Sunday, November 13, 2005


Wedding Feast

Note: Last night, I entered Bethlehem with my friend Fr. Homam. The wall which is squeezing Bethlehem is particularly distressing at the entrance to the city. When we arrived, the gate across it was closed. We didn't wait long, but the scene itself was enough to send chills: a city, the city of Christ's birth, walled in with a locked gate across its entrance.

In the end, I spent the night with dear friends at the Latin Patriarchate Seminary in Beit Jala, particularly Fr. Aktham, the priest with whom Elizabeth and I worked so closely in Zababdeh.

Mass at the Latin Church in Beit Sahour, where the angels appeared to the shepherds (Luke 2), began at 9:30 this morning. I took a seat in the second pew. During the first hymn, Fr. Faisal sent word to me: "Please join us in the chancel." I did, taking my seat beside several priests and a swarm of seminarians. Fr. Faisal introduced me to his parish, highlighting our time in Zababdeh with the Latin Church and our documentary film. Fr. Majdi added a word about the Presbyterian Church, reminding the congregation that we had begun corporate engagement in Israel/Palestine. After worship, members of the congregation greeted me: "Thank you for all that you are doing." "May God strengthen you!" "We are extremely grateful to the Presbyterian Church."

I know, in my heart of hearts, that what the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is doing along these lines is right. In the States, we have received grief for this witness. So to hear this word from brothers and sisters in Christ is deeply encouraging.

My ecumenical experience in Palestine has been nothing but welcoming. And yet, I try not to assume a place of honor for myself. To paraphrase the parable, I don't assume that I have a seat at the head banquet table (Luke 14). But when invited, I come with joy. Today, I joined the banquet with gratitude. And I leave Bethlehem with a heart full for both the hardships and the witness of these dear brothers and sisters. May God strengthen them.

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