During my time here, it has been my joy to worship in a number of contexts:
- Roman Catholic presence within the Church of the Sepulchre
- Anglican Cathedral of St. George
- Lutheran Church in Bethlehem
As you will imagine, each of these experiences were very different, and this is not a post that will offer a critique. What I wish to do, rather, is to share the ways that each one was a positive experience for me.
The worship at the Synagogue on the shabbat was a wonderful experience. Not only did it appeal to some of my vanities (I could follow the hebrew texts and knew a little about what was going on) but I heard the Psalms sung in a way I have never heard - as hymns! The tunes were simple and very similar but that made no difference. They brought the words alive in a way I have hitherto not experienced, and I will never forget that. Sharing the Psalter in the style of a hymn book, a collection of worship songs, is new to me and somehow challenges my own perception that they are purely for antiphonal muttering!
The Roman Catholic Mass was very familiar, but its context at the site of the Resurrection made it memorable. It also converted what had been a difficult touristic experience into a positive one, as the site became a place of worship not a venue for photographs. To worship in a place tranforms it and I have only really learned that here. For the millions who have visited the site but never worshipped within it have only really had half the story.
The service at St. George's reminded me why I love being an Anglican. The worship, if I am honest, was least of this list in terms of Holy Fire, but its steady presence in the middle of such a torn and scarred city in such a torn and scarred nation was a great source of comfort. Often, the witness itself is vital - and the witness of that place felt like a beacon to me.
The Lutheran Service was, in Anglican language, a Service of the Word - and even for a eucharistic man like me, it was a wonderful act of worship. What was a joy for me was the place of so many facets of its community within its corporate act of witness - the children offered hymns, as did its leadership group, as did other young people. It was a commnunity worshipping, not just 'those at the front' being regarded by 'those in the pews' as I am perhaps more familiar with. That they offered parts of the worship in English out of hospitality to us was also moving.
Visits to museums, to sites of historical and religious interest - all fall second to my experience of worshipping God in this most Holy Land. I have been able to look to the sky above the land where the moment of the Incarnation happened - into the eyes of the Lord.