Pausing

Arriving back in London was a bit of a shock. I left Jerusalem in lovely sunshine with the temperature around 25 degrees. It felt like summer! I arrived back in the dark, with the evidence of recent rain, a temperature of 9 degrees and evidence all around that winter was approaching. Driving into London we passed through a number of streets lit with Christmas lights and shops all dressed up with trees and fake snow.

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As I put the television on (something I hadn’t done whilst away) the Festival of Remembrance was underway in the Royal Albert Hall and the usual procession in was taking place and the poppies were falling. I was home.

Remembrance Sunday is the occasion when many people pause and think. That two-minute silence at 11.00am as Her Majesty at the Cenotaph in Whitehall leads the nation in its remembering is an opportunity just to think, if not to pray. That is what I now need to do.

This coming week I’ll be on retreat at Mucknell Abbey in Worcestershire. It will give me the space for my own pause, space for my own thinking about what I’ve experienced over the last six weeks and that, to be honest, is so much. In some ways it already feels like a dream, a rich, intense dream and I can’t let it become that – it was so much more important. It needs to become something of my reality not of my fantasy. The problem is that Jerusalem is fantasy and reality and for much of our tradition, and because most people don’t get to go to the place themselves, it can remain on that level, the city that we talk about in the church all the time, idealise, theologise. But Jerusalem is real.

After the marching had ended and the procession of the choir and the Bishop of Carlisle had entered the Royal Albert Hall, the audience, now a congregation, joined in lustily singing ‘Jerusalem’ to the rousing tune that Sir Hubert Parry composed 100 years ago. As the hymn was sung what was going through the minds of those who filled that great arena – perhaps more fantasy than reality as far as Jerusalem, the city of peace that longs for peace, was concerned.

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Jerusalem – city of fantasy and reality

 

So I need to pause and think and pray and it will be good to take you into that pause for as Jesus said to his disciples

‘Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.’ (Mark 6.31)

God, speak to me in the pause.
Between the breaths,
between the heart beats,
may I hear the still small voice.
Amen.

Remembering

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.

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Many wreaths were laid

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.

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Rifleman R A Middleditch
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)

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Thanks to Pauline, John and Hazel and all at St George’s for their love and friendship

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.
Amen.

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.

David

Out in West Jerusalem in the district where the Knesset is located, there are a collection of museums including the Israel Museum with the famous Shrine of the Book housing the Dead Sea Scrolls and nearby, the Bible Lands Museum. The latter is devoted to looking at the context of the Old Testament and especially the nations and ethnic groups that helped to form the Bible stories as we know them.  So there’s a lot of artefacts from Egypt and Babylon, from the Philistines and elsewhere.

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‘David slaying Goliath’ by Peter Paul Rubens

The special exhibition being displayed by the museum at the present time is called ‘In the valley of David and Goliath’ which is a presentation of finds from the excavations at Khirbet Qeiyafa. The excitement that surrounds the finds is that they relate to a passage in 1 Samuel.

Now the Philistines gathered their armies for battle; they were gathered at Socoh, which belongs to Judah, and encamped between Socoh and Azekah, in Ephes-dammim. Saul and the Israelites gathered and encamped in the valley of Elah, and formed ranks against the Philistines. (1 Samuel 17.1-2)

What has been found is what some believe to be the biblical city of Shaaraim (1 Samuel 17.52) which was in the vicinity of the battle.  Its distinguishing feature and the source of its name was ‘Two Gates’ and the walls of the city that has been discovered in the last ten years is a city with walls that have two gates – unusual, because the more gates you have the weaker the walls, your defences are.

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The archaeological site

So all this was very interesting but what was more intriguing was the debate that it revealed between archaeologists and historians about the person of David.  Nothing much has been found about him that would suggest that he is in fact an historical figure and, if he is accepted as historical rather than mythological, then how large in fact was his kingdom. Our Guide in the museum described it as a minimalist and a maximalist perspective.  Was David a tribal chief who had his capital in Jerusalem but it was small and overblown in the Biblical telling, or was he the king of a nation that stretched from ‘Dan to Beersheba’?  Its interesting to note that that evocative phrase was used in the discussions that led to the establishment of the British Mandate in Palestine post WWI when it was agreed that the area would be “defined in accordance with its ancient boundaries of Dan to Beersheba”. History is important because it can colour and, literally, shape the present!

The archaeologists working on the dig that produced the finds in this exhibition believe that the settlement was Judean and dated from the Davidic period and, therefore, a priori, it is evidence that the Davidic kingdom stretched further than Jerusalem.

Does this all matter? Well, it does if your national self-understanding depends upon Israel being a  great and powerful nation under God.  That gives you a ‘legitimate’ claim over the land in some ways of thinking. So visiting the museum was interesting to see how in a country whose politics are always on the knife-edge archaeological ‘proof’ can be utilised to armour its legitimacy.

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David the icon

 

And for us?  David is one of those great iconic figures of the faith.  Jesus is ‘born of David’s line’ as we will be singing at Christmas.  The whole Bethlehem story is only necessary to link Jesus in with the king who gathered the nation into one. David’s story is inspirational – the victory of the small guy over the giant. It is a vocational story – he’s chosen by God in preference to others who on many readings of suitability – age, stature, maturity – should have ben chosen ahead of him. It’s a story of vulnerability, of the susceptibility of power to corruption – seeing Bathsheba bathing, knowing that as king he could have what he wanted, then having to live with the consequences of his actions. It’s a story of disappointed ambition – arriving at the ultimate place of victory, Jerusalem and being unable to build the Temple he so desired to build as the House of God in the midst of the people but having to leave that honour to his son.

David is a very flawed, human figure; the Bible doesn’t tell the story with mythological whitewash.  That is why I would come down on the side of him being an historical figure – we just haven’t found sufficient evidence, yet. But as to whether his kingdom needed to be vast or local, well, that doesn’t bother me.  But then, my sense of national identity doesn’t rest on it.

So, the lesson of today, old stones are often used to build modern edifices.

God of the past,
of the present,
of the future,
may I learn from the past,
live in the present,
and seek to build a better future.
Amen.

Prophets

One of the temptations for Christians coming on pilgrimage to the Holy Land is to look at the place only in relation to the Jesus story.  That, of course, is understandable.  We want to walk where Jesus walked, to kneel where he was born, to weep where he wept, to bear the cross on the Via Dolorosa, to rejoice at the empty tomb. But this land, this city of Jerusalem, tells so much more than the essential story at the heart of our faith and in so many ways it provides the context for that story.  Ignoring what we would call the ‘Old Testament’ ignores everything that led up to the incarnation.

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‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets..’ Luke 13.34

The welsh priest-poet R S Thomas in his poem ‘The Coming’ opens our imagination to the inspiration for the incarnation.

And God held in his hand
A small globe. Look he said.
The son looked. Far off,
As through water, he saw
A scorched land of fierce
Colour. The light burned
There; crusted buildings
Cast their shadows: a bright
Serpent, A river
Uncoiled itself, radiant
With slime.

On a bare
Hill a bare tree saddened
The sky. Many People
Held out their thin arms
To it, as though waiting
For a vanished April
To return to its crossed
Boughs. The son watched
Them. Let me go there, he said.

I decided to take the opportunity of escorting a priest staying at St George’s College on a pilgrimage walk down the Mount of Olives and across the Kidron Valley.  Canon Henry Segawa, who is Principal of the Uganda Martyrs’ Seminary, Kampala, an Anglican college for the training of those to enter ordained and lay ministry, had not done this walk and so it was good to escort him.  One highlight was to go into the Church of Pater Noster and find the Lord’s Prayer in Henry’s own first language, Lugandan.  We searched through the place and looked at 170 panels with the prayer in all these languages and then on reaching number 171 right by the exit we found it!

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Found it!

 

We headed down the hill along the Palm Sunday route.  I noticed that the Tomb of the Prophets was open.  This is just below the steps that lead from the main road onto the steep road that goes down the hill.  We went in.  If you’re going take a torch – there is no lighting.  The torch that I have on my phone just wasn’t good enough.  The tombs are within a complex of graves that go back 3,000 years.  It is said that this is the resting place of the last three Old Testament Prophets – Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi. The early Christian community used these catacombs and so were laid besides these great prophets.

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Inside the Tomb of the Prophets

 

It is the prophet Zechariah who gives us verses that seem to me to be so positively inclusive that they begin to build that bridge between the witness of prophecy and the witness of the Messiah, the Christ.

Thus says the Lord of hosts: Peoples shall yet come, the inhabitants of many cities; the inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying, ‘Come, let us go to entreat the favour of the Lord, and to seek the Lord of hosts; I myself am going.’ Many peoples and strong nations shall come to seek the Lord of hosts in Jerusalem, and to entreat the favour of the Lord. Thus says the Lord of hosts: In those days ten men from nations of every language shall take hold of a Jew, grasping his garment and saying, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.’ (Zechariah 8.20-23)

Zechariah though gets another mention further down in the Kidron Valley for there next to what is called the Tomb of Absalom (it isn’t) is Zechariah’s Tomb (and it probably isn’t particularly if he’s buried on the Mount of Olives!) But that is an impressive series of tombs, of graves.

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Another Tomb of Zechariah!

 

In fact the Mount of Olives and the Kidron Valley with its sea of graves, Jewish and Muslim, owes much in the religious imagination to this prophet who is so commemorated there. Later in his writings he says

On that day his [the Lord’s] feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives, which lies before Jerusalem on the east; and the Mount of Olives shall be split in two from east to west by a very wide valley. (Zechariah 14.4)

As we walked from the top of the Mount of Olives through the Kidron Valley to the Dung Gate and the entrance to the Temple Mount we remembered that the Lord’s feet had stood there.  The prophet was right, the son who said

‘Let me go there’

had come.

Holy Spirit of prophecy,
as you spoke through your servants in former times,
so whisper into us your prophetic voice,
that we may speak your truth today.
Amen.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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)

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‘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)

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‘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.