And the world didn’t stop

Following the success of the film ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’ a poem by W H Auden became very popular. It’s called ‘Stop all the clocks’.

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

Today, the last day of the course with the clergy from Zimbabwe, Southwark and Rochester and my last full day in Jerusalem after these six glorious weeks, we were centring on the passion and death of the Lord.  The visits weren’t going to take place until the afternoon and so the morning began with a briefing about what we would see at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

The bell tower of the church as evening fell


The title of that church is interesting to think about.  In the west we call it the ‘Church of the Holy Sepulchre’, in the east they call it the Anastasis, the ‘Church of the Resurrection’. Why is it that in the west we focus on the death, the humanity of Jesus, the sacrifice whereas in the east they focus on the resurrection, the divinity of Jesus? Perhaps it is part of the same reasoning that leads us in the west to celebrate Christmas on 25 December remembering the physical birth whereas the eastern church celebrates it on the 6 January, the Epiphany, when the manifestation of Christ’s divine nature is made known to the world.

The plan of the 4th century church


The church – call it what you will – of course contains both elements in that enshrines Golgotha and the empty tomb.  The church built in the Byzantine period emphasised this dual role in the very architecture and shape of the building, with its basilica and rotunda, separated.  Now pilgrims encounter the jumble of the building from the Crusader period – and what a jumble it was this afternoon.  It was like a living out of the Book of Revelations!

After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. (Revelation 7.9)

It was amazing to see so many crowding into this ancient space to meet with the crucified and risen one.

A multitude no one could number


In the briefing this morning as we thought about the crucifixion the point was made that for Jerusalem on that Friday the day went on.  Life didn’t stop.  Jesus was not the only one being crucified.  There were others as well.  In a sense he was nothing special to most people – just another northerner claiming he was the Messiah. Life went on.  There was a festival to get ready for and money to be made and the peace to be kept. So the clocks didn’t stop, the dogs still barked.

A group of us decided to walk the Stations of the Cross. It was an amazing experience as we remembered what happened at each of those stations, as we heard the scriptures and prayed and sang in the streets that were buzzing with activity, as we passed the soldiers eager to keep the peace, as people got ready for whatever was coming up in their lives, in their faith community, as people tried to make some money.

The death that Auden wrote about seemed to bring life to an end.

For nothing now can ever come to any good.

But as we concluded the Stations on the roof of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Church of the Resurrection, we knew that all was well, that death was defeated, that life was restored, that the Second Adam restored what the first Adam lost. The world didn’t stop, but something restarted – and that was life.

Jesus, crucified, risen,
my saviour,
my all,
you are my way,
you are my truth,
you are my life.

The first day of the week

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre can be two very different places.  During the week, later in the day, it is packed with pilgrims; moving around can at times be difficult, finding a peaceful corner a challenge.  If you want to get to kneel at Golgotha or enter the Sepulchre then be prepared for a couple of very long – hour long at times – queues.  Of course it is worth it but, if you are in Jerusalem on a Sunday morning it is worth sacrificing a little time in bed and going down early.

The streets were empty


Today was a gift with an extra hour in bed as the clocks went back overnight.  So I thought I would use that hour to go to the Holy Sepulchre.

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. (John 20.1)

It wasn’t dark but the streets and the market were basically empty.  Most of the shutters were closed on the stalls, a few people were moving around but most were just shrugging off the night as the day began.

The great doors were open

The great doors to the church were open, with their huge locks and bolts.  There were some pilgrims already there, but we weren’t many, enjoying the space and the atmosphere, the wonderful chanting coming from the Copts worshipping at their altar.  A Mass was underway at the XIth station but there were only a couple of people ahead of me at Golgotha.

They were preparing for the procession which would come to the Sepulchre, but I could walk straight in and make my devotions.

Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. (John 20.8-9)

I sat opposite the tomb and said Morning Prayer.  I had taken a version of Common Prayer for travellers and the psalm appointed was so gift-laden for where I now was.

So would I gaze upon you in your holy place,
that I might behold your power and your glory. (Psalm 63.3)

The clock was now approaching 7am and all of a sudden the bells began.  They were rang simultaneously and the biggest bell boomed out.  The sound filled the church overwhelming the liturgies going on.

The sound filled the church

‘Go quickly and tell his disciples, “He has been raised from the dead”‘ (Matthew 28.7)

I made my way to the Franciscan part of the church and the altar with a reredos showing the encounter of Mary Magdalene and the Risen Jesus somewhere in this part of the building.

Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni!’ (John 20.16)

‘Mary’ … ‘Rabbouni’

In the early light of the first day we hear him call us by name and call us into new life. As George Herbert wrote in his poem ‘The Call’

Come, my Joy, my Love, my Heart:
Such a Joy, as none can move:
Such a Love, as none can part:
Such a Heart, as joyes in love.

I left the church as the worship continued, as the news of the resurrection was shared once more and as an extra blessing I then met the pilgrim group from the Diocese of Southwark on their way to the Holy Sepulchre.

Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her. (John 20.18)

‘Go, tell his disciples.’

There is no greater news that we can share than the mystery of our faith, our past, present and future reality.

Christ has died.
Christ is risen.
Christ will come again.