As some of you know, I returned from the Holy Land last week. No one warns you what it’s like to come home from the Holy Land! It is such a mind-blowing, heart-exploding, earth-changing experience that it takes a while to come back down. For a few days, I was wondering if I was going mad… Every passage of Scripture I heard or read had me bawling my eyes out, like I was reading it for the first time. Even now, as I re-read the First Reading from last Sunday from the prophet Baruch, I am slightly overwhelmed:
Jerusalem, take off your dress of sorrow and distress, put on the beauty of the glory of God for ever, wrap the cloak of the integrity of God around you, put the diadem of the Eternal on your head … Arise, Jerusalem, stand on the heights … (Baruch 5: 1-2, 5)
We spent three nights in Bethlehem, three nights in Jerusalem and two in Galilee, and Jerusalem really captured my heart. I am still somewhat mesmerised by everything we experienced, heard and saw. The Death and Resurrection of Christ has made Jerusalem the centre of the whole world in a certain sense, and yet this focal point is torn apart by tensions, violence and disunity. You have a sense that it always has and always will be, such are the spiritual forces at play. And yet these are streets sanctified by our Saviour, people and places that he wept over (Matthew 23:37-9).
While you are on pilgrimage, there is barely time to allow everything to sink in, so the real work and prayer comes when you return. I find that I’ve been reading Scripture more avidly every day, as if a new inner light has been switched on. When my parish undertook the 24-week Bible Timeline last year, I realised that the more you read Scripture, the more it becomes a mirror of your own heart. You see all the dynamics of your own soul played out in Scripture. And visiting the Holy Land, this reality becomes ever more apparent. Not only is salvation history a mirror of our souls; so are the geography and places of salvation. Visiting the holy places of our Redemption, you realise not only that the drama of Redemption is still playing itself out in this Land – but also that this redemptive drama is at work and being made a reality in our own souls.
In the land of the Bible, I found that the Lord showed me my own heart. As God redeems Jerusalem, so he redeems each of us. And we know it will end in joy:
“God means to show your splendour to every nation under heaven, since the name God gives you will ever be, ‘Peace through integrity, and honour through devotedness.’ Arise, Jerusalem, stand on the heights…” (Baruch 5: 4)
There is “Jerusalem” in each of us, I think.
You can tell this was a momentous trip for me, and there’s no way it can be summarised in a few blog posts. I know that I will be referring to my experiences and allowing them to enrich my life and work for a long time to come! I hope I can share some of this with you.
In the meantime, let’s pray, offer sacrifice and material support to those suffering in these lands, especially Palestinian Christians. Seeing the reality of their sufferings with your own eyes is really something that changes everything. Their daily experience is the “sorrow and distress” of Jerusalem that we read about continually in Scripture… Let’s not forget them. Friends of the Holy Land and Aid to the Church in Need are two excellent organisations that support them.