Holy Land Pilgrimage 2019 – 10th November – by Michael John
Sunday in Jerusalem
5:30am. Wow that is early! That was the time that some of our pilgrims woke up to get ready to walk to The Church of The Holy Sepulchre.
The church is built on the site of the last stations of the cross: where Jesus was crucified, anointed, buried in the place known as The Skull, and then rose again. It was a real treat to be in such a special place while it’s used for worship, and our pilgrims immersed themselves into experiencing the varied liturgies of different traditions. These included the Ethiopian chapel (where a baptism was taking place) and Armenian and Orthodox services. Some of us touched the various stones that mark where it is believed the cross stood, and where his body was anointed. The was a huge queue to walk down to the cave itself where he lay, too long for us today unfortunately. For some this visit was very profound, for others it was harder to connect to kissing or touching stones as a truly spiritual experience.
Not all of us were early-birds – some of us who had enjoyed a few drinks in a local bar evening before (at £8 a pint!) had slept in. After the group had fully reconvened for breakfast, we headed to St George’s Anglican Cathedral for a beautiful morning service with a passionate sermon by Archbishop Dawani.
He spoke about the work of the church in Israel in running fifteen schools (7000 children!) plus hospitals. He described how this was an opportunity to demonstrate the love of God through us while in a complex country where it can be hard to evangelise. He challenged us from Paul’s letter to the Romans to ‘offer our bodies as a living sacrifice’, giving true worship through love in action, not just words and songs. This was highly reminiscent of the words of St. Francis to “preach the gospel, and, if you must, use words”. Love is what we ARE and love is what we DO.
He reminded us that every day we can be transformed by the ‘renewing of our minds’ – experiencing a completely different way of seeing reality, as we start looking at the world through the eyes and presence of the Holy Spirit. This is the discovery of our ‘true selves’ which lies behind the false mask of our ego-dominated nature. It is the narrow path leads to the abundant life that Jesus offers us every day. Can we accept this invitation to discover this life? Can we live in contemplation and meditation where we can experience the inner aliveness in every present moment? The apostle Paul admonishes is to ‘pray without ceasing’.
Following the service was an informative talk by the Dean on the work of the diocese, relations with other denominations, and interfaith dialogue. There was an opportunity to ask questions and get a real insight into life here, the challenges, and the need for our prayer and financial support.
After a delicious lunch in the cathedral grounds, the group split and some of us who went with Father John Francis were treated to an impromptu visit to the former Dominican friary which is now a French archaeological institute. The church inside has wonderful pictures of saints, great atmosphere and exceptional acoustics. As some of us rested back at our convent lodgings, a few of us wandered the old city, soaking up the sights and sounds of the markets and streets.
Rev. Margaret led the other group out of the city to Yad Vashem, the holocaust museum to commentate the millions of Jews who lost their lives to the Nazi genocide during the Second World War. Our pilgrims were stunned by the triangular prism shaped architecture, and how this took you through the story of the events that took place. A deeply affecting and moving experience. Many were struck by how some of the church stood by at the time, or had even encouraged anti-semitism. This was a reminder of the very current threat of populism in the world today, and where this can even eventually lead. Also, the danger of stoking fear of the ‘other’ and scape-goating those different to ourselves. The striking displays were a visceral reminder of the human tragedy caused by dehumanising our fellow man or woman, if we refuse to acknowledge the image of God that is imprinted in all people. In particular, many of us were overwhelmed by the hall of the names of the millions of victims with unaccounted graves.
We returned to the convent, and before dinner a few of the previous evening’s ‘night owls’ had the chance to miss most of the heavy crowds for a late visit to the Holy Sepulchre. The group were all reunited for a lovely meal while reflecting on another incredible and packed day in The Holy City. Such an early start needed an early night, and most of us were keen for bed soon after!