Benediction Online

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem

What do you think of when you think of Jerusalem?
  • Conflict
  • Jesus
  • Ancient city
  • Weeping Wall…
There are many different images – but most of us don’t immediately have Jesus’ response of wanting to gather its children under our wings!

Jerusalem has a long and violent history - a holy city for all three Abrahamic traditions, it was first settled during the Bronze Age, 6,000 years ago. Caught between powerful forces in the north and south, Jerusalem has been destroyed twice, besieged 23 times, attacked 52 times, and captured and recaptured 44 times. Part of its name comes from the same root as shalom or peace, so despite its history of conflict it has been called the City of Peace.

Jerusalem is important for Christians as the site of Jesus’ death and resurrection as well as the home of the first Christians. From 66-70 a rebellion against the Romans led to the destruction of the second Temple which was devastating for religious Jews. The conflict and the destruction and chaos it brought added to the migration of Jewish Christians throughout the known world. When the apostle Paul began to evangelize the Gentile world, he encouraged the new churches to send financial gifts to Jerusalem to support the mother church.

In the Middle Ages, the Crusades brought religious war and mayhem across Europe and the Middle East as Christian armies were sent to retrieve Jerusalem and the Holy Land from the Islamic rulers who had started to prevent Christian pilgrimages to our holy places. The plunder, slaughter and destruction carried out by the Crusaders in the name of Christianity is shocking to our modern sensibilities. Once again, Jerusalem was hardly a City of Peace.

But in Jewish and Christian imagery, peaceful Jerusalem is an image of God’s blessing. John, the writer of Revelation, saw a New Jerusalem coming down from heaven. This New Jerusalem is a wonderful description of the kingdom of God. There is no need of sun or moon because God’s light fills the whole city. A river running through the middle of it provides water for the trees of life whose leaves are for the healing of the nations. So in Christian imagining, the city of great conflict is transformed into the City of Peace and healing.

In today’s reading, I am struck by the tenderness with which Jesus views the city. He is looking ahead to the end of his bodily journey and knows that when he goes to Jerusalem he will be going to meet his death – yet he says it is fitting that he should die in “the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it.” Our Lenten journey walks us through the wilderness to the darkness of Holy Week and the via dolorosa as Jesus’ death becomes inevitable unless he allows himself to be pulled in by the sin matrix and counters violence with violence - which we know that he does not.

So Jesus is looking in his mind’s eye at the city which will see his crucifixion but instead of anger or fear he looks at it with love and compassion. Let’s hear that again, “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!

I wonder whether as the followers of Jesus, we too are called to look at Jerusalem with eyes of tenderness and compassion.

Psalm 122 tells us quite simply, “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.” It goes on, “For the sake of my brothers and friends, I will say “Peace be within you”. I wonder how it would be if there were truly peace in the City of Peace.

I want to suggest to you this morning that we are called to work for peace in that historic city. Peace in Jerusalem would mean peace between Moslem, Jew and Christian. There are many reasons for war and most of them are about scarce resources and access to power, but many of them are fuelled by religious hatred and the mis-use of Holy Scriptures. Peace in Jerusalem, real peace in Jerusalem, not just a cease-fire or an artificial separation of the three religions would mean that humanity had reached a place where religion was no longer a cause for hatred.

Let us pray and work for the peace of Jerusalem.

About eighteen months ago I was in Washington to lobby for gay rights. It was the same day as a big pro-Israeli lobby and I found myself in a long line at a security checkpoint next to some young Jewish people. They argued passionately that the information we were getting from the press was inaccurate and that guns were being smuggled into Gaza in the guise of humanitarian aid. There was no way, standing there in Washington, that we could verify their opinion - or my different one.  I don’t think we can know what is really happening in Israel and Palestine and any judgment is made more difficult by the legacy of anti-Semitism. But that need not paralyze us.

Christians are in a minority in the Holy Land. There is an Anglican diocese of Jerusalem which covers a much wider area than the city – it ministers in five countries through twenty-seven parishes – that’s a little more than half as many congregations as we have in this diocese. In addition to churches, the diocese provides education and medical care with a total of 6,400 students in its schools and 200 hospital beds.

The Diocese of Jerusalem works with Moslems, Christians and Jews. Its programs foster understanding and cooperation through its education and healthcare programs as well as participating in inter-faith dialogue and providing opportunities for Israeli and Palestinian families with children to meet and connect beyond the political differences. This Lent, Jill and I will be giving the money we save through our Lenten practice to assist people in Palestine. I invite you to consider doing the same.

Although Jesus had every reason to dread and avoid Jerusalem, he loved it and its people. I wonder where the places are in our lives that we avoid? They may be ideas and feelings that we push away or people we don’t want to see or literally places we don’t want to go. I invite you to start forgiving and praying for those places.

That is part of praying for the peace of Jerusalem. We are privileged to live in peace and to be part of a nation that wages war in other peoples’ homes and countries. Yet we contribute to war by the thoughts of anger and hatred and fear that we harbor. On a large scale, it is those feelings that lead us into war. It is those feelings that keep erecting walls between Christian and Moslem, Moslem and Jew, Israeli and Palestinian, American and Iranian.

This Lent, let us make it a practice to pray and work for the peace of Jerusalem.


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