Monday 7th July 2014
Last night I said a personal farewell to Jerusalem at the Western Wall. It is not a remnant wall of the ancient Second Temple building, but the retaining wall of the platform or esplanade on which that Temple stood. Because of its proximity to where the ancient house of God stood, Jews consider it the holiest place on earth.
Jews come to the Western Wall from all over the world to pray. Others come here and pray as well. Many people leave a written note of petition in cracks in between the stones. I made my way to the Wall and prayed for peace.
Today as I was leaving Jerusalem I was reflecting on my experience there. I remembered the words of the Psalmist, lamenting in Babylon over the destruction of the first Temple.
Lament over the Destruction of Jerusalem
1 By the rivers of Babylon—
there we sat down and there we wept
when we remembered Zion.
2 On the willows there
we hung up our harps.
3 For there our captors
asked us for songs,
and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying,
“Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
4 How could we sing the Lord’s song
in a foreign land?
5 If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
let my right hand wither!
6 Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth,
if I do not remember you,
if I do not set Jerusalem
above my highest joy.
Will I forget Jerusalem? Will I remember Jerusalem?
I will definitely remember Jerusalem, not the place, Jerusalem, but the ideal for which Jerusalem stands, the Abode of Peace.
The Gospels record Jesus lamenting over the place, Jerusalem.
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! (Matthew 23:37)
Is such a Jerusalem worth remembering?
In his turn, Jerusalem is the place where Jesus too suffered and died. Disowned by some of the Jewish leaders of that time, handed over to the Romans to be killed. Is such a Jerusalem worth remembering?
Jerusalem today continues to be a place of tension and conflict, as I have seen and heard in the last week. I have not seen the demonstrations, but they have been reported on the news. However, I have seen the greater militaruy/police presence. I have seen the sullen stares of the Palestinian populace. I have seen the sense of entitlement of the ultra Orthodox pushing their way through the population to get to the Wall. I have heard the exploding fireworks that taunt the police. I have heard the gunfire at night. Is such a Jerusalem worth remembering?
If we do not remember the suffering and those who have died needlessly, we are bound to keep on killing. But if we remember, then by the grace of God we will be moved to ensure that no one else feels that pain of losing a loved one needlessly.
But as a Christian, there is further reason for remembering Jerusalem. It is not only the place of his suffering and death. It is also the place of his resurrection!
I will remember Jerusalem, not just for the death-dealing sin which is fully exposed here, but also for the assurance of the forgiveness of sin that it reveals, for the new life that bursts from the tomb, for the hope it offers.
When we remember these things, we can transcend pain, suffering and death. We can rise above selfishness and live selflessly. This is what matters. Not the place! But the hope and the promise that it holds out, forgiveness, peace, new life, salvation.
In the encounter with the Samaritan woman we read:
21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (Jn 4:21-24)
It is not the place, Jerusalem, that matters, nor any other place, for that matter, neither Rome, nor Athens, nor Mecca, nor Medina, nor Washington, nor Santiago de Compostella!! What matters is the spirit and the truth.
But the truth of our death-dealing sin and its forgiveness is fully revealed in the paschal mystery that took place in Jerusalem. That mystery cannot be understood apart from its heritage in ancient Israel whose focus was Jerusalem. In the power of the Spirit poured out at Pentcost, the peace of salvation flows from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth. That is why I will remember Jerusalem.
For more information on the Western Wall see:
Shalom, Peace, Salaam!!!