Updated: May 16, 2020
I sat weeping in my chair in a room full of people. It was all I could do. Words couldn’t express the intense emotions going on in my heart. So I just sat with my head in my hands letting the tears of repentance, lament, and deep gratitude fall. All I knew was that I was sitting on holy ground.
I had spent the weekend at the Everyday Peacemaking Summit with Global Immersion. I shared space with Christian, Jewish, and Muslim brothers and sisters from the US, Mexico, Israel, and Palestine. It was an uncommon group of people. The world would tell us that we don’t belong in the same room together. The world would tell us that we are enemies and that we need to fear one another. Rather than giving into those lies, we chose to come together and learn from one another, and it was a powerful experience.
At the end of the summit, we shared in the Eucharist together. People of different backgrounds, ethnicities, and faith traditions led us in prayer and Scripture reading, and then we ate the bread and drank the wine. This symbolic act that I’ve participated in almost every Sunday for the majority of my life took on new meaning in this space. This was a picture of what Paul talks about in Ephesians 2 where he says that Christ has destroyed the barriers and the dividing walls of hostility. Christ made peace, bringing together different groups to become one new humanity (vs. 14-18). Jesus’ death wasn’t just about saving me from my sin but it was about God reconciling all people to himself and to each other.
Sitting in a picture of that reconciled community is what brought on those holy tears that held immense gratitude for the beautiful Kingdom we get to be part of and deep lament for the ways that we fail to live into it. What we see so often in our world, and even in the church, is that we continue to build up those walls that Jesus tore down. We create divisions. We fear the other. We stick with what is comfortable. And we are missing out on the Kingdom of God when we do this.
The Eucharist reminds us of our shared humanity, but it also reminds us of the cost of our restoration in the midst of a broken world. That unity with Christ and his body is made possible through Jesus laying down his life for us. And he calls us to lay down our lives for the sake of the restoration of others as well.
It would not have been enough for us to just sit in a room together at the summit and sing and talk about the Kingdom of God. That was beautiful but that was not all God had for us. There was so much more going on. All weekend we heard stories of how people are laying down their lives for the sake of others.
We heard from both Palestinians and Israelis who are courageously doing their part to establish peace and bring an end to the dehumanizing occupation that has lasted for too many decades. And we heard from US Americans who are providing humanitarian aid for the those living under occupation and encouraging their elected officials to stop funding the violence.
We heard from those in Tijuana who are supporting the migrants waiting there as they work through the trauma they’ve faced and the despair they sit with now as their hopes of being able to live in safety slowly dwindle. And we heard from those on the other side of the border who are working to advocate for policy change and to support asylum seekers who are released from detention with no more than an ankle monitor and the charge to “figure it out.”
We heard from people who are organizing peace feasts in their community and inviting people from different backgrounds and faiths to share a meal and get to know one another.
We heard from youth who are doing the difficult work of racial reconciliation in their Christian high school by creating space for students of color to share the stories of discrimination that they have faced in their classrooms.
We heard from people welcoming refugees and asylees to stay in their home and helping them get settled into their new community.
As we listened to each other’s stories, we sat with the pain of injustice. We repented as those who have been oppressed challenged us to consider how our own actions have contributed to the broken systems that threaten their lives. We asked God how he is calling us to use our own power and privilege to work against injustice and toward restoration for those who are on the underside of power.
Tearing down barrier walls is about much more than just treating people with kindness. It’s not enough to just be nice and then go back to our comfort while our brothers and sisters are suffering. We have to engage the suffering. We have to use what we have to dismantle the systems that are destroying others.
Though the summit came to an end, this is just the beginning. I am now sitting in the tension of what I am going to do differently. I am wrestling with how I have let my own desire for comfort and convenience stop me from seeing, believing, and doing something about the pain of others. If I allow that weekend to just be an experience that brought tears and made me feel good, then I have missed it altogether. The call of Jesus through the Eucharist that we participate in is to bring peace by laying down our lives for others. It is both a blessing and a challenge.
If you are interested in learning more about everyday peacemaking, check out Global Immersion. They provide immersion trips in Israel/Palestine and at the US-Mexican border as well online training resources. Also, check out their book Mending the Divides.