Today we turn with Jesus towards Jerusalem. He has been busy during the years since his testing in the wilderness. He has been gathering disciples, healing, preaching, proclaiming the dawning of a new age. At the start of today’s Gospel he’s almost frantic in his work. The Pharisees warn him that Herod has put a price on his head, but he is not scared. He must be about his father’s business until he reaches Jerusalem. He knows what will happen there, for Jerusalem is a city where prophets go to die.
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.” On the side of the Mount of Olives, there stands a chapel, known as the Dominus Flevit chapel. Dominus Flevit is Latin for “The Lord wept”. It honors a moment found in chapter 19 of Luke, during Christ’s triumphal entry on Palm Sunday. The crowds are cheering, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,” and then Jesus sees Jerusalem. He sees the honey-colored stone of the buildings. He sees the mighty Temple on the near side and Herod’s fortress on the other side. He gazes and he weeps. The chapel is shaped like a teardrop.
On the front of the altar is a mosaic that depicts the image that Jesus uses in today’s reading, a mosaic of a hen gathering her chicks around her. As you sit in the pews and look across the altar, you can see the city through a wide window.
Jerusalem means City of Peace, the end coming from the same root word that gives us shalom in Hebrew and Salaam in Arabic. But sadly it has not been a peaceful place. It has been besieged 23 times, attacked 52 times, captured or recaptured 44 times, and destroyed twice. It is still all too often marked by violence. It is a tragic heritage for such a holy city.
It is holy for three different religions, each of whom claim Jerusalem for themselves, who share so much in common, but have not yet learned to share.
To the Jewish people is is the ancient capital of the land that God promised Abram and his descendants, as numerous as the stars. It was the site of the 1sttemple, built by King Solomon and destroyed by the Babylonians. It was the site of the 2ndtemple which Jesus saw and visited, which was rebuilt on the foundations of the first, and which the Romans destroyed in the year 72. The Western Wall is all that remains of the plaza that surrounded the Temple, and it is sacred and holy.
Jerusalem is sacred and holy to Christians, as well. It is the site of the crucifixion and tomb of Jesus, now wrapped in the massive complex of the church of the Holy Sepulchre. That church was built on the order of the Emperor Constantine at the start of the 4thcentury, and has been enlarged and expanded by Byzantine and Crusader rulers. Now the liturgies of the holy church are served by Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Armenian, Coptic, Ethiopian and Syriac Christians. The Way of the Cross marks the path of Christ’s last journey with chapels and simple plaques on the street that stretch from one side of the old city to the other. It’s the source of our Stations of the Cross service. St Stephen’s Gate in the northeast corner of the old wall commemorates the place where the first martyr was stoned to death as Saul looked on. It’s described in Acts chapter 7.
Jerusalem is holy to Muslims, as well. Jerusalem is associated with David, Solomon, Elijah, and Jesus, all of whom are honored as prophets of God in Islam. Jerusalem features in the story of the Prophet Muhammad’s night journey, which is recounted in the Qu’ran. In a night, he was transported from Mecca to Jerusalem with the guidance of the archangel Gabriel, and was then taken up into heaven to meet with Abraham, Moses, John the Baptist, and Jesus. In most photos of Jerusalem, you can see a huge golden dome. That is the Dome of the Rock, which stands over the patch of bare ground where Muhammad is said to have been standing when he rose into heaven, the same place where the Holy of Holies of the Temple once stood. Next to it is the al-Aqsa mosque, which is the third holiest mosque in Islam.
The city has passed from Jewish to pagan to Christian to Muslim hands, and it has had a complex and tragic history. It continues to be a contentious issue in the tense relationship between the modern state of Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The politics of Jerusalem and the Holy Land are far too complicated for us to understand easily, but as Christians, we have a vested interest in the region, and we should study and learn and do what we can to promote both justice and peace for all in the holy land, and to oppose enmity and violence among the descendants of Abraham wherever it happens: the Holy Land, or America, or Nigeria, or New Zealand.
There are Anglicans there in Jerusalem. The Anglican Cathedral of St. George is a 5 minute walk from the Damascus Gate. One of the Sunday liturgies is in Arabic, because there are many, many Palestinian Christians. For some of their English language liturgies, they use our American Book of Common Prayer. The Anglican Diocese of Jerusalem serves 7000 Christians in 30 parishes in Israel, the Palestinian territories, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon. It sponsors schools and hospitals across its diocese, and is an active voice for peace between Israeli and Palestinian communities. Every year, the Anglican and Episcopal churches around the world gather the Good Friday Offering to benefit the work of the church in the Holy Land.
The wars that have raged between the children of Abram have spilt untold gallons of blood. I cannot see that they will end in my lifetime. Perhaps it will take the great second coming of Christ, when the new Jerusalem descends to heal and restore all of creation once and for all.
Jesus said, “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.” As we turn towards Jerusalem with Jesus, let us weep with him for so much blood shed over so holy a city.
Let our prayer be for peace and for healing between the children of Abram, for they are countless as the stars in heaven. The stars are many and small, and we cannot see at night whether we gaze at a Jewish star, or a Christian star, or a Muslim star. We only see how beautiful the sky is with so many stars shining in the night, and how great a loss it is when any star goes out.
Would you open your Books of Common Prayer to page 779 and join me in saying together Psalm 122? Let this be our prayer as we turn towards Jerusalem.
- I was glad when they said to me, * “Let us go to the house of the Lord.”
- Now our feet are standing * within your gates, O Jerusalem.
- Jerusalem is built as a city * that is at unity with itself;
- To which the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord, * the assembly of Israel, to praise the Name of the Lord.
- For there are the thrones of judgment, * the thrones of the house of David.
- Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: * “May they prosper who love you.
- Peace be within your walls * and quietness within your towers.
- For my brethren and companions’ sake, * I pray for your prosperity.
- Because of the house of the Lord our God, * I will seek to do you good.”