupied territory, as was the case in Jesus’s day
when the Romans were the occupiers. Palestinians then and now had their land and their
rights systematically taken from them, without compensation and seemingly without
compunction or compassion. Some Palestinians respond to the occupation with violence, but most do not, and I witnessed no violence during our stay. What I did witness was the anger, frustration, pain and sadness of those who spoke with us. Yet though I listened intently for it, I never heard any bitterness from them, and that amazed me it would be so easy for them to become bitter and utterly discouraged by their situation. Instead, their’s was a witness of hope, the hope for a better future, the hope expressed by Jesus and quoted by Iyad, that “with God, all things are possible.” It is this very hope that sparked my spirit when I was healed at Bethesda, when I learned that Jesus, God’s incarnate Word, is both alive in and revealed by these Palestinians.
And so, my friends, let us pray for the peace of Jerusalem. May we, Palestinians, Israelis,
Jews, Christians, Muslims, may all of us prosper who love you. Amen.