Church of the Annunciation, Visitation and Yad Vashem

Today was our last day in Israel. We actually got to sleep in a little this morning. After breakfast we left for the Church of the Annunciation and Church of the Visitation. Both focus on Mary and her visit to Elizabeth. We also reflected on the role of John the Baptist. We then went to the Holocaust Memorial, Yad Vashem. It is a working memorial in that it is a study center as well as an archive of those who were killed in the death camps. There is a children's memorial as well. One and a half million children were killed in the death camps. It was interesting to see all of the school aged children in attendance, as well as new Israeli military service recruits. Surrounding the grounds of the memorial campus is a forrest of trees, six million to be exact, one for each person who died in the holocaust.

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On the way back to the hotel four of us were dropped off at the Jaffa Gate to finish some shopping in the Old City.

Our guide, always informative and insightful brought new meaning to a place often referred to as the "belly button" of the world. The many cultures and faith traditions represented the wonderful diversity of humanity. As we noted today, we had a Muslim bus driver, a Jewish and Orthodox Christian guides all working together as friends and colleagues. Our hope and prayer will continue to be for the shalom of the city, the nation and the world.

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Sitting in the airport, waiting for our flight, I'm thinking of all we've seen and done. Just what does it mean to say this is the "Holy Land?" In the literal sense it is clear, and the millions of pilgrims who have come here to visit the sights is proof of that. On the other hand, aren't all lands holy to God? Aren't all people sacred to God? I reaffirmed my baptismal promises in the Jordan River, but later we went to the sight near Qumran where Jesus supposedly was baptized. Did it matter that those were two different locations? Not to me! We visited two sites where it is claimed Jesus was buried after his crucifixion. For some it is important to know which one is the "real" site. But in the more important scheme of things, in the matter of how God has decisively entered into history through Jesus to reclaim creation and making it whole again, does it really matter where the actual site is? I doubt it. What really mattered to me during the trip, the times I was moved to tears, were the moments I felt a union with the people around me. Shivering in the cold Jordan water with Margie and John and Bau, and then coming up out of the water feeling strangely warm. Hearing a group of German pilgrims sing in the Chapel of Tears on the Mount of Olives, of our group singing after them followed by a group from Zimbabwe singing. Standing along side others at the Wailing Wall, praying for peace in this land and in the world. Singing in the Chapel of St. Ann. These were the moments I had felt before in other places, ordinary places that have always been holy to God.

We're home now, adjusting to the time changes and feeling the jet lag of the trip. It is good to be home, to be in the holy place God has called us, to be pilgrims on this amazing adventure called life.

Shalom,Salaam, Peace