Lutheran leaders deliver Holy Land Sermon on Ash Wednesday   2008/02/06
By: Sarah Larson of The Intelligencer

Two local Lutheran leaders are marking the start of the season preceding Easter in the Holy Land, and the power of the Internet will allow them to share the experience with parishioners back home.


Rev. Eric Shafer, senior pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church in Lansdale, and Rev. Claire S. Burkat, bishop of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, are visiting the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land this week.


Shafer is expected to use Google video to deliver today's Ash Wednesday sermon to his home congregation in Lansdale.


“I convinced Trinity to add a third Ash Wednesday service [7 a.m.] in addition to our noon and 7:30 p.m. services and then couldn't very well say "Sorry I will be out of the country that day!” joked Shafer, in an e-mail from Jerusalem. “Seriously, I thought it would be thrilling to preach at Trinity from Jerusalem. It is also another way to show our support for the [Lutheran church in the Holy Land] and their ministries in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Amman.”


Shafer has known Munib Younan, bishop of the Palestinian Lutherans, for years, he said. There are only about 2,000 Palestinian Lutherans living in the Holy Land today, Shafer said, noting that the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land is the only Lutheran church in Israel, Palestine and Jordan.


The Lansdale church supports the Palestinian church in many ways, Shafer said, including the private kindergarten through 12th grade Lutheran School of Hope in Ramallah, in the West Bank, and the Augusta Victoria Hospital, on the Mt. of Olives, which serves Palestinians.


Shafer's 10-minute sermon was filmed at various locations in the Holy Land.


Shafer starts out on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, then moves to the Garden of Gethsemane at the mountain's foot, where Christians believe Jesus prayed and was arrested before his crucifixion.


In the second half of the sermon, Shafer takes viewers to the Old City section of Jerusalem and the wall in Bethlehem separating Palestinian and Israeli territory, where he highlights the “difficult nature of life here for Palestinian Christians,” who constitute little more than 2 percent of the Palestinian population.


Filming today's sermon while standing on such holy sites was “wonderful,” Shafer said.


His sermon finishes by hoping for peace among all in the Middle East.


“That is still the hope for 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,” Shafer says.


He finished his sermon with “Shalom. Salaam. Peace. Amen.”

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