Sometimes I struggle with the dual nature of Christ: fully God and fully man. For me, it’s easier to see him as divine than as human. It keeps Him at a comfortable distance. From March 28 – April 6 I traveled with a group of 25 other pilgrims in the Holy Land with the Telos Group and Coracle, and we walked together in the footsteps of Jesus, a man. We spent time in his hometown, saw where he and his mom went to synagogue, where he helped with his dad’s business, walked (or drove) the hills he walked, and it all made him feel so much more human to me. It brought Christ disconcertingly close.
Visiting these places with Holy Week just a few days away made Christ’s Passion feel accessible in a way it never has been before. As we stood in the Garden of Gethsemane, I looked at fat, gnarled, centuries-old olive trees and thought about Jesus leaning up against one of them, in agony, his friends asleep around him, and feeling what desperate loneliness that must have been, even for the Son of God. Then walking the Via Dolorosa, meditating on Christ being betrayed and abandoned by his closest friends, put on trial, tortured, mocked, and put to death. Christ went through the full spectrum of emotions during Holy Week alone, and certainly at many other points in his 33 years on earth. God knows the human experience.
This pilgrimage was designed to bring together the spiritual significance, historical import, and modern-day tensions of holy sites in Israel, like the Mount of Olives, Bethlehem, Nazareth, Capernaum, Bethany, and Jerusalem. We learned more about the story of conflict and multi-dimensional complications that overlays the biblical landscape, talked to the people who live there from a wide range of experiences and backgrounds, and even though we heard stories of irreconcilable differences and heartbreak, I believe our group left with a sense of hope, firmly rooted in the Peace of Christ. We saw the places of Christ’s suffering, and we saw places of human suffering and deep division, like Aida Refugee Camp just outside of Bethlehem. But even in those places, some people believe peace is possible and live each day building it, for which they suffer. Christ’s suffering IS human suffering. He bears it WITH us, precisely because he became incarnate. And in that, there is a strange peace, and the beginnings of a much larger, more readily understandable peace, meaningful to anyone, anywhere in turmoil and conflict.
This quote from a favorite book of mine, In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden, sums it up: “The motto was ‘Pax’, but the word was set in a circle of thorns. Pax: peace, but what a strange peace, made of unremitting toil and effort, seldom with a seen result; subject to constant interruptions, unexpected demands, short sleep at nights, little comfort, sometimes scant food; beset with disappointments and usually misunderstood, yet peace all the same, undeviating, filled with joy and gratitude and love. ‘It is My own peace I give unto you.’ Not, notice, the world’s peace.”
This is exactly the kind of peace we saw being made by a Palestinian farmer fighting for his land, who refuses to have enemies, exactly the kind of peace being waged by an Israeli grandmother living under constant threat of rocket fire who drives people with medical permits from the other side of the wall in Gaza to their appointments. It’s also the kind of peace that a God who understands human suffering, and the full human experience can give to a broken world. It’s the kind of peace given by a God who came near, who comes and who dwells with us. While we walked the footsteps of Jesus, we were welcomed into his heart for the conflict and trouble in the land of his birth, life, and resurrection. We were granted a glimpse of the divine and the human, both together, and it left no soul among us unchanged.