In my almost 25 years of ministry, I’ve spent a great deal of my time in the mission field. By this I mean, I’ve spent a great deal of my time taking folks with me to places on the edge. Taking comfortable folks from the east and west and north and south of the US to various places in the world or here in the States where it’s not as comfortable has helped me understand my own privilege. It has also given me a vocabulary to help me translate that privilege into a flimsy kind humility. Flimsy, because it’s good to feel comfortable most of the time. It’s also given me a heart for justice and a way to speak truth to power.
One of the places I’ve returned to for the last 10 years is Israel/Palestine. In March, an ecumenical group of 29 went for two weeks. We spent time listening, walking, worshipping, and visiting sites historic and “holy.” There were 14 clergy in this group. And one of them posted a story to share during Eastertide.
She’s reflecting on the story of Mary Magdelene in the Garden with Jesus. Here are her words. They help me put into words why going out into the world from our comfortable places is so important.
Why is it so hard to recognize Jesus? If we are looking for him, why can’t we see him? I imagine we have so much trouble because Jesus probably doesn’t look like what we are looking for. Like Mary, we probably look right at Jesus and assume he is simply someone else….
As you know I have just returned from the Holy Land, and that is a place where many people go looking for Jesus. Like many folks there I had all my senses open for a chance encounter with God….
One thing that did happen was this. It was a very long day …too many churches to count, an accidental baptism in spilled lemonade, and an argument over lunch prices. The day ended with me exhausted at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. This is the place where Jesus is said both to have been crucified and risen. Home to over 5 denominations the church is a mish mash of shrines and art. After a brief introduction, our group was given 45 minutes to explore the space on our own.
…I have to tell you, I just hated the place. I know it is a shrine and a destination for many but I couldn’t get out of there fast enough. As my friend and I walked from room to room I kept mumbling things like “I don’t like it in here”, “this is creepy”, and “let’s get out of here”. I can’t explain it but the space just made me feel really bad. So after only 15 minutes the two of us were back out on the street.
We had 30 minutes to wait so we walked back to the shops to poke around a bit. Seeing nothing of interest, my friend and I sat down on the steps outside the church, simply waiting for the rest of the group to arrive so we could go back to the hotel for dinner and bed as it was nearly 7pm.
Suddenly a man came and sat down beside me on the steps. He was obviously a local as I had noticed him a moment before in the square chatting with guards and such. He had left the space and then had returned with a small selection of breads from one of the carts nearby….
…this stranger sat down on the step just below mine and turned around to speak to me. He asked if I was ok and I said that I was simply tired, and it had been a long day. And then, this stranger offered me some of his bread. I hesitated, mama always told me not to take food from strangers, and as I did so he said “don’t worry, it’s not dirty.” I don’t know why he thought I thought it was dirty, maybe he got it off the floor. I smiled and ripped a piece off his loaf and of course it was delicious, a long sesame loaf that is traditional in the area. I told him it tasted good and thanked him for sharing it with me. He sat for a moment longer with me, then jumped up and vanished into the shadows of the night.
Like Mary in the garden, as soon as he handed me the bread I knew who he was. He wasn’t some gardener, he wasn’t some stranger, he was Jesus, come to find me on the steps of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Jesus making himself known in the breaking of bread. “Of course!” I thought. God is not in that scary church or any other building or shrine. God is not even in the Holy Land. God is in people, always in people. It is only when we reach out; when we are bold enough to speak to the stranger, when we really share our lives with each other, it is only then that we will find Jesus. It is only then that we will see God.
Peace – Anne Weirich, College Drive, New Concord 4/4/2018