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William Blake, the great 18th century poet who never in all his life visited the Holy Land, left us a great legacy of poetry about Jerusalem. His Jerusalem was the place of his continual journey into self, into the deepest and most marvelous labyrinths of imagination. For Blake, Jesus was "God's Imagination."
Whatever God speaks, becomes. God spoke the Word in creation and all things were created and all things were good. And everything that was ever created or ever will be created spun out of the heart of Jerusalem. A simple urn marks that spot, an urn set into the floor outside of the monument built over the tomb of Christ. Into this urn, so it is said, at the end of time when Christ comes again on the Mount of Olives to enter the Golden Gate in Jerusalem's wall, everything will fall and be gathered back to God. In a mystical sort of way that urn represents for me the scientist's "Black Hole."
As we consider the history of Jerusalem and its present political situation we need to be humble enough to know that this is God's holy city, that it belongs to no one, yet to everyone.
Every conquering king, every destroying army has in its time also been conquered and destroyed -- and Jerusalem has been conquered in recorded history no less than 34 times. Yet it has been sustained by God's Grace for a peculiar destiny. Its walls have gone in and out; its buildings have been built, destroyed and rebuilt. It is the same Jerusalem known by King Solomon yet it is different.
The city sits across three valleys -- the Kidron, the Hinnom and the Tyropean which if drawn down as geography on a piece of paper form the letter SHIN in the Hebrew alphabet which word in itself in origin means "nurturing breast." So Jerusalem is the mother of us all.
It is a city of amazing contrasts, blistering hot in summer, freezing cold in winter, of gentle religious faith and fanatical religious extremism; of wonderful acts of conciliation and reconciliation and terrible acts of violence and brutality. Yet it is so, for Jerusalem is the city in which all opposites constellate, where the darkness of sin and ignorance melt with the glorious light of the Risen Christ. It is the place where Christ continues to pray "Father forgive them, they don't know what they do."
Ignorance is the greatest sin, the sun that called forth Christ's first compassionate word from the cross. It is the place of darkest hopelessness for some and the place of brightest hopes for others.
My wife, Anne, and I live there at St. George's College which is an Anglican center for continuing Christian education study and fieldwork.
One Saturday afternoon not long ago I was walking through the beautiful biblical garden, which is part of our close, when I ran across a young couple sitting on a bench in the Peace Garden. I stopped and spoke with them. They told they were Israelis -- both were in their early to mid twenties in age. I said, "My name is John; I live here." They gave me their names, Yitzak and Miriam and said they had set out for a walk and suddenly, without realizing it, for they seemed very much in love and no doubt had many beautiful things to say to each other, found themselves in Nablus Road, East Jerusalem. They saw the gate leading into the St. George's Cathedral, entered and walked through the close to where I found them sitting. They told me they were frightened. They were Jews from West Jerusalem. I asked them why they were frightened and they said "because of the Terrorists."
I asked them "what terrorists?"
They said, "listen!" I listened and I heard a crowd roar.
"There," said Miriam.
I said, "would you like to see the terrorists?"
"Oh no," they cried.
"Well" said I, "come with me."
Still frightened they got up from their bench. I took them both by the hand and led them to the rear of the College and pointing next door through the chain wire fence said to them, "There are the terrorists."
A look of sheer wonder broke over their faces as they looked through the fence to the soccer football field and at the crowd of several hundred spectators. These were two Palestinian soccer teams playing a semifinal match.
I said to Yitzak and Miriam, "Do you think some of those young people about your age are afraid to walk across the city to West Jerusalem."
"Why?" asked Yitzak.
"Because of the terrorists there."
"But," he said "there are no..."
"Exactly," I replied.
I took them into the College building and showed them around the library and lecture room and chapel and then into the Cathedral. I walked them around without any commentary, only to answer their questions about many things; things like the total immersion font which they recognized as a Jewish Mikvah, a ritual bath. So we talked about Baptism and the Holy Spirit of God's new life in Christ. I took them up into the choir and pointed to the Biblical names carved into the choir stalls and then into the Sanctuary to discover the Great Biblical sites -- Carmel, Gerizim.
And they asked, "Why?" What has this got to do with your Christian -- what do you call it -- yes Christianity. "And what is the table for?" "The common meal which is the agreed point of encounter between the Christian worshipper and God incarnate in the bread and wine of a common meal."
In all we spent about an hour together and I walked with them down Salahadeen Street and up towards the New Gate of the Old City. As I walked back to the College I reflected on Jesus' words "Father forgive..." "Father, don't be too hard on them, they simply do not know. No one has ever told them about the glorious liberty of Christ's resurrected life."
It suits ideologues of every climate to tell people half-truths, to sustain wrong impressions for political reasons and to perpetuate that awesome dreadful spiral of violence.
Everything, anything we can do to promote peace we must do!
The future of Jerusalem sometimes looks pretty grim, like the Sunday morning while we were at prayer we heard the awful dull rumble of a bus blowing up or like the day when on our way back from Hebron the back window of our vehicle was smashed in by a rock. Or like the night Prime Minister Rabin was assassinated. These and many other acts of insanity grow out of a collective madness coupled to an intensely personal frustrating anger. They are the left hand of madness.
But it is not all madness. It is not all oppression and darkness. There are people of goodwill in Christian, Jewish and Moslem camps prepared to share a common humanity in the cause of peaceful solutions to the centuries old conflicts. There are people, many young people who want nothing of the wars and divisions of their fathers and mothers; many who want no further remembrance of the inhumanities of the modern age which, thank God, has almost passed.
Noble peace prizes, diplomacy, summits and peace accords play a vital part in the process towards the peace of Jerusalem and the Middle East, but it is encounters with the Yitzak's and Miriams, the Assams and Fadwas of Jerusalem that will bring together to sit down in the Kingdom.
Sadly there are lunatics, mad men and fanatics in every camp there in the Middle East as there are in Bosnia, Ireland, Rwanda and even Tasmania, Australia.
When I was a little boy I used to be taken on Anzac Day, Australia's National Day of remembrance and commemoration of those who gave their lives in war for the cause of freedom. Every year my mother and my grandparents would take me to the war cemetery where my father lay buried. There was always the same ritual ceremony conducted by a minister at the great stone of Remembrance, an altarlike slab with a bronze sword embedded in a stone cross behind it. I remember some men would make speeches, a bugler or trumpeter would play the Last Post and Reveille. People would lay wreaths of flowers at the shrine. Men wore their medals; men and women were wet eyed as they remembered brave deeds of dead husbands, fathers, sons and brothers. It was always a most moving day and it is still.
Inside the main gate of the cemetery, not far from the Stone of Sacrifice, was a curious building -- a marble Mausoleum about fifteen feet long, about eight feet wide and some ten to twelve feet high. It was built in classical Greek style with stained glass infil between delicate columns. It was open to the front though guarded by a wrought iron gate. Inside was a frieze running all around about three and a half feet from the floor. On the frieze was a series of marble plaques with inscriptions leaded in.
These plaques read:
In memory of Fred my son aged twenty killed at Galipoli, April 14, 1915.
In memory of Joseph my son aged twenty-two killed at Ypres, France.
In memory of dear son Peter died of wounds in Flanders.
In memory of my son Charles killed at Paschendale.
In memory of my eldest son George missing in action in France, 1917.
In the center of that mausoleum was a raised catafalque on top of which was a bronze statuette of a little dog. Below the statue was an inscription: To Bobby, maliciously poisoned.
Carved into the cold marble above the windows were these terrifying words: ALL MY HOPE LIES BURIED HERE.
As a boy I used to stand clutching the wrought iron gate and weep! How I wept! Not for the father I had never known; not for the thousands of young men who like my father lay under a simple marble headstone with a bunch of red poppies and white chrysanthemums, not for the grieving wives or mothers but for a little dog. That little dog became the focus for everything I could not understand; a God who seemed not to care about suffering or loss; a whole generation of disadvantaged children; and the wicked waste of human life -- of so many things, of so much sadness, of so much collective madness.
All my hope lies buried here!
Modernity -- the Good Friday -- Holy Saturday of this world's history.
Jerusalem's empty Tomb in the end saves us all that. But who will tell the story?
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