In the heat and sunshine of a November morning in Jerusalem I joined the congregation at the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery on Mount Scopus. The sky was clear blue, the grass mown, the gravestones stood in their serried ranks as the fallen whom they commemorated would have once have proudly stood. A member of the Canadian Armed Forces read as part of the service.
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
This evocative poem by John McCrae written in May 1915, which will have been read at many services yesterday and many tomorrow, reminds us that on foreign fields around the world blood has been shed and is shed in the ongoing conflicts, large and small, in which humanity seems to engage without ever seeming to learn the lessons. But there was something significant about being here where Britain has had such a role.
Next year will see a number of significant anniversaries as major battles were held in Palestine in November and December (most of the gravestones had dates from those battles) and we remember the Balfour Declaration. The final text of that declaration, which went through so many iterations, was
His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.
The final handover of Jerusalem by the Ottomans to Field Marshall Viscount Allenby took place in the study of the Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem and the documents signed on the desk that Archbishop Suheil Dawani still uses in his residence just alongside St George’s Cathedral. The Royal Arms which then hung in Government House during the period of the British Mandate are now in the north transept of the Cathedral. It is a complex history in which we have been embroiled and still have a part to play if that line in the Declaration is still to be held before the international community
‘that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.’
After the service I wandered amongst the graves and found this one.
It was the inscription at the bottom that made me stop. ‘The land where earth and heaven meet we all hope to meet again.’ It summed up for me something of this place that I have been, the land where earth and heaven meet. To be here is a powerful experience and memories of the last six weeks flooded back and the words of a hymn
Jerusalem the golden,
With milk and honey blest,
Beneath your contemplation
Sink heart and voice oppressed.
I know not, oh, I know not
What social joys are there,
What radiancy of glory,
What bliss beyond compare.
It was written by Bernard of Cluny in the 12th century and is part of a long poem called ‘On Contempt for the World’ a scathing critique on the world of the day in which the Crusades were taking place. He looks to a golden Jerusalem, a better world and as I leave this city and the friends I have made and this land – but not for the last time I pray – all I can do is pray for the peace of Jerusalem and all its people.
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
‘May they prosper who love you.
Peace be within your walls,
and security within your towers.’
For the sake of my relatives and friends
I will say, ‘Peace be within you.’
For the sake of the house of the our God,
I will seek your good.
Amen. (Psalm 122.6-9)