"In times past God spoke in fragmentary and varied ways
to our ancestors through the prophets; in these last days
he spoke to us through the Son whom he made heir of
all things and through whom he made the universe." (Heb 1:1-2)
In some simple way these unfathomable words describe what the CBS hopes, with the grace of God, to hand on to students over the course of 4 years: the partial and fragmentary and yet essential revelation of God given to us through the writings of the Old Testament. These writings prepare the soil of our mind, helping us to understand the meaning of God's revelation that is given to us most fully in the life, death and resurrection of the Son who reveals to us most perfectly the fullness of God.
Once again, the trip to Israel becomes a time to focus on the quote from Hebrews above: the land of Israel is the place where the story of God's desire to dwell among us had its beginnings. The varied ways God has spoke in times past prepared us to understand the fullness of revelation made through the Son. The geography of the land of Israel adds another dimension in our search to understand the words of the old as these help us understand who Jesus is, how he lived and what is the purpose and meaning of his life. The Gospel writers link him with the past and the promises God has made to Israel. Whatever invites us to immerse ourselves in this mystery is valuable beyond words. Imagining the land can help us do this.
Everyone cannot visit Israel. But we can all imagine and ponder and envision an itinerary. For the past three summers I have done a weekly psalm reflection. You can still find these on the web-site under "Library". There I set out a method for praying with the psalms. You may wish to continue this form of prayer on your own. I would encourage this! But, what I thought I would do this summer, given the fact that I will be spending much time planning the trip to Israel, is to let you in on the planning and share the unfolding itinerary and significance of places we will visit. You will see just what goes into the planning and most importantly, you can follow along whether you are intending to be with us for the trip or be with us in spirit. Often, participants on a trip get so caught up in the "tourist thing" that the real significance can almost get lost. It is often on the first Sunday after returning home and the Gospel reading speaks of Jesus calling the Disciples at the Sea of Galilee that the impact is made! "I was there!" Then they want to return the next time to really "See" what they missed! Hopefully this preparation will give the background and links that will enrich the experience for all of us.
Phase One: Remembering what the Land means!
Before venturing from the place we call "home" and all this represents to us, recall what "home" means for Israel.
God promises land to Abraham and Sarah (Gen 12:1-3). Only in death do they possess the burial ground at Machpelah (Hebron). (Gen 23)
The sons of Jacob leave the land for Egypt and after several hundred years, God leads them out to return them to the land of Promise after 40 years of "wandering in the wilderness"
In Deuteronomy there are several reminders that the land is given in exchange for Israel's fidelity. (see Deut 11)
Land represents the presence of God for Israel!
We will not put our feet into the footprints of our ancestors in faith, but we can see the mountains, the valleys, the lake, the rivers, the desert, the sky. These help us to realize that the stories we read happened within time in a place and are part of human history.
There is a real link between land and the status of being "sojourners". Israel spends a lot of time outside the land! There is much for us to ponder in our own life about being "at home" and being "on the way". What does the Bible have to teach us about this?
Loss of the land during the time of Exile was traumatic! The words of the prophets promised restoration to the land.
Land always seems bound up with the relationship between God and the people who understood God to have made a covenant with them. As Israel always seems to be turning toward God or away from God, so too do they always seem to be coming into the land or going away from it or hoping to be restored to it.
When Jesus speaks of "the kingdom of God" does he lend some new insight into what sort of "Kingdom" or "Land" we may hope to attain? "Thy Kingdom come…"
This land is the place where the fragmentary and varied revelation of God was made visible and where the son chose to make his dwelling among us.
We tend to want to pack everything we think we will need for the journey! Whatever links us to the familiar and convenient! Our best plans will sometimes be circumvented by surprises God will make along the way. The relationship of Israel with the land is expressed well in Leviticus: "The land shall not be sold in perpetuity for the land is mine and you are but aliens who have become my tenants". Part of biblical faith that seems a side bar for any trip is the realization of fragility. Plans must be changed, we need to be flexible and resilient, unexpected things happen. There may be no flowers in the desert! What can be learned on the way!
Grumbling seemed to earmark the story of Israel's journey. We may do a fair amount of that, finding ourselves out of our element and out of control.
Questions for reflection:
1. What thoughts about ""Land" seem meaningful to you?
2. What makes the land of Israel "sacred"?
3. Remember Naaman the Syrian who is cured of his leprosy? (2 Kings 5). He returns
home bringing with him 2 mule loads of earth from the land of Israel. If not 2 mule
loads of earth (and not 2 suitcases of souvenirs) what can you expect to bring home
that will serve as a reminder?
4. What is it that draws us to see/ to journey to this "Holy Land"?
5. Where does God seem most present to you? Is this place "Holy Land"?