On Sunday (yesterday) I was privileged to be in Jerusalem to worship. I had not received communion for about 3 weeks and so I was very much looking forward to going. But I was not prepared for my emotional response to the day.
In the morning I attended Christ Church. It is an Anglican church, stunning in its simplicity and light. The church was very welcoming, and the service was wonderful. The music was very contemporary and I loved how they blended it with the ancient creeds and prayers.
The Old Testament scripture reading was from 1 Samuel 15:34 – 16:13, the story of the prophet, Samuel, and the king, Saul, parting ways for the final time, Samuel going to Ramah and Saul going to Gibeah. Then God commands Samuel to go to Bethlehem to anoint a new king (turns out unexpectedly to be the youngest son of a man in Bethlehem, ie., David). Samuel is terrified, because Saul would not be happy if he were to hear of this and Samuel must travel through territory loyal to Saul. The exciting thing about it was that I had been to those very places last week. Knowing where they were in relation to each other, and their political significance, made the story come alive!
Then as we moved to the eucharist, I was so struck that we were gathered for worship one mile from where he was arrested, 100 yards from where he was tried, condemned and scourged, 250 yards from where he was crucified and buried in the grave. My emotions began to overflow. My heart was touched in a very real way. I struggled with tears for the rest of the morning.
Then in the afternoon, we went as a group to the Yad Vashem (Hebrew for “a memorial and a name”) Holocaust Museum. It is a moving tribute to the lives lost in the Holocaust, and I came away struck by the capacity for evil we humans have. The church was painted in a very grim light, and I felt shame and guilt, wanting somehow to justify myself, my Church, looking for some people or events or examples of courage in the face of evil. There were good people in the church who tried to stand up for the Jews, and they are memorialized there as well, most notably Oskar Schindler (from the movie “Schindler’s List”) and Corrie Ten Boom (from the movie “The Hiding Place”). I was looking for something about Maximilian Kolbe but didn’t see anything. It may have been there. You couldn’t possibly see everything in an afternoon.
The most moving part of the museum was visiting the exhibit at the end of the museum called the Children’s Memorial. This was designed by the Israeli-born, Canadian architect Moshe Safdie and built with the generous donation of Abe and Edita Spiegel, whose son Uziel was murdered in Auschwitz at the age of two and a half. Of the six million Jews killed in the Holocaust, 1.5 million were children. The Memorial contains a darkened room. As you walk into the room you are awed by the reflections of a million candle lights all around you. In fact, there is only one candle. The million reflections that surround you are only reflections, symbolizing the good that could have been, the children and grandchildren that could have been born, the love that could have been shown . . . but wasn’t given a chance.
Also, as you walk through the room, the names of the children are being read out. Just the names. One after another. To read all the names of the children killed, takes 8 months. The magnitude of the loss slowly begins to seep into your consciousness and your soul. I am tearing up just writing about it the day after.
It was particularly hard to experience this on Father’s Day, when I felt so far away from my own wonderful children, Jacob, Peter, Samuel and Bronwyn. I cannot imagine how horrible it must have been to have your children wrenched away from you as you helplessly looked on. Hug your kids today.
I was also struck again with the privilege of being a chaplain to children at St. Francis. Each one is a precious treasure, each one has terrific capacity and potential to do good in this world, to be a blessing, to make a contribution, to wage peace. I give thanks to God for this calling, and pray that He would enable me to fulfill it faithfully.
So it was an emotional day for me. But in a good way. May our tears be as holy oil to speed our prayers to our Father in heaven.
Signing off – Father Wismer