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The light of experience – first reflections on a pilgrimage to Israel/Palestine

Sharon and Sarah having just climbed Mount Tabor

Question: What’s the connection between a Bingley coffee shop and a late night   conversation by the Sea of Galilee?
Answer: Sharon and Sarah!

It was on an early summer sunny day that we decided to make this unforgettable journey to the Holy Land.

So strange, there, to see the motorway signs to Biblical places: Tiberius, Nazareth, Mount Tabor, Bethlehem, Jericho and Jerusalem and to reflect on the stories, events and people of faith; from a boat on the Sea of Galilee watch the sun’s rays penetrate the morning haze. For a moment, the water and my life, calm and still – soon to be storm-tossed like Jesus’s fearful friends in their sinking ship.

So many beautiful churches built to mark the places of God’s presence in some special way. We saw in construction, beside the archaeological site of Magdala, yet another church with the communion table, looking through a boat shaped window over the Sea of Galilee to the hills, the Golan Heights, beyond. The past and present inextricably connected.

As we travelled through the Jordon Valley, on the West Bank, I tried to imagine Jesus and his motley crowd of followers, on his last journey from familiar farms and fishing boats to the cosmopolitan city with Jewish Temple and Roman Palace. I wonder if Jesus saw then, as we did, people oppressed and ill-treated.

This Holy Land for Christians, Jews and Muslims is torn apart. We might despair as did Mary and Martha at the death of their brother, Lazarus. In the tomb, we remembered Jesus’s commandment, ‘Unbind him and let him go free!’  These are words of hope and new life for individuals and countries alike.

In Advent, we prepare to meet the child of hope. I want to share a message of hope from Bethlehem. Many young Palestinian Christians are leaving their homeland because life is so difficult.  In conversation with one such young woman, training to be a teacher, we asked if she too would leave her native Bethlehem, getting away from the restrictions of living beyond the separation wall. Her response was simple and clear, ‘This is my home and I want to help children growing up here.’ No church will be built to mark this sign of hope, God’s presence. Yet we can pray and act for those who strive in dark times to bring hope, light and justice to a troubled Holy Land, so that the Prince of Peace may reign.



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