An Ecumenical Pilgrimage to the Holy Land

Friday, 1 May 2009

Friday - cross and resurrection: from Gethsemane to Emmaus

Today has been a very special day for me.

My father started in the ministry in 1940 and died shortly after his retirement in 1980. Each Easter Sunday evening of that 40 year ministry he preached on Luke 24 and the Road to Emmaus. It is a tradition I have tried to continue since entering the ministry in 1977. That means that since 1940 my father and I between us have preached on the Road to Emmaus on no fewer that 69 Easter Sunday evenings.

As we have followed in the footsteps of Jesus down the Mount of Olives, to the Garden of Gethsemane, to Calvary and beyond to Emmaus and resurrection I have had my father and mother very much in my mind, and acknowledge how much I owe to them for the Christian faith that has become more and more important to me over the years.

The coach dropped us off on the Mount of Olives at the church of Pater Noster. Queueing up to go down into a cave supposedly used by Jesus to share teaching with his disciples, we found ourselves following and being followed by groups of Christians from Cochin in Kerala State in India. Sue Cole was delighted to make contact with people from a part of the world she knows so well, supporting as she does the work of Chiks, Children's Homes in Kerala State.

We went down into the cave and shared in a reading of Jesus' teaching on prayer, and a recitation of the Lord's prayer. Singing 'through our lives and by our prayers, your kingdom come' we opened our day in prayer.

We then walked down the Mount of Olives following the route (more or less) that Jesus would have taken. Mark tells us that the crowds through their cloaks on the road and waved branches they had taken from the trees in the fields. What makes us think they were palm branches, symbol of regal power? Might they not have been Olive branches, calling to mind the olive leaf brought in the beak of the dove once the waters of the flood had abated? It is a thought that the branches waved by the people were a recognition of the peace that Jesus too was bringing.

We made our way to the church of Dominus Flevit (the Lord wept), and there we had the most spectacular view of the old city of Jerusalem. The temple mount lay before us, with the Dome of the Rock, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre on the hill just above.

Was Jesus impressed with they stunning architecture of the newly re-built temple that Herod had created in place of the former second temple? Or was he incensed at the almost obscene symbol of sheer power that could be seen in the very stones of the building itself?

My father's house is a house of prayer for all the nations, and you have made it a den of thieves, he said with rage as he turned the money changers out of the temple. But who is the 'you' he is referring to? The money changers ... or the Herodions and their supporters who had taken forward the power politics of Herod the Great?

When Jesus saw the city, he wept over it. 'would that you had known the things that make for peace! he lamented, but now your eyes are kept from seeing them.

And we shared the tears, praying for the peace of Jerusalem.

Our journey took us to the Garden of Gethsemane. We enjoyed the garden with its beatiful flowers, the beautiful new church and had a lovely group photograph taken against the backdrop of the olive trees.

But it was only after that the day began to have a wonderful sense of peace to it.

We moved into a part of the garden not open to the public but booked by Joanne. Under the Olive Trees we read the readings telling the story of the Garden of Gethsemane, the betrayal and the arrest. In our mind's eye we followed Jesus through his trial to the cross and heard the seven words ffom the cross. And through all that we shared we listened to three sonnets, one of which had been specially written for Robert Pestell and the people of St Michael's church after this year's stations of the cross.

It was most moving, to keep a silence in that place.

Coming out we were hard pressed to catch our coach as it was holding up the traffic. But catch it we did and then made our way the 11 kilometres to Emmaus.

Be it said there are half a dozen places that have a claim on being Emmaus. This one was special. On the journey there we read part of the story. The road took us through a checkpoint, alongside a brand new settler road that is reserved only for Jewish settlers, even though it is in the Palestinian territories and to the village and monatstery where we to remember the events at Emmaus.

We took our places around a cross-shaped table in the beautiful grounds of a Dominican monastery, alongside a Roman road. With stunning views across the limestone ridge of mountains, we read more of the Emmaus readings, reflected on the identity of Jesus and read soem of the prophetic passages from Isaiah that Jesus himself may well have reflected on with the two friends.

Supper over we celebrated the resurrection of Christ before setting off for the return journey to Jerusalem.

Before we left there was just time to look round the church, to have someone take a photo of 'the two on the road to Emmaus' and to meet a remarkable young man.

Only 20 shekels was his cry, a cry we are quite familiar with by now.;

But what he was selling was not a concertina of photographs. They were 50 million year old, snail-like fossils he had collected over the years from one small place he knew just down the valley side. Anyone who knows my love of fossils and geology, not least in the Cotswolds, can imagine my delight! More fossils to add to my collection!

Then it was back on the bus ... and on to the Garden Tomb.

Here we concluded our Emmaus readings, read the account of resurrection from John 20, and again celebrated that wonderful hope at the heart of our Christian faith that nothing in life or in death, no height, no depth, nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Whether or not this was the place, it was here or hereabouts, and the tomb, typical of tombs of the first century set in a beautiful garden, prompted a sense of celebration at the joy of resurrection.

It had been a good day ... and one full for me of thoughts of my father and my mother and the influence they have had on my ministry.

At dinner we were joined by Fr Michael McGarry, Rector of the Tantur Ecumenical Institute. After dinner he told us a little of his own life story and gave us a glimpse of the work of the Tantur Institute.

Set up after Vatican II in order to bring together the Christian traditions it continues its ecumencial work, but now also provides a safe place where people from different religious traditions and from the different nationalities of the Land can meet to listen to and learn from each other.

It was wonderful to hear Fr Michael, and to be reminded of how special a place Tantur is, not least in the impact our Journey of Reconciliation last year had on me.

Another long day has come to an end. And once more we must pray ... for those touched by the moving moments of today ... and for those who were not touched so much as well.

Maybe we can think specially in our prayers of those who have gone before us in the faith and give thanks for their memory, and for those more recently bereaved and pray for their comfort.

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