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Monday, February 11, 2008


From Jerusalem - Ash Wednesday sermon, February 6, 2008

Here is the text of my Ash Wednesday sermon, recorded on video in Jerusalem and broadcast to three Ash Wednesday worship services at Trinity Lutheran Church in Lansdale, Pennsylvania USA:


Jesus Christ Brings Peace, Sermon for Ash Wednesday, February 6, 2008, video cast to Trinity, Lansdale from Jerusalem

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

I bring you greetings this Ash Wednesday from Jerusalem:
* Greetings from the Rev. Claire S. Burkat, Bishop of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, who is traveling with my wife, Kris, and I these days in the Holy Land,
* Greetings from the Rev. Munib Younan, Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, and
* Greetings from our newest Trinity sponsored ELCA missionaries, the Rev. and Mrs. Mark and Marcia Holman.

Kris and I are staying with the Holmans while we are here this week. Bishop Younan remembers his visit to Trinity last January so fondly and asked me to give you his special greetings.

I am preaching to you today fro the Mount of Olives and over my shoulder you can see the Lutheran Church of the Ascension, one of the possible sites for Jesus’ ascension into heaven. The Lutheran Church of the Ascension is part of the complex of the Augusta Victoria Hospital which has been serving Palestinians for nearly seventy years here in east Jerusalem, the West Bank and all of Gaza. It is the only hospital for the more than seven million Palestinians in the areas of oncology, cancer care, and kidney care, renal problems.

This is the Garden of Gethsemane. What a rare privilege it is for me to be able to preach to you from here on this holiest of days, Ash Wednesday, a day on which we begin our pilgrimage to Easter, following Jesus as he heads here to Jerusalem willingly for what will be his trial, crucifixion, death and resurrection. This week in our travel group we are walking where Jesus walked and following Jesus from his triumphal entry to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, here to the Garden of Gethsemane on Maundy Thursday, through his crucifixion on Good Friday and finally to his resurrection on Easter.

Lent is an Anglo-Saxon word that comes from the same route as “length,” since it occurs when winter days are lengthening into spring. In other languages, Lent is called “pascha” or Passiontide, from Christ’s passion, that is, Christ’s suffering.

Between Ash Wednesday and Easter there are 46 days. Usually, we speak of the 40 days of Lent. Since Jesus rose from the tomb on a Sunday, Sundays are festival days and not considered part of Lent, although they are part of the Lenten season. Thus, we end up with the 40 days of Lent. That is also why some people fast during Lent on every day but Sunday.

Why are there 40 days in Lent? No one knows for certain, but 40 has always been a special and holy number. In the early Christian church people fasted for the 40 hours from the time of Jesus’ death on Good Friday until the hour when they believed Jesus had risen early on Easter Sunday morning. We also remember the number 40 from other times in the Bible: The 40 days of rain from Noah’s time, the children of Israel wondering for 40 years in the wilderness, Moses spending 40 days and nights atop Mount Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments, Jonah waiting 40 days before prophesying at Nineveh. Jesus’ temptation comes after 40 days of fasting and there are 40 days between Jesus’ resurrection and ascension.

Lent has not always been 40 days. Early Christians marked it in many time periods: 3, 6 or 7 weeks were common. In the 4th century the Christian Church here in Jerusalem fasted for 40 days before Easter and that become the norm for Christians by the 6th century.

Ash Wednesday falls on a different date each year because the timing of Easter Sunday moves each year. Unlike a state holiday with a set date, Easter always falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon in spring. This practice dates from centuries ago so that pilgrims coming here to the Holy Land could have moonlight to guide them on their nighttime journeys. This year Ash Wednesday and Easter are nearly as early as they can fall.

Ash Wednesday gets its name from the use of the mark of the ash on a person’s forehead, an Ash Wednesday custom from the ancient Christian church, now common in Roman Catholic and most Lutheran and Episcopal congregations, among many others. This custom traces its roots to devout Jews in Old Testament times who used ashes on their foreheads as a sign of grief and mourning. The ashes used on Ash Wednesday are traditionally the ashes of last year’s palms from Palm Sunday. Pastor Eisenhart recently burned those palms to make the ashes you used in today’s service. This links one Lenten and Easter season to another. The words used with the placement of the ashes on one’s forehead are traditional, “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

We are now in the Old City on the Via Dolorosa. This is Kris’ and my third visit to the Holy Land. Each time we have been struck by both the beauty and barrenness of this place – We love the sights and the smells and, especially the people of Israel and Palestine. Each time we have been received with great hospitality and grace by our Palestinian Lutheran brothers and sisters.

And, each of our visits has also been marked for us with a “taste,” so to speak, of the difficult nature of life for Palestinian Christians here. Palestinian Christians, now just 2 or 3% of the population, often are put in a double bind – hated by some Israelis because they are Palestinian and mistrusted by some Palestinian Muslims because they are Christians. Their Christian faith gets them no breaks for life here. They are subject to all the other indignities that come with life for Palestinians in an occupied land – regular military interventions, internal checkpoints, difficulty in finding and keeping employment.

And now we are here in Bethlehem and here we cannot ignore the “separation barrier” built by the Israelis between Palestinian and Israeli territory. This barrier has reduced the incidents of suicide bombings in Israel, but it has often been built within Palestinian territory on land on which the Israelis did not have the legal right to build it. The separation barrier has divided Palestinian lands and cut off Palestinians from lands some of which have been in their families since the time of Christ. It has further isolated and even divided Palestinian villages. And, it has made day to day life for Palestinians, never easy since the occupation by Israel following the 1967 war, even more difficult.

But, even in the face of all of this, Jesus Christ who we now follow to Jerusalem as Lent begins; this Jesus Christ has the courage, the audacity, to promise us that he will bring peace. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.”

And, that is still the hope of Lent for us and for Palestinians and Israelis in 2008. Despite recent and what may seem to be continual setbacks, there is always hope for peace.

Our Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has made it clear that we stand with everyone who stands for peace here in the Holy Land. We stand for safety and security for all Israelis and Palestinians and a negotiated peace agreement that includes a shared Jerusalem as capital of two independent states, Israel and Palestine.

And that, I believe, is where Jesus Christ would also stand.

In the Gospels, Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.”

Jesus Christ can and will bring peace. Let me say that again, - Jesus Christ can and will bring peace. Such a peace is not easy as the continual conflict here in the Holy Land has well shown. But, it is, it must be, the hope and prayer for all of us, not only for us visiting here in this holiest of seasons and for all Christian people.

Jesus Christ brings peace for you and me in our daily lives and even for all the people of Israel and Palestine in 2008.

Shalom, salaam, peace.




Matthew 7:7,
Matthew 17:20,
Matthew 21:21,
Mark 11:24,
John 14:12-14,
Matthew 18:19,
James 5:15-16.

God's promises- simple and clear. God is supposed to be an all-powerful, all-knowing, perfect being. Isn't it a fact that thousands of things are impossible for us no matter how much we pray, and no one has ever moved a mountain?

I'm beginning to believe that only behavior solves problems and that prayer is no more than a form of socially accepted madness.
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