He is not here, He is risen

One of the common question asked upon my return from Sabbatical was whether it was spiritually rewarding. These inquiries often refer to our visit to the two Holy Lands, Germany and Israel. To be sure, we found many wonderful and inspiring sites, not the least of which were the birth place of Jesus, the Sea of Galilee, Capernaum, Masada and Mount Megiddo from which we get our word “Armageddon.” In Germany too we visited such awe inspiring sites as the Wartburg Castle where Luther translated the Bible into low German, the Augustinian Monastery where he trained to be a priest, the magnificent church were Luther was ordained and in Wittenberg, the Castle Church where Luther was married, the City Church where he preached and the parsonage where he and Katharina lived and taught. It was a trip well worth taking and one I would highly recommend to anyone interested in Christianity in general and Lutheranism in particular, but the designation of spiritually rewarding, in my mind is relegated to very few of the so called religious sites and a few holy surprises along the way.

In Germany, one such place was the oak tree planted where Luther burned the “Papal Bull” that was the call to knuckle under and go along with the status quo and established power of the day. The tree stands at an intersection and close to a main road, it behooves one to look carefully before crossing over to see the tree, and when you get there it is still just another oak tree in Germany. But there, next to the traffic, on the edge of town, with the world going by all around it stands, it is a reminder that in all the hustle and bustle of life, the proclamation of God’s grace in a world that is always drawn toward power and prestige can make a difference.
Another spiritual experience came in visiting my friend Guillermo in Spain. We stayed in the old city of Avila, spiritual centers for Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross, surrounded by the old city wall from the Roman era. We visited all the sites around the old city. We were given a tour of the University area in Salamanca, with buildings still in use dating back to the 12th century, and found ourselves on awe overload.

Of all the sites we visited, there was one that stood out. In Jerusalem there is the Church of the Holy Sepulcher where three different church bodies lay claim to the spot where Jesus was crucified and buried. Inside are masses of people all standing in line for a chance to glimpse the tomb. At another site there is a Protestant site that claims it might be the place where Jesus was crucified and there is a tomb there that might be the place where Jesus was buried and the whole site is presented in a very apologetic manner with words like “could have” or “might be” or “is similar to what might have been.” It is a wonderful site with not very assuring words, except, as you leave the tomb where Jesus “might” have been laid, there is a sign on the wall that says, “He is not here, he is risen.”

Some of the Spiritual parts of the sabbatical were moments of surprise and wonder. Driving in the dark in Washington in what seemed to be the middle of nowhere, praying and longing for a glimpse of light to indicate a town and hotel and nothing but static on the radio. Suddenly a channel comes in, it is a interview with a young man who is working on building an interfaith dialogue in Chicago. I focus on hearing the interview amide the occasional fade-outs and static, and it finishes just as I drive into a town, find the only hotel, with the one room left and turn off the car, he is risen and goes on before us. In Spain, Guillermo’s two young daughters, Lara and Alba, do not speak English, and yet they were able to show me with excitement the snails they had caught with their mother, So-Won, and placed in a covered dish with some lettuce, he is risen and goes on before us. There was a time when Alba, the youngest, took Jan by the hand and took her to her room where, without the use of verbal language, they managed to play a matching card game and dress several dolls, he is risen and goes on before us. Coming home, tired and excited, I went to choir only to be told that the congregation was having so much fun while I was gone they wanted to do another Sunday. On Reformation Sunday, I sat in the pew with my family and heard the Sunday School put on a skit that explained what Lutherans are all about, better than most books I have read, he is risen and goes on before us. The other night, several of the adult children were over and we all sat to a wonderful meal together and talked and laughed, he is risen and goes on before us.

The trip to Israel was wonderful, it gave a sense of place and people, it fleshed out the Gospel in ways books could never do and I would highly recommend such a trip to anyone who is interested in Christianity or Judaism or Islam, but if you are going for a spiritual renewal, remember the words on the sign, “he is not here, he is risen.” Christ is in the children, friends, the quiet, the surprise, the fear, the wonder, the drive back and forth to work, the home, your heart and the hearts of others, and always on ahead of you wherever you go. Let all who have ears to hear and eyes to see, experience the risen Lord in the world around you. Amen.


Blogger Ky said...

PD - thanks for sharing a wonder message about your trip and its spiritual signficant.

Indeed He is risen.


6:14 PM  

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