“The Immensity of the Gospel”
Elena Delhagen, Master of Divinity ‘24
As a third-year student in the M.Div program with a strong interest in the Jewish roots of the Christian faith, I jumped at the chance to go to the Holy Land. I was especially excited the course was being offered for credit because I wanted to learn as much as I could about the land. There is so much depth and richness in my spiritual life that was gained from walking in places where Jesus himself very likely walked. It helped me connect on a deeper level with his humanity and made me remember all the how more how important an incarnational faith is–how my God is a God who had meat and bones and probably had sore feet like I did after all the walking, who got hungry and tired on the long hikes like I did, who met fascinating people and talked and laughed with them just like I did on this journey. Jesus the man came more alive than ever to me during this trip in such an embodied, tactile, tangible, accessible way.
Yet perhaps the most life-changing thing this journey did was remind me of how vast God’s saving mercies truly are. Two particular instances of such remembrances come to mind. The first was when we visited Caesarea Maritima and heard the story of Peter and Cornelius from Acts 10. In verse 34, Peter begins to preach the Good News to the Gentiles, speaking the truth (which he had now experienced himself) that “God shows no partiality.” He goes on to say that “in every people, anyone who fears him and practices righteousness is acceptable to him” (Acts 10:35. Then, it is there that the Gentiles were baptized by the Holy Spirit, and Acts 10:45 says that “the circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles."
Hearing these verses of scripture read aloud to me in the very place where they occurred moved me in an amazing way. It made me think of all the groups of people that modern Christians categorize as “others,” acting as if people’s differences render them prohibited from the power of the Gospel. Too often, we are just like Peter, calling profane what God has already made clean (Acts 10:15). Yet the Gospel is for all people, and it stretches far wider than any box we may construct to try and contain it. The beloved community of God is made up of those from all races and ethnicities, all ages and genders, all socioeconomic classes, all sexualities, “all tribes and peoples and languages” (Rev. 7:9). The Gospel is so much bigger than we give it credit for!
The second instance that solidified this for me was when we took Communion together on the Mount of Beatitudes. I was moved to tears that day by the beauty of what our gathering represented. We were a group of over 40 people with homelands literally all around the world. We were from all ages and stages of life, and every single one of us came to the table of the Lord, simply because we were hungry and desired to be filled by God. It was a gorgeous depiction of what the kingdom of God is supposed to look like, yet I was also crying because today’s depictions of Christianity have diverged from this vision in many ways. We argue about what elements are appropriate, about who is actually “allowed” to partake of Communion, and all the while, Jesus is calling to us, “Come! I’ve prepared a place for you, and my welcome is wide — bring everyone!”
Our time on the Mount of Beatitudes gave me what I believe is a prophetic message for God’s Church today. It helped me reflect on and repent of all the ways I have not practiced inclusivity in my own theology, and it reignited a passion in me to preach God’s immense, wide-reaching welcome of saving mercy to everyone willing to hear it. I left the Holy Land with a revitalization not only in my own personal faith but also in my sense of mission for my pastoral call. I will bring these lessons with me into every sermon I preach, every time I preside over Communion, and every time I practice inclusion and radical hospitality. I owe Northeastern Seminary, the instructors and guides, and every single person I met in Israel and Palestine a world of gratitude, for this journey has indeed changed me forever.
Elena is a Master of Divinity student graduating in May 2024. She is in the process of ordination within the PCUSA denomination and plans to go into pastoral ministry. Elena is a mama to one child through birth, one child I adopted, and two four-legged furbabies. She is an immigrant, seminarian, former ex-pat and self-professed coffee snob, ice cream enthusiast, idealist, loud laugher, Enneagram 1w2, and chronic over-sharer. You can read more of her writings on her blog here or in her book, Until the Bones Shine available on Amazon.