Many Christians long to visit the Holy Land. Years ago, my cousin,Stephen Dray
led a group on a pilgrimage there which happened to coincide with the Oslo agreement. Some friends from the Bideford Methodist Circuit have just returned and doubtless I will get to hear some of their stories.
I have hoped to one day join such a tour. In part, I would like to see what remains of the places about which we read in the Bible even if some of them have been drastically changed and even subjected to rivalry between church traditions. My fear is that I would be disappointed but I think that's a risk I am willing to take.
Yet my greatest interest as someone who is very enthused by interfaith dialogue is in experiencing something of the diversity that is to be found in the occupants of this disputed land. Of course, the three great faiths share so much in common. All believe in monotheism and trace roots that go back to Abraham even if they interpret his story and meaning in differing ways. Of course, it is a scandal that the children of Abraham should so profusely she each others blood. And yet, I cannot get away from a feeling that this scandal and pain is merged with the beauty of three great faiths which have so much to offer the world.
And yet, is it not sad that as we are drawn to the ancient stones of this historic land, we pay so little attention as Christians to the "living stones" who have maintained their historic Christian witness in the Midle East for some two millenia. Caught in the Middle of great struggles and largely ignored by their fellow Christians who have westernised Christianity, the Christian presence in much of the Middle East is being diminished. One cannot wonder if this presence will all too soon become as extinct as the dodo.
Hopefully, a wakeup call is being heard. The Presbyterian Church in the USA
have decided to call a week of prayer next year for the endangered Christian communities in the Middle East. I hope that the idea catches on. Certainly, Bideford Methodists will be seeking to follow PCUSA's lead in this matter. Surely, we need to listen with sensitivity to Christian voices emanating from the Middle East. After all, they are our older brother in faith from whom we have much to learn. And surely, living stones are more precious to God than monuments.
Labels: Holy Land, Interfaith, PCUSA, Pilgrimage