Greetings from Jerusalem!
Our group of pilgrims from Chiswick and Bristol arrived in Jerusalem late on Monday night. We are staying in an Arab Christian hotel overlooking the old city walls. On Tuesday we were up bright and early for a marvellous tour of places outside the walls. Starting at the Dome of the Ascension, we walked down the Mount of Olives, along the route that Jesus took on Palm Sunday, stopping for prayer and reflection at several churches and spending time in the Garden of Gethsemane.
We travelled on to the ‘Church of the Cockcrow’, reminding us of Peter’s three-fold denial of Jesus. Many believe this to be the site of Caiaphas’ house, where Jesus was imprisoned in an underground dungeon. We then travelled on again to the western side of Jerusalem, which is traditionally associated with the home of Zachariah and Elizabeth, where Mary sang the Magnificat. We finished our travels for that day at the village of Emmaus, where the risen Jesus was said to have had a meal with two of his disciples after the Resurrection.
We are now looking forward to spending Wednesday visiting sites within the Old City walls, including walking the Via Dolorosa, visiting the Upper Room and the Western (‘Wailing’) Wall.
As we journey on we pray for all those whom we have left behind, including the parishioners of St Nick’s, and ask that you pray for us too.
With every blessing
There was a wonderful moment at 11 o’clock on Remembrance Sunday as our bugler started playing the last post; standing outside the west wall of church by the war memorial we could clearly hear the sound of the guns in Horse Guards firing a salute as part of the ceremonies at the Cenotaph in Whitehall. The noise of distant artillery fire seemed a very fitting accompaniment to a commemoration of the end of the First World War.
It may now be a century since the armistice, but that did not mark the end of people’s suffering and sadness. Many must have had a similar experience to the artist Stanley Spencer, who returned safely to Britain in December 1918 after serving in the Balkans and rejoiced at getting back home, only to learn his elder brother Sydney had been killed in September. And of course the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918-20 saw further millions die.
Fortunately we have not seen any more outbreaks of disease like that since then; but we are very much at risk of making the same mistakes which ensured the peace settlement after the Great War was a failure. French politicians demanded terms of revenge, some in Germany created the claim that they had been “stabbed in the back”. Everyone was out for their own short-term interests, and not only did the results lead to war again just over 20 years later, but some of the suffering in places like the Middle East today is directly due to decisions taken then.
When Jesus met people he listened to them. Again and again the Gospels show how he got to the heart of people’s true concerns when he engaged with them. If we don’t listen to the people we disagree with and try to understand their concerns, we risk losing sight of the fact that they too are children of God, our brothers and sisters, even if they did vote on the opposite side of Brexit to us or for a different US president than we might have preferred. Treating people as different, the other, the enemy is on the way towards dehumanising them. It also means we are in danger of losing the ability to distinguish truth from lies because we listen out for what we want to hear rather than what we need to hear.
So let’s not lock ourselves up in little groups of like-minded people and define ourselves by who we don’t like. The history of continental Europe between the wars shows where that leads. True peace on earth will come from listening and showing respect for our fellow creatures of God. As we start looking towards Advent and the birth of the Prince of Peace, let’s remember that what we have in common is greater than what separates us.