Glory to Him who journeyed His servant by night, from the Sacred Mosque, to the Farthest Mosque, whose precincts We have blessed, in order to show him of Our wonders. He is the Listener, the Beholder.
The last two Sundays of Lent we considered why Jerusalem matters to Jews and Christians. This week, we focus on Jerusalem’s significance for the Muslim community. It is believed that the prophet Muhammad traveled to Jerusalem during his Night Journey, around the year 621 A.D. According to Islamic tradition, this was not only a physical journey, but also a spiritual one. On this journey, Muhammad traveled to a mosque where he prayed and was then taken up into heaven. The mosque Muhammad prayed at is now believed to be the site of Al-Aqsa Mosque or Haram al-Sharif, and is subsequently the third holiest site in all of Islam. Furthermore, the shrine of the Dome of the Rock marks the location of Muhammad’s ascent into heaven. Read more
After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” the sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me in the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Get up, take your bed, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.
For Christians, the city of Jerusalem has deep theological significance as the place Jesus often traveled to participate in the traditional Jewish feasts, performed healings, and in the end was crucified, buried, and resurrected. Today, there are many sites that remember these events in Jesus’ life. One of these is the pool of Bethesda, where Jesus healed the man we read about in the beginning of John 5. Today, many Christian pilgrims visit St. Anne’s Church, believed to be the location of the pool of Bethesda as well as the birthplace of Mary, Jesus’ mother. Read more
Last year, I traveled to Israel/Palestine with BelPres members, Overlake Christian Church members, and a Muslim couple. Our primary purpose was to learn about multiple perspectives on the current conflict there. Our good fortune was to have Rev. Dr. Mae Cannon (Churches for Middle East Peace, Washington D.C.) as our sponsor and guide. She arranged for us to meet with people from Israel and Palestine to hear what life is like and to learn how things became so very complicated ‘first-hand.’
Our two guides, an Israeli Jew and a Palestinian Muslim from the West Bank, were wonderfully qualified to provide rare, multidimensional views of two ongoing, diverse perspectives. They were with us throughout the trip explaining their respective histories. Together, Israel and Palestine are about the size of New Jersey, so we covered a lot in 11 days. There are two stories to share. Read more
And when the priests came out of the holy place, a cloud filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud; for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord.
Then Solomon said,
“The Lord has said that he would dwell in thick darkness.
I have built you an exalted house,
a place for you to dwell in forever.”
1 Kings 8:10-13
For the first three Sundays of Lent we will be focusing on Jerusalem as a city shared by three faiths, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. This week we look closer at the deep meaning Jerusalem holds for the Jewish people. In 1 Kings 8:10-13, we catch a glimpse of the dedication of the First Temple, built by King Solomon. Although the temple has since been destroyed, rebuilt, and destroyed again, this passage captures the significance of Jerusalem as the dwelling place of God. It is for this reason that the Western Wall has become the holiest site in Judaism today, as it is the closest Jews are able to get to the Temple Mount, particularly the Holy of Holies where the Presence of God dwelt. It is generally believed that praying at the Western Wall, either from the Jewish prayer book or by placing prayers in the cracks of the wall, is especially efficacious because of its proximity to the site of the Holy of Holies. Read more
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
“May they prosper who love you.
Peace be within your walls,
and security within your towers.”
For the sake of my relatives and friends
I will say, “Peace be within you.”
The season of Lent is a time for solemn reflection, prayer, and repentance, leading up to Holy Week, when Jesus returned to Jerusalem, was crucified, buried, and resurrected. We enter into the season of Lent this Ash Wednesday, many of us wearing ashes on our foreheads, reminding us that it is from dust that we came, and to dust we will return. During this season, it is appropriate for us to reflect on ourselves and our world, both of which are broken and in need of repentance. As we do so, we pray with hopeful anticipation for peace and justice. Read more
Old City of Jerusalem (Photo Credit: Andrew Wickersham)
Journey back a couple of decades to 1995. With peace between Israelis and Palestinians seemingly within reach, President Clinton signed the Jerusalem Embassy Act, recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. This legislation looked forward to a day when the final status of Jerusalem was resolved. But peace proved elusive, and subsequent presidents for the next 20 years have made use of the Embassy Act’s waiver clause that allows the U.S. to keep our embassy in Tel Aviv to avoid upsetting the delicate status quo. Now enter the Trump Administration.
On December 6, 2017, President Trump broke with the precedent set by the last three administrations and announced that he would not be signing the waiver of the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995. He argued that the last 20 years of failed negotiations demanded a new approached, and he claimed that this decision was not taking a stance on the final status of the city. Read more
In the news today, it is impossible to miss the headlines surrounding the Middle East. It’s an extraordinarily complex and diverse region of the world, with constant and growing attention towards Israel-Palestine, leading one to often wonder if there is a way to both learn more and make a meaningful impact. Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) offers this opportunity through internships, which allow interns to engage critically and make a lasting contribution towards peace in the region. Located in the heart of Washington, D.C., near Capitol Hill, CMEP is a coalition of 27 national Church denominations and organizations working to encourage U.S. policies that actively promote just, lasting and comprehensive resolutions to conflicts in the Middle East. Read more
Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word.
As we celebrate the final Sunday of Advent, as well as Christmas Eve, it is only fitting to focus on Jesus—Emmanuel, God With Us—who is Love. With so much discussion in the news about the actions of the powerful, of nations, states, and politicians, let us remember our savior, who came into the world in the most vulnerable of circumstances. He came as a baby, born in the most dire of circumstances, to parents who weren’t even wed. And yet, his birth changed everything. Through him we are able to see God, because he is God. Read more
The Middle East Council of Churches (MECC) is a council of church bodies throughout the Middle East: Lebanon, Jerusalem and the West Bank, Jordan, Egypt, Syria and Iraq. In some ways, it’s like an extended family gathering. In fact, the MECC is organized around four families of churches – Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Catholic, and Evangelical/Protestant. Together, these churches are working to support each other and build bridges between people and groups in the Middle East.
MECC was founded in 1974 as a collaboration between the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, and Protestant churches of the region. The Catholic church joined in 1990 as a fourth tradition on the council. Each of these four “ecclesial families” is represented by a president and members on MECC’s executive committee. Working as an ecumenical group is not always easy, and building a consensus among the different churches can be a long process. But the result is that MECC can offer powerful statements that carry the weight of their shared deliberation. Fr. Michel Jalakh is Secretary General of the Council, with the headquarters located in Beirut, Lebanon.
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
In observance of the third week of Advent, many Christians around the world will read the Magnificat, Mary’s song of joy. It may feel wrong to focus on the theme of joy during a time with so much turmoil, especially following the recent declaration about the status of Jerusalem. However, in light of the declaration and the events that followed, it is even more pressing that we take a moment to reflect on this theme, as we continue to Choose Hope this Advent. We do not put aside our anger, frustration, or fear, but allow joy to permeate our hearts as we anticipate the coming of Jesus. Read more