Jeremiah 1:18 – And I for my part have made you today a fortified city, an iron pillar, and a bronze wall, against the whole land—against the kings of Judah, its princes, its priests, and the people of the land.
Tuesday was busy from the get go, beginning with a 6:30am wake up call for a contemporary Stations of the Cross in Jerusalem. The stations trace through Old Town where many believe Jesus walked with his heavy wooden cross. The final stations culminate at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the site where it is believed Jesus was raised on the cross and laid in the tomb. At each station we read a reflection on current oppression coupled with a prayer for hope and peace.
The rest of Tuesday was spent touring Jerusalem through the lens of an everyday Palestinian living under occupation. Our tour guide took us to Israeli settlements and poor Palestinian neighborhoods in the valleys of Jerusalem. While on the Road to Jericho (an ancient trading road form Jerusalem to Jericho), we paused to see where the wall that surrounds Jerusalem has cut off many Palestinian lives from the outside world. Twenty feet of concrete with a thin top layer of barbed wire, the wall intimidates and fortifies arbitrary city borders. It could not, however, drown out a Muslim call to prayer at midday, as megaphones amplified an Imam from a nearby mosque for all to hear.
I will never be able to truly understand the complex and troubling relationship between Israel and Palestine. Jerusalem is now a walled-off city, fortified not by iron or bronze but concrete and barbed wire. The whole land – neighborhoods, schools, hospitals – walled off from neither kings or princes, but families and neighbors. The prophet Jeremiah understands what it means be an exile, a refugee. Jeremiah, taken from his residence outside of Jerusalem to far-away Babylon, lost his home and wellbeing. Jerusalem was pillaged and destroyed, and its people scattered and forced to live in hostile lands. This exile and oppression exists now, just as in Jeremiah’s time. Destruction and degradation abound; we, like Jeremiah, turn to lament:
“How long will the land mourn,
and the grass of every field wither?
For the wickedness of those who live in it
the animals and the birds are swept away,
and because people said, “He is blind to our ways.” Jeremiah 12:4 (NRSV)
Editor’s Note: This is the second reflection from seminarian Michael Kurth, EPF Young Adult Network Convener, while on a ten day pilgrimage to the Holy Land in March 2017. Michael is a Postulant in the Diocese of New York and currently attends Berkeley Divinity School at Yale Divinity School and the Yale Institute of Sacred Music.