Trip to Jerusalem

It’s a pub in Nottingham, at the foot of the cliff under the castle. The story is that the pub got its name in 1189 because it was founded at the time Richard I (‘Lionheart’) came to the throne, who was active in the crusades to claim Jerusalem for the Christians. Despite living in Nottingham from 1976 until 1988, it’s not a pub I ever went to so I can’t tell you anything about its facilities, its atmosphere or its beer. But I can tell you that in January this year, Susan and I went with about 30 others from Derbyshire on our own trip to Jerusalem with altogether more peaceable intentions than those of Richard and his mates. The weather was cold and sunny, the company congenial, and the food middle-Eastern—that is to say, healthy and toothsome. All the holy sites have been so built-on over the centuries that its difficult to imagine them as they might have been. There comes a point when an alleged site and an archaeological dig becomes just another a pile of rubble in a field. But we saw the steps that Jesus was dragged up for torturing. ‘Terribly sad story that’, as (Lord) R A Butler said of the St John Passion. The site of Calvary, the church of the Holy Sepulchre, is shared by Catholics, Coptics, Orthodox and Armenians. It’s good to be reminded that English churches are just a minor part of Christianity. Sunday morning at the Anglican Cathedral was lovely: service in Arabic, with hymns, prayers and responses by them in Arabic and by us simultaneously in English: a glorious babble. Why do we so often insist on reverent silence in our churches?

We also had a few days in Galilee. It’s very beautiful. Green and hilly, like round here, but on a bigger scale. Why would an itinerant speaker like Jesus draw such crowds? A prophet? A subversive? A healer— yes, that’s it, surely—people would flock to a healer. We stood in the ruined synagogue in Capernaum, where the paralysed man was healed. We sang in the warm acoustic of the church over St Peter’s house, and celebrated Mass by the sea of Galilee.

There were some disturbing sights. The 9-metre high concrete so-called ‘peace wall’ separating members of the same family, separating Palestinians from their means of earning a livelihood. The new road that Palestinians may not use, but that they can see tunnelling under their city. Unemployment. Water and power only 3 days week in Palestinian settlements like Bethlehem, Bethany and Jericho. The prosperity of the Jewish settlements. Old Testament prophets bewail the plight of the oppressed: well, think about the Palestinians of today. I was reminded of the recent history of South Africa. In the midst of this, I met the holiest woman I have ever seen: Alice Sahar whose family runs homes for abused, tortured and abandoned children in Bethany, the town of the risen Lazarus.

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