Holy Land, Part I
Exactly six months ago today, I was in the Holy Land. I was there with about 350 other Florida United Methodists and my sweet husband Ryan and I found myself reflecting on this spiritual pilgrimage this past week. Thanks to generous churches like this one, a newly ordained elder had a 10 Day pilgrimage to the Holy Land given to them as an ordination gift. Luckily, as Ryan and I were ordained two years apart, he was also offered this amazing trip at no cost so in this case, being a Clergy Couple was in fact a DOUBLE BONUS!
We flew out of Fort Lauderdale on February 4th and returned the day before Valentine’s Day. I remember being in the airport about to board our flight to Israel when a few people were being taken out of line because they had traveled to China in the last 14 days. I didn’t know then what I know now and I am so thankful that we travelled the week we did. When we arrived back to the United States, it wasn’t long before Israel closed its borders. Only 6 months ago, I was in Israel and Palestine, walking the footsteps of the patriarchs, of the disciples and yes of course, of Jesus. This trip was profoundly formidable for my faith and formation and I plan to share more in next week’s devotion too. But since that trip, I have never been the same.
There are many experiences and sites we visited that I could share, and I hope one day to teach a class on all that I learned and discovered, but the moment I felt God closest to me was in the city of Magdala. This place, as the name might suggest, was the city where Mary Magdalene presided. Mary Magdalene, one of the first female disciples and by all four Gospel accounts, the premiere witness to the resurrection, this is where she lived before leaving everything to follow Jesus. The city was only excavated in this millennium and is located in Lower Galilee which is in Northern Israel. The ancient Synagogue was the first of the excavations and as it dates back to 15-20 AD, it would have been a place where Jesus gathered and taught. Maybe this was where Mary first heard the life-giving words of Jesus, where she saw his posture of grace, where she felt more than herself and called to be more than she ever thought she could be. I don’t know, but I do know that the place we walked that day was holy and as we toured the grounds of the Duc In Altum (which draws its name from Luke 5:4 where Jesus tells Peter to “launch into the deep”) it was a place like no other. When we entered the Main Boat Chapel that day and saw the Women’s Atrium which was held up by pillars named for the women disciples and women leaders of our faith, I knew I was experiencing something marvelous. And if that wasn’t enough, we traveled down into the Encounter Chapel for a time of singing and praying, and for me a lot of tears were shed.
What I remembered in that moment, gathered with my brothers and sisters of the faith is that God uses all of us. Male or Female, rich or poor, educated or not, the doubter or the model Christian; God has a place for us all. But over and over again, we see the story of God in the most unlikely of places and lived out through the most unlikely of people. Mary Magdalene was not one that the Pharisees would have even given a second glance to, except maybe to judge, and yet she became the first preacher; the first proclaimer of the Gospel. As I sat, weeping in the back of that holy space, I could only whisper my prayer and sing a very inaudible song of praise. Because I knew in that moment, just how much God loves the underdog, reaches for the one cast aside, and gives purpose to the person that society has said is unworthy. In Jesus’ day, it was the women that were forgotten about but today, others fit this category. What is so countercultural about the Kingdom of God is that those without power are given new purpose, those without a voice are entrusted with the first preaching opportunities, those considered unclean, irreligious or bad influencers are in fact the movers and shakers of the faith.
As a woman, who has watched women pastors, teachers and leaders struggle to be taken seriously, to be listened to and to be valued in the same way as men, I am so thankful that God visited me that day in the Chapel of Magdala. I am thankful that God continues to use those on the fringes to impact the Kingdom and to grow the church. But I am also thankful for the men that walk beside me: my father and husband, my male colleagues and friends, my sweet little boy Charlie who is learning that strong women run in our family. What a gift we all are to God’s Kingdom and what a task we have before us.
Six months ago, as I was experiencing God’s presence in the Chapel of Magdala, I had no idea how much was about to change. How our world was about to be flipped upside down and how we were going to be grappling with the question, “What’s next?” I believe one thing that hasn’t changed in this world of uncertainty, is God’s love for us; for ALL OF US. What hasn’t changed is that men and women together will change this world for good and side by side will help bring about God’s Heavenly Kingdom to earth. What hasn’t changed is that God loves all of us equally, but is especially willing to bring those who feel most unworthy and unnoticed, into the all-encompassing arms of grace. A lot has changed, but the life-giving words of Jesus that remind us of our sacred worth, never change.