Holy Land Pilgrimage 2019 – 9th November – by Michael Crawford
Our first morning in Jerusalem and we woke up to amazing views over the city from our roof top terraces – it was clear that this would be a blessed day.
Awoken by the Adhan recited by the Mu’azzin – the Muslim call to prayer and also to hear the bells of the angelus and the crow of the cockerel – evidence of the spiritual and environmental balance at work in this Holy City.
We heard the sad news from back home that there was a death amongst the Oakhall football community, the Christ Church East Greenwich FC opponents for this weekend, which meant the postponement of the match. However, this made our activity at our first visit of the day even more relevant as we arrived at the Pool of Bethesda where Jesus healed a man who had been ill for thirty-eight years. We had a time of prayer and laying on of hands for healing. We felt the healing powers of His hand as we prayed in this Holy place.
We walked through a beautiful and peaceful garden into the chapel beside St Anne’s Church for Holy Communion. During the prayers, we placed the prayer cards that we brought from our church community and prayed for people by name. We concentrated our prayers on healing for those people and situations and also for the healing of our community, our country and the world. It was important to many of us on this pilgrimage that we were able to be make these prayers on behalf of our church community and bring those we left behind with us on this pilgrimage.
We were then encouraged to ‘strip away’, ‘fast’ as it were, of all electronic devices and to humble our hearts as we embarked on the journey of following in the footsteps of our Lord and saviour Jesus Christ as we walked and prayed the stations of the Cross along the Via Dolorosa.
‘We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you, because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world’.
Taking each step as we followed the journey of Jesus from the place of being condemned to death, being given the cross, falling, meeting his Mother, being helped by Simon of Cyrene, having His face wiped by Veronica. These first six stations drew us into the journey and at each station we were able to kneel, to read, to pray and sing. It was profound, humbling and yet joyous.
Stations 7 to 14 were very different. Around the corner were mobs and throngs of pilgrims and local people trying to go in both directions crammed into the narrow streets which were already lined with market stalls. It felt chaotic, even manic, uncomfortable, hot, a real struggle, and then a real melee at the entrance to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. There was no way round and no way out. Some asked ‘what is the point?’ But, our response was very different from the response we had as newbie pilgrims on day one – we realised that this must have been what it was like at the time of Jesus’ own journey and, in a strange and powerful way, this made it more profound. As we saw people helping one another and as we reflected on being helped and helping others, we were reminded of Jesus’ concern for others all through this journey. The struggle of this journey for us through the crowds was a reflection on the struggles of life. As a group, we shared a powerful sense of gratitude for Jesus and for one another. We took a step at a time, we continued to sing, we stayed together in prayer.
We made our way to the Armenian Quarter through quieter streets remembering the able to unwind a bit & shared a fabulous lunch in the Armenian Quarter and on our way to meet our coach we stumbled across ‘Christ Church’ which is the only Anglican Church in the old city of Jerusalem.
The coach took us outside of the walled city and to visit Bethany where we toured the church and tomb of Lazarus where we were reminded of the encounters Jesus had with Martha, Mary and Lazarus. We went down into a stone chapel under the building and learnt to appreciate some more about the caves – ‘the heart of something carved out of the earth’ – caves give us a sense of safety and security within the ‘the heart of God’.
Today we were able to ‘behold the Man’ (Ecce Homo is the name of our convent guest house) and were reminded that as we see Him so He sees us.