Standing within the gates: the power of place

As you may recall, one of the things I have been thinking about whilst I am in Jerusalem is the power of place. One of the reason many pilgrims come to the Holy Land is in order to walk in the footsteps of Jesus. We did some of this yesterday as we left the classrooms of Yad Vashem – the Holocaust Museum where I am currently doing a course  – and headed for the Sea of Galilee. It was good to have a change of scene and to visit some of the sites which commemorate events in the life of Jesus.

Church of the Beatitudes which marks the traditional site of the Sermon on the Mount.

Church of the Beatitudes which marks the traditional site of the Sermon on the Mount.

The ruins of Peter's house at Capernaum which has a modern church hovering above it.

The ruins of Peter’s house at Capernaum, where early Christians met to worship and which has a modern church hovering above it.

One of the many mosaics at the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth.

One of the many mosaics at the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth.

I also enjoyed spending some time reflecting by the shore of the Lake:

It was very welcome to have my feet in the water as it was about 36 degrees!

My feet in the Sea of Galilee. It was delightful to have my feet in the water as it was about 36 degrees in the north!

It can be powerful to visit these places and it was moving to be involved in the Communion service in Jerusalem today within a stones throw of the events we were remembering as we took the bread and wine.

It is true that the certainty of some of the locations is questioned: the feeding of the 5,000 probably happened in the area of Tabgha, but not necessarily on the site of the Church of the Multiplication where the miracle is commemorated however few would doubt that the Church of the Resurrection is on the site of Golgotha. Nevertheless, there can be a powerful sense of place because of history, because of landscape, because of geography, because of generations of worship in a place.

Crusader graffiti in the Church of the Resurrection.

Crusader graffiti in the Church of the Resurrection.

One of the things I have found interesting whilst I have been here is the range of responses that people have given me to what it means to be disciples of Jesus who are living in Jerusalem, the land where their Lord lived and died. The Arab Israeli Christians I have spoken with have talked about how they are descendants of the earliest Christians and how they understand the stories Jesus told because they come from the same soil as he did. In contrast, the Jewish believers have spoken more of the responsibility of living in the Land and of their calling to wake those who are asleep before Jesus comes again to Jerusalem. In part for political reasons, the power of this place for Arab Israeli Christians largely lies in their historic connections to the Land and for Jewish believers it lies more in their future hopes for the New Jerusalem.

One of the paradoxes of our faith is that we believe that when God came and dwelt amongst us, he came to a particular place at a particular time. He was born as a baby in Bethlehem which is a real place; he grew up in Nazareth where I was yesterday; he walked up to the north of Galilee and down south to Jericho; he made his final journey from the Mount of Olives to a cross outside the city walls of Jerusalem; he rose again from a tomb where we can go on pilgrimage. However, these events which took place in an obscure part of the world 2,000 years ago have an impact on all time and all places and all people.

view west from Citadel

View of the Old City looking east to the Mount of Olives from the Citadel at Jaffa Gate.

Jesus was a Jew who lived in this Land but he can transform our lives in Hampshire today. This morning we read the story of Blind Bartimaeus from Mark 10: Bartimaeus’ life was completely transformed by his encounter with Jesus on the road to Jerusalem, receiving both physical sight and spiritual revelation. Jesus was with you when you met to worship him today in the Itchen Valley; I pray that you saw him too so you can follow him where he leads you. 

Prayers:
I am giving thanks for the privilege of being in this place and for the people I have met.
I am praying for wisdom as I reflect on what I am learning and for ears to hear what God is saying to me.

 

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