The Hooker test

Today in the Anglican calendar we are remembering Richard Hooker, the apologist of Anglicanism, the one who charted the via media that we attempt to travel, sometimes more successfully than at others. What I always associate with Hooker is that idea of the three-legged stool that Anglicans seek to sit on, the stool of scripture, reason and tradition. All three legs need to be of equal length to produce stability! I was thinking about this as I went out today to do a few things I hadn’t yet done and wanted to do before the Southwark-Zimbabwe course gets underway tomorrow.

I began by walking the southern ramparts.  One the first day I was here I did the northern ramparts but hadn’t got onto the other section which goes from Jaffa Gate to the area close to Dung Gate.  Climbing up on the walls does give you good views, but to be honest if you are going to do one section, and you have to pay separately for both, then the northern, from Jaffa to Herod’s Gate, gives better views over the city.  What the southern section does, however, is to give you views across to Mount Zion and the wonderful Dormition Abbey.

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Mount Zion and the Dormition Abbey

 

So, when I left the walls I went into the Mount Zion area. I hadn’t yet been to David’s Tomb and the Cenacle and that is partly because I’ve been to both on many occasions and also because both of them are questionable in terms of authenticity.

In fact they are both part of the same building which is gothic and dates from the Crusader period.  The tomb, which is on the ground floor, is in fact a Cenotaph; the Upper Room, directly above it, a vaulted space, elegant but clearly not the room in which Jesus ate the Last Supper with his disciples.  So why are Jews downstairs and Christians upstairs and both groups equally entering into the experience?

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The Cenacle

 

I think that we can apply our Anglican understanding to all of this. Take the Cenacle for instance and apply the Hooker test.

Scripture – all the gospels talk about a room in which Jesus shared this final meal with the twelve. (Matthew 26.17-30; Mark 14.12-26; Luke 22.7-39; and John 13.1-17.26). So this is well attested by scripture but no real location is given.

Reason – anyone with a simple knowledge of architecture knows on entering the Upper Room that this couldn’t have been the place, or certainly that this room was not the actual room. So no reasonable person can be expected to believe this to be THE place.

Tradition – archaeologists suggest that this site was special to the Christian community from the 2nd century and may well have been the site of the ‘the little church of God’ as described by Epiphanius of Salamis (315-403) as having been in existence since 130 AD. So there is a well established tradition that this was the site and the early church revered it.

As I sat in the room and tried to think this through I found it helpful in not just rejecting the place out-of-hand. The group who had been in the room when I arrived left and I had the place to myself and its peaceful, prayerful character returned.

On leaving I saw that there was an arrow pointing up some stairs I hadn’t noticed on previous more frantic visits.  The roof above the Cenacle is now accessible and gives some good views over the area.  I was on the quest though for other roofs.

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The view from the roof of the Cenacle

 

One thing I hadn’t done was to find the steps that lead onto a section of the roofs over the souq.  So I set out through the Jewish Quarter and found the right street and the metal steps leading up.  The rooftops are used by Jews who wish to avoid walking too much through the Muslim Quarter.  Children were playing up there, men were talking.  Through grills which let out the heat and some of the exotic spice laden smells from the markets beneath, you can see the activity below. But up there is another world with another perspective on this city.

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The Star of David inscribed into the rooftop promenade

 

Finding fresh perspectives is important and there are so many ways of looking at this amazing, multi-faceted, beautiful and fractured city.  It has been wonderful to have the time to get to know it so much better, but I still don’t understand it.  But being here brings scripture alive, tests the reason, and immerses tourist, pilgrim and questioner in tradition, Jewish, Muslim and Christian. Some may wish to escape the reality of the place by walking across the roofs but actually it is in the streets along which a man dragged a cross that real life is being lived out, daily. I sat in a barbers shop waiting whilst a young barber sculpted the hair of a young man.  ‘Where are you from?’ he asked. ‘London’ I said. ‘Arsenal!’ he replied.  Then he said ‘People are bad here.’ His English wasn’t good enough to take it much further and he went back to the hair cutting.

It’s not that people are bad in this city but from any perspective life here is complicated and at times brutal and that brings out the worst but also, at times, the best in people. By the way, I didn’t get my hair cut.  The complicated sculpting of his customer’s head of hair was just going to take too long, so my ‘buzz cut’ will just have to wait!

God you enter our reality
and bring a new perspective.
Bless the people of Jerusalem
and may your peace be their reality.
Amen.

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