From Bethlehem to Sicamous (the 180)
With reference to Matthew 24:36-44 and Psalm 122
As we gather worship in Sicamous this morning, in Bethlehem right now, it’s just after midnight – it has just become Monday – almost a 180 (degrees) difference in the time.
In the Holy Land, unholy and unjust laws and programs have been spreading slowly and surely since the Balfour declaration of 1947.
My mind and heart have done a 180 turn in my understanding of the Palestinian people and some of the issues they face.
In a land desperate for bridges of understanding, a wall – twice as high as the Berlin wall, and three times as long, divides not borders of a state, but Palestinians from each other, farmers from their land, in U.N. recognized Palestinian territory.
I have come home from a land where the Jewish people who have suffered so much and have needed a safe place to live, have, since 1948, moved into the homes and communities of Palestinian people, causing them to suffer and need a safe place to live.
I found myself wondering how this could possibly be, but at each turn I found regrettable parallels in Canada and our own national political history and relationship with First Nations whose land we claimed as our own.
And what does this all have to do with the first Sunday in Advent and the strange reading from the gospel and Psalm 122 this Sunday? Well… (read the gospel) within my first week or so as minister at Trinity U.C. in Merritt some `religious person’ came into my office – hopeful of a kindred spirit. He brought me fresh vegetables and quoted this gospel passage to me; this `end of the world’ reading and said of course we want to be on the right side with God so we are `taken’ and not left behind when the great battle of Armageddon happens and Jesus returns. I told him I believed that God was much more interested in me living with compassion and justice here and now, than worrying about whether I’d be picked for the heavenly team. Thus ended the fresh vegetables… and our conversation.
Coming back from Palestine and Israel, I can’t help but see the `180’ side of this reading. On Thursday, we visited a Palestinian refugee camp where families have lived since the `Nakba’ the devastation of 1948 when they were forced out by the Israeli army, with the promise they would be allowed to return within a month. They tried to go home, but were forced away again. Four children froze to death that unusually cold winter. It’s been 65 years – an 80 year old woman in the camp still has her house key – waiting to go home.
As we left the camp that afternoon, we were told Israeli soldiers (being in the army is compulsory for 18 year old men and women), were about to enter the gate, ready to flex muscle and make a few arrests – one youth would be taken, another left… No one knows who it will be until the banging on the door comes in the middle of the night. The crimes? – throwing stones, or being accused of it, or painting graffiti on the walls of your own refugee camp.
There is no option for staying awake and not letting your house be broken into. The army has the guns, and any resistance will result in a longer prison sentence. This is not the promised coming of the Son of Man. But as part of the Pilgrimage of Solidarity we indeed were called to be on watch, and surely had our eyes opened.
Psalm 122 begins, “I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord!” Our feet have been standing within your gates, O Jerusalem!
Only a week ago I was standing within the gates of Old Jerusalem. I went and prayed at the Western (wailing) Wall of the ancient Temple – after passing through numerous security checks. Being there was a precious moment for me. I have now an image in my mind of where this is – you can change the houses but not the geography of the land, and I have a better understanding of the desire of Jewish people to feel at home in the land of their ancestors; to feel secure there.
But there have been Christian Arabs in the land for 2000 years as well, and they and their Muslim neighbours are being squeezed out, locked in, and having their homes and land confiscated or demolished to make room for Jewish `settlers,’ most who have no idea who has been displaced to accommodate them – they are told it is empty land. I wonder how they can be so blind to what’s going on for the long term inhabitants of the land. But then I think – were not our parents and grandparents told something very similar in Canada? `Come to this vast and empty land, plant gardens, farm the land, make your fortune.’
Psalm 122 vs. 6 says, “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem. May they prosper who love you.” I see now how this psalm can be used to exclude those not perceived as the tribes of Israel. But along with the Biblical version of the psalm, I would add the version from Nan Merrill’s book `Psalms for Praying.’ It goes like this:
My spirit soared when a Voice spoke to me:“Come, come to the Heart of Love!” How long I had stood within the house of fear yearning to enter the gates of Love!
The New Jerusalem, the Holy city, is bound firmly together;All who seek the Heart of Love, those who have faced their fears, Enter the gates in peace and with great joy, singing songs of thanksgiving. There, is harmony with the cosmos, the community gathers united in love.
Pray for the peace of the world! May all nations prosper as one! May peace reign among all peoples, and integrity dwell within every heart! Then will friends and neighbours, and former enemies as well, cry out, “Peace be within you!” for the good of the universe and in gratitude to the Beloved, Let us serve the Holy One, of all nations with glad hearts.
On this first Sunday of Advent, as we have lit the candle for peace, as followers of the Prince of Peace, we know there can truly be no peace and security for some, unless and until there is justice and peace for all. May our seeking peace through justice be more than mere words, but be our very way of life. Amen.