I bring you greetings of Peace -- Shalom -- Salaam from Jerusalem the city of the Empty Tomb where I live, at St. George's College, a center for continuing education for the Anglican Communion which serves the local and international church.
My wife, Anne, and I came to live in the Holy City by a remarkable insight on the part of our three-year-old granddaughter, Sophie Victoria Cate Allan. And it happened this way.
I was Bishop of Geelong in Victoria, Australia, settled and happy in my episcopal duties in a delightful part of God's vineyard, "Down Under," with no thought of doing anything else in my life except being Bishop of Geelong in the Archdiocese of Melbourne.
One day in August 1994 -- it was a Tuesday morning -- I was at work in my study when a fax came through from the Australian Board of Missions asking if I would consider going to Jerusalem as Chaplain to the College. I was not at all sure what this meant. Anne and I talked about it and covenanted to pray about it.
Two days later I was in Melbourne for our regular weekly meeting of Bishops and as was my custom on the Thursday afternoon before my evening meeting of the Diocesan Council (which I referred to as my remedial class) I called out to visit my daughter Cate and her two little children, Sophie and Eliza. When I arrived at their door, Sophie ran down the hall to greet me saying: "O Pappy, Pappy, I've got something to show you."
"You will have to come to my room," she replied.
I went with her to her room where from underneath her bed she drew a breakfast cereal box, a cornflakes carton which had been cut top and bottom and down one side.
I asked, "What is this?"
She replied, "This is my suitcase."
She opened it up and inside was a pair of jelly shoes (you know, little plastic sandals) and one of her little frocks.
"If you want to be Jesus' friend, that is all you need," she said. I was quite stunned. "Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings..." I went out to the kitchen where my daughter was making me a cup of my favorite tea -- Twinings Russian Caravan Tea -- and said to her, "What gives with Sophie's suitcase?"
"Oh, that's from children's church at St. Peter's," said Cate. It's about last Sunday's Gospel (you should know that!) Last Sunday the children made a suitcase and were told to put into it all that Jesus said was necessary for discipleship -- as we read in Matthew 10 verse 9, "...you receive without pay, give without pay. Take no gold nor silver, nor copper in your belts, no bag for the journey, nor two tunics, nor sandals, nor a staff..."
How extraordinary! Coincidences! No in the providence of God there are no coincidences, only occasions of marvelous synchronicity.
Up until then Cate did not know of the fax nor of our struggle with the thought of going to Jerusalem to live out of a suitcase for two years. So I told her. Her lips trembled briefly, and then she said: "So! There you are! No argument."
So we left our home, our children, our grandchildren and our friends and our ministry there to take up a new ministry in a strange land as volunteers. We receive no pay and we live in one of the most extraordinary complex, challenging and exciting places in the world -- Jerusalem at the end of modernity; Jerusalem and the edge of the new Millennium.
The city, Jerusalem is mentioned over 800 times in the Bible. It is Salem City of Peace whose ancient king Melchizedek received a title, a tenth of everything Abraham possessed (Gen. 14:18-21).
It is the city of the Jebusites which David captured three thousand years ago, though David's city was outside what are now the walls of what we call "The Old City." David was smart enough to choose Jerusalem as his capital city and thus unified the tribes that came up out of Egypt at the Exodus. His predecessor Saul was not so smart. He had chosen the territory of his own tribe as recorded in I Samuel 11:14 (then Samuel said: "Let us go up to Gilgal and there reaffirm the kingship.")
Once again David in a very smart act consolidates Jerusalem as capital by bringing up the ark of the Covenant with the tablets of the ten commandments give on Mount Sinai to Moses and carried throughout their wandering in the desert by the children of Israel. David's son Solomon built the first temple there but further up the mountain from David's city. The site of Solomon?s temple, known today as Temple Mount is the area occupied by the Haram Es-Sharif, location of Mohammed's ascension into heaven.
Jerusalem's great stone walls have moved in and out like a beast breathing over the centuries since David's conquest.
The Assyrians came down but retreated in the year 701 BC. A century later in 586 BC the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and moved the people into exile. Some of the exiles returned under Ezra and Nehemiah and the history of conquest and destruction, building and rebuilding has been her burden ever since. But strangely, every destruction has brought new life.
Jerusalem is home and city to all people of the three great Abrahamic Faiths -- Jews, Moslems and Christians.
For us, as Christians, it is the place in which Christ was crucified, from which God raised Him from the dead and from where in the presence of His disciples He ascended into heaven.
As He has prophesied, the city He loved so well and wept over, the city with the Temple built by Herod the Great, was destroyed by the Romans under Titus in 70 AD and from which its inhabitants including the early Christians, fled.
The warcry of the tenth legion which destroyed the city was "Hayerushalaim ist perfida, HIP HIP HOORAY" -- Now sung at birthday parties, weddings and other Christian secular celebrations -- and the Temple has never been rebuilt.
On its site is one of Islam's holiest places -- on the Haram itself stands the Dome of the Rock with the great gilded Dome beneath which stands the Rock upon which Abraham bound Isaac in the Jewish and Christian traditions, or if you are a Moslem -- Ishmael, one of the most beautiful buildings in the world.
Jerusalem is full of mystery. Mystery is a wonderful word. It does not mean "that which is hidden," but "which has yet to be revealed!"
Physically, the city is divided into four quarters: Christian, Jewish, Moslem and Armenian and follows the pattern laid down by the Emperor Hadrian who built a temple to pagan goddess of love Aphrodite over the tomb of Christ as part of his plan to desecrate all of the holy sites of both Christians and Jews.
It is an extraordinary experience to move through the Old City and walk around the ramparts, to visit the holy sites and to feel the presence of the great prophets, apostles and martyrs of the church.
Millions of Christian pilgrims have come to pray at the empty tomb. Millions of Moslem pilgrims come to pray at the Dome of the Rock. Millions of Jewish pilgrims come to pray at the Western Wall. All pray to the One God. All speak the same voice in different languages.
I have often wondered why Christian pilgrims come. "Why do you seek the living among the dead. He is not here, he is risen." We come, they come because as T.S. Elliot said of the Little Gidding, "here prayer has been made valid."
Jerusalem is not an idle, curious place locked into past time. It is a vibrant, living, often violent place. It is, despite the politics of disruption, mistrust and deceit, of duplicity and fraud of dispossession and frustration, home to countless millions of pilgrims. It is also "house and home" to thousands of local Christian, Jewish and Moslem citizens.
We might well wonder why the center of faith for Jews, Christians and Moslems should be such a place of past, present and potential violence! But as we now know it, people go about their daily lives, albeit often at great cost, accepting the possibility of violence because the holy city has always been that sort of place.
People of all races and creeds and colors meet there. It is the city of peace for all people.
During the week of prayer for Christian unity I was invited to lead the prayers in the Chapel of the Holy Spirit, the room above the traditional site of Jesus' Last Supper. I called on those present to pray the Lord's Prayer in their own language. There were more than five hundred different tongues praying those words our Savior gave us. Yet it was not babble. On the contrary, the sound was like a new kind of music reverberating within the stone walls, wafting up to heaven.
It was then I heard my dear little granddaughter saying to me: "Pappy, O pappy, if you want to be Jesus' friend all you need is one tunic and a pair of sandals". In a world where two thirds of the population own much less than one tunic and one pair of sandals I am free and greatly privileged to be able to live out of a suitcase. So! Listen to the little children. They speak the words of God.
Saint Mark reminds us that when little children came to Jesus, the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus took them up in his arms and blessed them. This characteristic act of a Middle Eastern Jatter was not simply a cuddle or a sign of affection. In Jesus' day, when, as in our own day so many children are despised and unwanted, for a Jatter to pick up his child was a sign to the whole community; a right to speak, a right to be heard. It is a most powerful symbol of God's affirmation of little people. Listen to them. God speaks through them. He certainly has done so for Anne, my wife, and me.