Nothing to see here

Someone said as we sailed across the lake of Galilee that here they could see every day of creation.  Light, water, plants, sun, fish, birds, living creatures, and humanity.  No wonder Jesus, the creator, seemed to enjoy being here so much.

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There’s something about the combination of sea and sky that makes me think that on one day of creation, God woke up with an enormous enthusiasm for the colour blue.  The following day, green was the colour that excited him.  “What colour shall we make olive trees?” “Green!” “Pines?” “Green!  A whole new shade!”

There’s an ease and an exhilaration about meeting with God and His surprising Spirit when you’re in a boat and the sun is shining on the lake where Jesus walked.  Or you’re on a hillside celebrating communion, singing of angels and shepherds where we believe angels and shepherds met – and the breeze dares you onward in this adventure with Jesus.

But it felt like an invitation to a wider adventure when Rami, our guide, told us about the last place we would break bread together on our pilgrimage.  “It’s one of four places where people have claimed that Jesus broke bread on the road to Emmaus.  There’s not much reason to think it was definitely here.  No-one knows for sure.”

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We read how Jesus walked and talked on a road somewhere near here, unrecognised, and then was invited for dinner by hospitable and curious people.  “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening”.

At the table, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and shared it with them, and as he did so, they realised they knew this stranger after all. He was alive. Their hearts burned so that they couldn’t stay still, and they ran the 7 miles back to Jerusalem to share the news with their friends.

There are churches built at each of the possible sites of this encounter, but because of the uncertainty about the physical place, they are less visited as sites of pilgrimage.  Not so many mosaics, not so much gold.  Not even, in this place, a roof.  Just ordinary places of worship.  Ordinary sites of encounter with the risen Jesus.  Ordinary places where strangers are welcomed and hearts burn with joy, with the good news that God is with us.

It isn’t that it was this place, it’s that it was a place.  It doesn’t matter where the road was, or the table, or the home – but that it was a road, a table, a home.

At the night service of Compline, we can – if we dare – pray:

Come with the dawning of the day      //      And make yourself known in the breaking of the bread.

He does answer that prayer, I have found.  This enlivening Spirit, this inviting, present God.  If we sit with him at our tables – at any tables - He will make Himself known and He will stir us, challenge us, comfort us and change us in ways that we had never expected. We may find ourselves running joyful miles to tell friends what we have received.

Will that be your prayer, this Lent?

Dare you.

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Being made wholly

We walked the Way of the Cross, the Via Dolorosa, amidst the ordinary life of Jerusalemites – the sound of a school playground, the woman struggling up the steps with a trolley of shopping, the person who helped her, the sellers of toothpaste and apples as well as of religious trinkets and olive oil.  And we thought of the condemned man, Jesus, walking to his death amidst life.   I wonder if his heart swelled with love when he heard the voices of children or when he saw a person helping another, when he saw each individual human face.

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I’ve long puzzled about holiness.  There is something in the word ‘holy’, in Hebrew (kadosh), Greek (hagios), and in English which is about being set apart, reserved, differentiated.  But, I’ve thought, when singing this word with dusty feet, dirty clothes, and a mistake-strewn life, I sing it because the story can’t - doesn’t – end there. I thought it again walking this way, which ended at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.  The Church of the Set-Apart Sepulchre, the Way of the Set-Apart Cross is very much, emphatically, in the midst.  Expressions of spirituality at this site of acknowledged holiness varied from wiping a stone with multiple cloths, then carefully setting them aside in ziplock plastic bags, to quiet kneeling, to selfies outside.  Genuflection through the click of a shutter.

This holy place is cluttered with humanity. Glorious, varied, beautiful, confusing, confused humanity.

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It was the choice of a Holy God to come into the midst.  To give us, the dusty confused ones, an invitation into an expansive holiness, a holiness which  – somehow, one day – will be cosmos-wide.

The vision of the end of all things, I kept remembering in crowded, complicated Jerusalem, is not of a serene simple countryside, but of a cosmopolitan, peopled city.  A city which is called Holy.

***

Which makes high walls and barbed wire and separation jar even more.

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We spent a morning at Cremisan convent, where wry, witty, outraged lawyers told us about their decade of advocacy to prevent the separation wall from being extended around the walls of the convent, separating them from the poor community they served with a nursery school, separating them from the brothers they prayed with at the nearby monastery, separating the people of this suburb of Bethlehem from their vital agricultural land.  They told us of a (rare) victory.  (Sadly since overturned.)

But the presence of the wall, 9 metres high, across the hills and through olive groves, gathering an overcrowded poor Little Town on one side and spaciousness on the other, felt like an assault on the land itself, let alone its people.

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It’s not just here that separation intrudes.  I saw barbed wire on the top of a wall around a church.  We separate ourselves, close church doors, shut down difficult conversations.

***

And then, around the corner from the Not-So-Separate Church, a teenager with a calippo in one hand and a gun in the other. A café full of teenagers looking like every youth weekend away I’ve seen, but with the guns.  Slung over the backs of seats or shoulders.

Maybe there are some things which should be kept separate.  Guns and calippos.

***

Webster’s Dictionary gives a second definition.  Holiness as wholeness.  Being made holy as being made whole.

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