Pray for the peace of Jerusalem

“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem” (Jerusalem Sunday, Easter 7, May 13, 2018)

Scriptures: Acts 1:15-17, 21-26.  Psalm 122. I John 5:9-13.  John 17:6-19 

I promised to preach about prayer the next time I had a chance. Now, by the luck of the draw, today is Jerusalem Sunday and the whole Anglican Church in Canada has been asked to pray for the peace of Jerusalem.  

How will we do that? I propose to demonstrate it. But first, some background.

Jerusalem is where Jesus was put to death. We have the story in all four Gospels, of course, but John’s Gospel, where today’s lesson is found, is not like the others. There’s no agony in Gesthemane, no stumbling on the way to Golgotha, no horrible suffering on his part. Instead, we have this calm and heart-felt farewell—lofty and “theological”, yes, and empowering.  At the end of Chapter 16 Jesus says “I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace.” Chapter 17, the source of our reading today, begins with his looking up to heaven and saying “Father, the hour has come, glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you,” and in today’s passage he adds “All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I have been glorified in them …. I have said these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves.”

Jesus’ joy is to fulfill the purpose of his incarnation and then return to the unity he had with the   Father before the creation of the world. But something has changed because of his incarnation—here he seems to say that the consummation of this glory includes the whole body of believers. Us.  You and me. 

When we think about prayer, consider that this mind blowing and almost impossible promise is the ground we stand on when we come to prayer in the first place—the fact that God speaks truth in us and we can share in the peace and joy and, yes, the glory that was and IS his purpose.

So when we come to look at Jerusalem, we are capable of seeing it with the eyes of faith, not as the world sees. Not with judgment or tsk tsk—no matter how well-deserved those might be—but with the Creator’s own gift of faith and hope and love.

This does not mean we deceive ourselves, however.  in the Psalm phrase “pray for the peace of Jerusalem” the word PRAY in Hebrew can mean both INTERCEDE or ASK FOR, and EXAMINE or INQUIRE INTO. How is Jerusalem doing? 

There’s a video made by the Diocese of Jerusalem and distributed by the Anglican church that shows the faces and situations of the people who live there, and I’ve put the link to it on the Cathedral website. (Here, too, is a link to contribute to the Princess Basma Centre, supported by the Canadian church, which addresses the needs of disabled children from Palestine and the West Bank.)

Jerusalem is right now not only divided, but contentious. Its peace, such as it has, is perilous. Its citizens include people from the three different Abrahamic religions—faiths that trace their ancestry back to the faithfulness of Abraham and Sarah. And many more visit, attracted by the holy places, as they been for centuries, hoping to discover or refresh their spiritual roots.  You might think this proximity would create a spirit of welcome and mutual respect—and to some extent it does, because hospitality is ingrained in the culture of the Middle East and guests are treated with honour—but there’s a long history of people who arrive in Jerusalem and discover they are fiercely possessive of the place, of everything it represents and might be thought to represent.  Politics and religion have been getting mixed up there nearly from the start. I’ve been reading Karen Armstrong’s book: Jerusalem: One City, Three Faiths, but I’m only one third of the way through. The history is wild.  And too complicated to go into at length here.

One takeaway, is that the very people whose primary story is that they were delivered out of slavery in Egypt by a completely portable God—not territorial at all—a God who long resisted “dwelling in a house”—came to create and then rebuild the Temple where that very God was believed to, if not actually reside, certainly visit in divine power and holiness. And then, invasions. Assassinations. Destruction. People killing each other for centuries. Racism. Sectarianism. Massive injustice. Praying, and killing. In God’s holy name.

Let’s not dare to feel superior. We think we are modern people and still know what it feels like to be deeply attached to a building, or a piece of land, or a landscape. And to ignore the rights of others. Finding them, ah, INCONVENIENT.

But I digress.

Armstrong writes, describing the current standoff in Israel/Palestine: “Jerusalem can be regarded as the bleeding heart of the problem. All sides continue to identify with it at a profound level.”

This week, in addition to shooting missiles at Syrian targets, the Israeli army was firing live ammunition on civilians including journalists in Gaza, shooting children in the legs. Tomorrow, the US government will re-brand its Jerusalem consulate as an official “embassy” with enormous hoopla.  Feelings are running high. 

How do we pray?

In 1968, I was living in Boston and working at a PR firm so tiny it only had one boss and one employee. I was the employee, it was my first job. We organized a fundraising banquet for a Jewish school—mind you, at this time I wasn’t Christian and I wasn’t Jewish, organized religion didn’t seem to speak to what I was living in those days. During Vietnam, almost exactly one year after the Six Day War. The State of Israel was a scant twenty years old. The event was a kosher dinner held in a Jewish country club. After all the guests had been seated, I took my place too at a table at the back of the room. The honoured guest speaker, an important rabbi from New York (that’s all I knew about him—though I now understand him to have been an amazing spiritual leader, both a mystic and a philosopher) was Joshua Abraham Heschel. He came to the podium—he was very old then—and stood on the stage… there was an American flag on one end of the stage and an Israeli flag on the other. He looked out at us, and I still remember the shiver that went all through me when he said,  “The Temple will never be rebuilt on a land soaked in blood.”

How do we pray for Jerusalem today?

What would Jesus do?  In Luke’s gospel (13:34) we find Him speaking this lament: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.”  

This is as close as I’m going to come to referring to Mother’s day this morning:

Jesus, the Mother Hen.  Full of love and care, and full of lament.

A lament is a perfectly correct form of prayer. Standing as members of Christ, we can trust that our lament for Jerusalem today also echoes in God’s heart.

When we pray for ourselves or others, experience shows how pointless it is to give orders to God as if Jesus were our boyfriend or God were some sort of household pet.  Simply to come in to God’s presence and to be capable of saying what is on our hearts, is itself a matter of great delicacy.  And yet we come full of feeling, wanting in every situation God’s shalom—that huge word that means peace and health and abundant well-being and completion.

So part of prayer is developing the capacity to hold the real situation … seeing it as clearly and calmly as we can… at the same time as we also hold our desire for hope and faith that it might actually change, even if we don’t know how.  You can practice this in a simple way by using your two hands.   Let’s do this now. Are your two hands free?  Okay.  In one hand, HOLD JERUSALEM  with its difficulties and troubles, its many peoples, its promise.  And in the other hand, HERE, HOLD all the SHALOM I want for that holy place, for all its people. Their health, their right living, their fullness of life, their peace.  Our helplessness too, you can put that in.  Our doubts.  Our desire to pray better, to be able to pray at all.  Put it all in your hands. Give it all you have. And so… let your hands come together slowly… [model this]….. We pray for Jerusalem.

Lord, hear our prayer, and let our cry come unto thee. Amen.

I found a quote from Rabbi Heschel to close with today. He said: “Prayer cannot bring water to parched fields, or mend a broken bridge, or rebuild a ruined city; but prayer can water an arid soul, mend a broken heart, and rebuild a weakened will.”

Thanks be to God.

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