For some reason, the phrase “Shiver Me Timbers!” came to mind on the last day of our pilgrimage to Israel. Our group from Iowa and the Dakotas was spending the day outside on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, and the weather was raw. The freezing rain was steady, and many of us had umbrellas, which we shared with others. I confess that, despite dressing in layers, I was shivering, not just from the cold, but from the sense that the presence of the Holy Spirit was in this place.
The Temple Mount is one of three major sacred spaces for three world religions. It is the site of the Dome of the Rock, which was built in the late 7th century C.E. and is the oldest existing Islamic monument. The large rock inside the “Dome” is believed to be where the Prophet Muhammed was taken up into heaven.
The Temple Mount was also the center of worship and national identity for the Jews. Believed to be where Abraham intended to sacrifice his son Isaac, this spot was once the site of the Temple of Solomon (2 Chronicles 3). The large rock inside the “Dome” was once a site for sacrifices. The Western (Wailing) Wall, which is in the Old City of Jerusalem, is all that remains of the retaining wall surrounding the Temple Mount.
A third major holy site in the old city of Jerusalem is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which is the traditional place of both the crucifixion and the tomb of Jesus. The church has long been a major pilgrimage center for Christians around the world.
This was the seventh pilgrimage that Gary and I have led to the Holy Land. Each trip has been unique, but this time was unprecedented because of the necessary COVID protocols. We were all required to be tested before leaving home and upon arrival and departure and carried our vaccination cards with us. Masks were mandated except when eating, and social distancing was in effect.
Every time I travel to Israel, I see something new and different. One day we enjoyed a hike along the Wadi Qelt Gorge, which goes between Jerusalem and Jericho and is the setting of the parable of the Good Samaritan took place. This ancient 40-mile walking trail has a magnificent view of St. George’s Greek Orthodox Monastery, which was built into the cliffs of the narrow gorge in the 4th-century a.d. Some of the monks would even live in isolation in caves overlooking Wadi Qelt. Did you know that in the Greek language the word “monastery” means to “dwell alone”?
On the last day before returning home, we ended our pilgrimage by gathering in a small building near the Garden Tomb for a worship service and holy communion. Even as I was preaching, I was still shivering, my teeth were literally chattering, and my body could not quiet itself because I was so cold. The phrase, “Shiver me timbers” first received recognition in the 1950 Disney adaption of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, where Long John Silver used it to express shock and surprise (“Here’s Jim Hawkins, shiver my timbers!”).
Shiver me timbers! In a few weeks, on March 2, we will begin our annual Lenten journey toward Easter. In anticipation, God is calling you and me to make a commitment to live out our faith and make a difference in our world by “practicing” resurrection in our daily life. And how do we practice resurrection? By welcoming and walking beside all kinds of people traveling the way of spiritual formation. In fact, most of these pilgrims don’t look, talk, dress, act, believe, or think exactly like you and me.
Remember, it was women, those who had no status in society, who arrived at the tomb first. One of them was Mary Magdalene, the most marginal of the women, who appears in all four gospel accounts of the resurrection. All we’re told about Mary Magdalene before she met Jesus is that she was possessed by seven devils and had been delivered. Sometimes those on the edge of respectability experience resurrection first and show us the way.
Other times, it is you and I who are called to invite others to follow Jesus in our Lenten journey. That’s ultimately what forgiveness is about, isn’t it? The one thing I’ve heard over and over from people in the churches I’ve served is that forgiveness is a process, and it is very hard work. But when we forgive, we practice resurrection. We not only offer resurrection and new life to others, but by forgiving, we experience resurrection ourselves. You and I practice resurrection by reaching out to all people who are shivering and yearning to know Christ’s love.
Do you, too, want to practice resurrection? Then, shiver me timbers, let go of control! Funny thing about resurrection: it always takes us totally unaware. We can’t control resurrection, and we can’t make it happen. We can only be open to resurrection, wonder, and be amazed. Unfortunately, all too often, we try to control God and attempt to enlist God as our valued and trustworthy assistant as we change the world. We ask God to help us in our work, so we try to orchestrate resurrection ourselves, rather than ask if we can help God in God’s work of birthing new life.
In his poem, Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front, Wendell Berry captures the unpredictability of resurrection. He says, “So, friends, every day do something that won’t compute. Love the Lord. Love the world. Work for nothing. Take all that you have and be poor. Love someone who does not deserve it…Practice resurrection.”
Do you, too, want to practice resurrection? Then quietly live and share your faith every day at ordinary times, in ordinary ways, in ordinary places, with ordinary people. What happened when the women saw the empty tomb? They told the disciples and all the rest. If they hadn’t, it would have been all over. The resurrection would have meant nothing if it had not been communicated. To whom are you telling the story? Who are you encouraging in their spiritual walk? Who are you inviting to experience new life in Christ?
We don’t have to wait until Lent or Easter to practice resurrection. We don’t have to go away to conferences or retreat centers to practice resurrection. We don’t even need to go to the Holy Land, although it can be life-changing. Nor do we have to take classes or earn degrees to live out our faith. We practice resurrection in the daily living of our home, church, school, and workplace. Shiver me timbers. Resurrection happens wherever we are!