Unification News for June 2003
Longing to See Jesus in the Holy Land
While taking Holy Communion, the Sunday before leaving for Israel, I was moved to tears by the love of Jesus and the sacrifices he made for me. As I prayed, I thought about the 120 gathered with Jesus before his ascension, and wondered if Christ might similarly appear to the 120 Christian ministers on this historic pilgrimage. It was with this longing to see Jesus that I set off for the Holy Land.
Both in Israel and in Rome, the believers through the centuries built churches and chapels atop many of the important pilgrimage sites. In fact, at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, where Jesus was entombed after his crucifixion, six different Christian denominations compete for the site. They have been known to even disrupt each other's services. In these ornate settings, there was no appearance of the Messiah.
While in Jerusalem, the 120 Christian ministers had a one-day seminar with 120 rabbis. I knew we were in for an extraordinary meeting, when, at the very beginning, Chief Rabbi Itzak Bar Dea welcomed his Christian "younger brothers" and commended us for bringing down the strongholds of paganism, and spreading monotheism throughout the world.
At our first round-table discussion, when I was my turn to speak, I mentioned how surprised I was to be called a "younger brother" by a Jewish rabbi. I also reflected upon my experience at the Holocaust Museum. I had never realized the extent of Christian involvement in anti-Semitism. John's Gospel is particularly aggressive against "the Jews", and some remarks, attributed to Jesus, were an outright condemnation of entire cities of Jews. I was shocked to learn that the horror of the Holocaust had its genesis within Christianity.
I was also a surprise for me to find that prior to 1948 and the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine, Jews and Muslims had gotten along well. In fact, Jews had often fared better under Muslim regimes than under Christian rule. During our round-table discussion, I repented to my Jewish brothers and sisters at the table for what had happened to their people because of Christianity.
The next person to speak at my table, a Jew, then really caught me by surprise. He confessed that had the Jewish leaders not persecuted Jesus and the early Christians, and had the Jewish leaders not encouraged the Romans to murder Jesus, then the New Testament accounts would not have been written with such an anti-Semitic bias. Now that was a shocking admission.
Throughout the seminar, our Christian and Jewish tears of repentance and forgiveness blended together to create a genuine brotherhood.
However, there was no miraculous visitation from Christ, and I was forced to reconsider my own expectations. I began to think about how Jesus actually appeared to the disciples after his resurrection. At the Garden of the Tomb, Mary Magdalene spoke to a gardener whom she then realized was Christ (John 20:14). On the Road to Emmaus, two disciples spoke to a stranger whom they later realized was Christ (Luke 24:31), and when the disciples were fishing on the Sea of Tiberias, they spoke to a fisherman whom they later realized was Jesus (John 21:4). Jesus did not appear to them in the form that he had while he was on earth. Somehow, his spirit and being took over the body of another.
Perhaps we did meet Jesus in Jerusalem. He might have been among the Christian pastors, or among our Jewish brethren. Most certainly, though, the coming together of Christians and Jews in reconciliation and peace was the very work of Christ. Hopefully, the pain and rejection that Christ experienced two thousand years ago, could begin to be relieved with this important healing of Christian and Jewish relationships.
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