25 August 2019
Revd Nicholas Mercer
When I was a School Chaplain, a few years ago, I was required to teach Religious Studies to the students
I had to teach six great faiths which included Christianity, Judaism and Islam
And, to help me with my teaching, I found a wonderful piece on you tube called “This Land is Mine”
It is a three minute animated history of Israel by the cartoonist and illustrator Nina Paley
It is set to a piece of music called the “Exodus Song” which states:
This land is mine God gave this land to me
The film takes the viewer, briefly, through the different empires to whom God gave that land
Jews, Persians, Macedonians, Romans, Abbasids, Fatimids, Crusaders, Mamluk, Ottoman, French, Albanian, Russian, Germans, British, Jordanian and back to Jews
It is three minutes of cartoon slaughter with one empire after another killing its opponents.
The film ends with a nuclear conflagration and the children loved it
Whilst the film, very effectively, narrates the history of the Holy Land it does not include the capital city of Jerusalem, although it is implied in the narration
Jerusalem however, is an unlikely city for a capital
It is far from the trade routes of the Mediterranean
It is short of water, baked by the summer sun, chilled by the winter winds. It is a blistered and inhospitable land
Despite these impediments it is probably the most important city in the world
And the reason is that Jerusalem is a Holy City
For Jews, Jerusalem is where King David defeated the Jebusites, brought the Arc of the Covenant and built the Temple.
It is their sacred city
For Christianity, it is where Jesus was crucified where he rose from the dead.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is sacred to this day
For Muslims, it is where Mohammed made his night journey on his horse Al Buraq
The Al Aqsa Mosque was built over the site making Jerusalem the second most sacred site in Islam
Today, the Al Aqsa Mosque, the Church of Holy Sepulchre and the ruins of the Temple all co-exist on top of each other.
It is little wonder that there have been prophecies of armageddon in this Holy place
The reading this morning records Jesus weeping over this self same city
To a Jew, to whom this city is sacred, the fate of Jerusalem was intensely personal
And he rightly prophecies that Jerusalem will be torn to the ground
His prophecy comes to pass forty years later when Jerusalem is destroyed by the Romans under the Emperor Titus.
The Jews were not to return to Israel until 1948
It is, of course, hard to know whether Jesus rightly predicted the fall of Jerusalem or wept because Jerusalem was to be a continual source of conflict?
During its long history, Jerusalem has been destroyed twice, besieged 23 times, attacked 52 times and captured and recaptured 44 times,
The current tensions in the Gulf present us with the chilling possibility of a third destruction
It could even be a nuclear conflagration
But as well as being an earthly city, rooted in time and place, Jerusalem is also portable
“New Jerusalem’s” spring up all over the world but are all similarly afflicted to Jerusalem itself
One of the Church of England’s most celebrated hymns is known as “Jerusalem”
Based on an apocryphal story that a young Jesus, during his missing years, travelled to England
Blake asks four rhetorical questions at the start of his hymn
And did those feet in ancient time, And did the Countenance Divine,
Walk upon England’s mountains green? Shine forth among our clouded hills?
By posing these questions, Blake is suggesting that we can establish a New Jerusalem here in England
However, although this is a hymn we love and cherish, the words potentially carry more sinister overtones
What was Blake driving at?
Some have suggested that the Dark Satanic Mills refer simply to the Albion flour mill in Southwark which was destroyed by fire
Others, that it referred to the Church of England – Blake being a lifelong non-conformist
Some said that it referred to priests
Blake was a public supporter of the French Revolution, which embraced anti clericalism, so all explanations are perfectly possible
The sad element to all these explanations is that, once again, Jerusalem is associated with death and destruction
As one [Islamic] commentator remarked
“Jerusalem is a golden goblet – [a goblet] full of scorpions” (Muqaddasi)
Closer to home, the nineteenth Century British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, pointed out that
“The [history] of Jerusalem is the history of the world”
Indeed he is right.
The endless fighting and conquest is symptomatic of the world all over.
We are no better than our forbears in whatever part of the world we inhabit,
Bolton Abbey, our new Jerusalem being no exception, just look at our ruined Temple
However, he went on to say that
Jerusalem is more than “the history of the world” it is “the history of earth and heaven”
As well a Jerusalem being portable in time and place it is also portable temporally and celestially
At the very end of the Bible it states
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away… And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying … “See, I am making all things new.”
This passage is often read at funeral services and rightly so
As we remember our earthly lives
We remember the strife and conflict which affects, not just our lives, but our very bodies,
As a result, we all look forward to that New Jerusalem where
“death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain …for the former things have passed away.”
So on this day when we remember Jerusalem
We can all understand our Lord weeping at the state of Jerusalem and we weep with him too – even to this day
It is a city that can put even the Son of God to death
But so then can every other city on earth
However, we also so know that, out of this death and destruction, came something that gives us all the hope we could ever need
The hope of the Resurrection to eternal life,
The hope of a, heavenly, New Jerusalem where all things are made new
A city where we can safely say at last
“This land is mine, God gave this land to me”