As far back as I can recall caring about anything beyond my little patch, I have cared about Israel.
When I was born, the modern state of Israel was just eight years old, a youthful nation rebuilding in their land of promise a home for an ancient people who had been scattered and persecuted for generations. They were survivors establishing a democracy and making the desert bloom while fighting off threats at every border and receiving refugees from all over the world.
Surely, I thought, this was the time, Israel was the place, these Jews were living the prophecy, They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations. (Isaiah 61:4)
In the early 1970s, a very turbulent time all over the world and for this country and in my own life, a rabbi came to my church to lead a Passover Seder on Maundy Thursday when Christians remember Jesus sharing that feast of liberation with his friends in his Last Supper. Gathered in the shadow of Christ’s struggle with mortality, recalling the biblical accounts of Exodus from Egypt and the beginning of a long sojourn in the wilderness, I daresay everyone there in that moment recognized God calling us into a journey toward freedom and justice not yet fulfilled. With so much strife and violence, at home and abroad, we were keenly aware that there was a long way left to go. There still is.
The Seder ended with joyful singing and its last prayer, a vision of the promise: L'shanah haba'ah b'Yerushalayim! Next year in Jerusalem! I heard that night a call which has stayed with me through the years, a call to reach and risk toward Jerusalem, not just a place but a way of faithfulness.
Tomorrow I leave for two weeks in Israel with a group organized by the Chicago Theological Seminary – Christians, Muslims, Jews – learning and sharing in a vision of freedom and justice where there has been so much strife and violence for so long. I know it’s a very different country than the one I romanticized as a kid and visited briefly as a young man 40 years ago, but Jerusalem, the place and the way, still calls.
Next year in Jerusalem... Amen!