From the Rector…
It is good to be home, though I will admit I could have stayed another month and still not seen and experienced all that Israel and the Holy Land have to offer. In the weeks and months to come, I know that I will speak more and more to my experience of the Holy Land, and I want to start today by speaking to that great cloud of witnesses we read in the letter to the Hebrews.
Whenever I think about the great cloud of witnesses, my focus is on those Christian saints and martyrs who have died for their faith. They have born witness to God in ways that I cannot imagine and hope that I never have too. They are the reason that Christianity has survived and spread throughout the world. But they are not simply people of long-ago eras—the early church, Medieval mystics, even Reformation saints—they are the people who continue to die for faith. I was most recently reminded of this in the Holocaust Museum at Jerusalem.
Our Holy Land tour group spent the better part of a sobering morning at that museum. We entered at one end and wound our way back and forth through a narrowing scar of a building that became more and more oppressive. The exhibits told a story of antisemitism and disdain that has grown to a level of hate and scapegoating far exceeding any other culture. As we progressed through the museum, I was not so much struck by the hate and cruel treatment or even the indifference of so many—Nazi or otherwise—I was struck by the perseverance of the Jews.
The quotes on the walls and the video testimonies of those who survived told the story of a people who, though willing to die for their faith in other eras, endured for their life in this time. Six million Jews were killed in the holocaust and only three and half million survived. They are a great cloud of witnesses—tortured, mocked, flogged, imprisoned, starved, mutilated, raped, destitute, and tormented. For so many of them, death was a mercy. It is not just those who died in the holocaust who stand as part of the cloud, it is also those who lived as a testament to human endurance and perseverance.
I have often wondered why we persecute one another. Why is it that our faith or the color of our skin or a different value system is so threatening to us? What do we cling to so tightly that we cannot even relax our grip much less release it? Even when the Nazis were running out of ammunition and resources and the war was all but lost—they picked up the pace of murdering the Jews and anyone who spoke out against them. In the face of defeat, the Nazi response was to increase production of their killing fields in an attempt to annihilate the Hebrew people. Millions upon millions of people who died for no other reason than their bloodline.
Last night we celebrated All Saints’ Day. We read our roll of remembrance in our Evensong and we said the names of all those who have died this past year. On Sunday we will pray for all those from Ascension who have died. And in our November Tower we will list that roll of remembrance. We remember the various saints and martyrs on feast days throughout the church year. And we even set aside November 2 to remember all those souls who have died professing the Christian faith. It is a Christian feast day and yet, I cannot help but be burdened by all the souls who died as saints or sinners in the dark places of time—the Crusades, the Holocaust, the Gulags. If my trip to the Holy Land did anything, it reminded me that though I believe in Jesus Christ, I do not believe in all the terror and oppression that has been inflicted on the world in his name. My heart is burdened by all that we as Christians and as humans have done to hold on to power or at least our perception of it.
The words that we pray and the hymns that we sang last night and on Sunday come at a cost. It is a price few of us will have to pay, but one that has been paid in blood throughout the ages and by all sorts of believers.
Light and Life,