This past Sunday marked Easter in Ukraine, the land where I get to celebrate many holidays twice.
I celebrated the Easter of our western calendar at a sunrise service in Jerusalem at the Garden Tomb with brothers and sisters from around the world, and I joined with my church family in Kyiv for Orthodox Easter rejoicing again that Christ is risen. He is risen indeed!
Many have asked me about my trip to Israel and in some regards I have been reluctant to speak about it, not having time to fully process.
Maybe it was the expectations of a lifetimeâ€™s desire to visit this country, or maybe itâ€™s because I was with a colleague and not traveling with a close friend, or maybe still it stems from having to deal with visa matters, but Israel wasnâ€™t what I envisioned and I even found myself questioning if I could possibly be a good Christian for not falling in love with the Holy Land.
So Iâ€™ve done a lot of thinking the past couple of days, and will likely continue to muddle through my densely populated thoughts while finishing out a busy ministry semester.
Walking the dusty streets of Jerusalem, climbing hills and exploring, I felt a myriad of emotions. At times the underlying tensions were palpable, at other times I found myself near tears, and still other moments I found myself in wonder at the beauty and history of the land.
Somewhere in my subconscious I think I expected to have some exceptional experience in Israel â€“ to hear the voice of God or some divine encounter that would forever change my life or something. Instead I found myself homesick for Ukraine and desiring to be back among the country I love so dearly.
And in that unexpected way I find that I did actually encounter God.
I am grateful for the opportunity to walk the streets of Jerusalem and other places in Israel and to see the beloved country. I feel honored to have stood at the Western Wall and prayed for the peace of Jerusalem and the salvation of the Jews. It was humbling to try and take in thousands of years of history in a handful of days.
These are the things that were clear to me from my visit to the Holy Land:
- Whether one holds that Christ was crucified and buried at what is now the Church of the Holy Sepulcher or the Garden Tomb or somewhere else, He isnâ€™t in the tomb anymore. He is risen. He is alive. Because of this we donâ€™t have to travel to a special place, touch a certain sight or pray a certain line of liturgy to be close to Christ. Thank God!
- Israel is a special place and the people are Godâ€™s chosen and I desire for her inhabitants to come to know the salvation of Christ not just a religion of ancestors.
- Israel is not my home. Ukraine is. And I am so glad to be back home.