Where it all began
Jerusalem (along with nearby Bethlehem where we spent 4 days & nights) certainly has a claim to being the place where our Christian faith, and our Jewish heritage, all began. Within the disorientating, yet compelling, Church of the Holy Sepulchre can be found the traditional sites of creation, crucifixion and resurrection. Quite a claim!
Wandering the ancient, crowded streets of the Old City it is not difficult to feel you are walking in the very footsteps of Jesus, as the Via Dolorosa invites pilgrims to do. The ground level may be about 40 feet higher now than it was in the 1st Century but surely the climate, the aromas, the bustle, the ubiquitous flights of steps are much the same?
I was intrigued by this 13th Century map which showed Jerusalem as the centre and meeting place of three continents.
In many ways it is now the meeting place of the world – on Palm Sunday we were part of a procession of 10,000 Christians from every tribe and nation (or so it felt ) joyfully making our way from Bethphage into the city, just as Jesus did at the start of the first Holy Week. Many come to express solidarity with Palestinian Christians, a decreasing and pressurised community. (A moving experience, impossible to capture on camera!)
To be there in Holy Week was awe-inspiring (if crowded!; we were also there during Pesach (Passover) and witnessed the remarkable sight of 100,000 Jews from all over the world gathered at the Western Wall on Thursday for the Priestly Blessing.
In Bethlehem the previous Friday we happened to be in Manger Square during Islamic Friday Prayers – yet another vast crowd of faithful people were assembled, listening in devout silence to amplified preaching from the mosque.
If Jerusalem was once the meeting point of three continents it is now the meeting point of three faiths. That causes tensions. We were glad to spend some time with Rev. Kristen Brown of the United Methodist Church, USA, and Rev. John Howard, from the British Methodist Church who are based at the Methodist Liaison Office in Jerusalem; they give of themselves unsparingly in seeking to build peaceful community amidst the tension.
Where and when and how the situation in the Middle East will end is an unanswerable question – and an ongoing prayer. “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem” (Psalm 122:6). Jill