|Published on Sun, 6 Aug 2017 13:00|
|Parish Pilgrimage Sermons August 2017|
Talk given by Andy Humphreys and Gary Anderson on 6th August 2017.
May we speak in the name of God who is our Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer, Amen
It is hard to believe that it is only 2 months ago in May when a group of 19 of us, mostly from St John’s, but also joined by 6 friends from Worcester, Cheltenham and Manchester, were blessed and sent out by Bishop Christopher to start our 10 day pilgrimage to the Holy Land. At the very start of our journey Jeff and his co-leader, Revd Jane Winter, distinguished for us the difference between a pilgrimage and a holiday and advised how that would help the gospels to come alive in a new and fresh way. In other words we wouldn’t read the gospels in the same way again.
It was indeed a very special trip, which had a profound effect on each of us and in many ways we are still integrating the impact of those experiences, as we return to live out our lives as disciples of Jesus here in this place.
Over the next four Sundays you are going to hear from eight of us about different aspects of the pilgrimage, as we try to share some of our new insights into the gospel through our experience of walking in the footsteps of Jesus - in places where he lived and fulfilled his public ministry.
We gathered each evening after dinner to reflect on the events of our day. And what struck us was just how many different perspectives we had on seeing and experiencing the same place. It really brought home how much that would have been the case for Jesus’ disciples.
And how it is that the gospel narratives vary slightly as each of the writers saw things from a different angle. It also created a special sacred space in which we could share deeply felt and very personal responses, sometimes quite unexpectedly emotional ones, with a group of trusted companions. We really did both laugh and cry quite a lot in ten days!
So today you have the reflections according to pilgrims Andy and Gary on the theme of “Oases of Calm & Tranquillity”. We have chosen to share with you the places which for us which were moments of peace and calm, often unexpectedly where we felt close to God, and when his love and healing shone through. Our journey began in Jerusalem itself. Words which came to mind immediately to describe this significant city include:
- Frenetic (A)
- Hubbub (G)
- Collision of cultures (A)
- Walls (G)
- Smells (A)
- Market sellers (G)
- Layers of history (A)
- Religious Faiths rubbing shoulders (G)
- Challenges (A)
- Surprises (G)
And yes “surprises” too, as in the midst of all of the hustle and bustle of this city, there were indeed some moments of deep peace, calm & tranquillity.
At each holy site Father Jeff and Mother Jane - as they were affectionately called by our guide - invited different members of the group to read a related extract from one of the gospel accounts – or sometimes another appropriate scripture - and a prayer to help us connect in a spiritual way with the events we were recalling.
Also, every day there we celebrated our Eucharist. So on Day One for example, we were seated outdoors on benches around a simple stone altar in the Garden of Gethsemane - see photo . As we heard the familiar words of the Mass, we were deeply moved by the resonance of Jesus’ command in the Last Supper to “do this in memory” of him.
And here, we felt the sheer sense of abandonment Jesus must have experienced as his disciples slept, in that very garden on the night before his ultimate sacrifice. This ancient olive grove was therefore our first surprising haven of peace and tranquillity, despite the sirens from passing ambulances and police cars on the road on the opposite side of the Kidron valley.
A short distance away from the Garden of Gethsemane, we had just walked from the Pater Noster church, set in its more formal, but tranquil gardens, where the Lord’s Prayer is inscribed on the walls in over 200 languages. It was a powerful reminder of the universality of the church and how wherever we are in the world we are connected to that first Jerusalem experience. And how as we gather at St John’s, Waterloo, to commemorate that same meal 2,000 years later, often on a Sunday, after communion we too experience that same deep sense of stillness, even though outside 21st century life continues in all its noise.
Our 2nd Day in Jerusalem was very full. We began at the Western Wall and concluded at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, both noisy and frenetic places. However it was by the Pools of Bethesda adjacent to the beautiful gardens of the church of St Anne, mother of Mary, that we discovered our second oasis of peace. (see photo) This was the place where Jesus had healed the paralytic man and Fr Jeff and Mother Jane provided anointing & prayer for healing (as we do here after communion at 10.30am on 1st & 3rd Sundays). We both experienced an unexpected and powerful outpouring of God’s love as their hands were laid on our heads. I was moved to tears as he gave thanks for Jeff’s recovery to health remembering when Bishop Christopher had anointed him when he was most ill in hospital on Boxing Day.
For me, I was quite literally shocked as we left the Church of St Anne and turned the corner and suddenly came across the ruins of the Pools and the five porticos. This was where Jesus healed the man who’d been there for years, unable to get down when the waters were stirred.
I was suddenly struck by the most immense feeling that a dead straight line through time and space was connecting my heart and Jesus’ heart. I was literally walking in Jesus’ footsteps, in the place where Jesus would have often been, so close to his grandparents’ home. As I explored, I had the most amazing feeling Jesus was right there with me, guiding every step.
And the anointing was just so special, so much part of this place, as prayed for my own healing – as well as the healing of this city and these lands and all the peoples who hold them sacred and dear. And yes – floods of the most happy tears!
God really touched us and blessed us in that beautiful and special place.
The second half of our pilgrimage was spent around Galilee and on our way we stopped in the middle of the desert at the baptismal site of Jesus on the River Jordan. (see photo) Whilst this was a more natural oasis in the vast arid landscape, it was another surprise. Here we found more of a stream than a large flowing river. But we quickly moved along a rocky and dusty path to the water edged by rushes. Suddenly we were surrounded by other pilgrims from different Christian denominations with their different expressions of baptism according to their tradition. Whilst we quietly renewed our baptismal vows before being sprinkled with holy water, on the opposite bank – in Jordan - there was a private family celebration for a young boy and next to us was a large group of exuberant charismatics with their infectious singing accompanied by a guitar before full immersion in the river itself. However this sacrament was expressed, what shone through in this tranquil place was the joy and love experienced by all as we were united by our common baptism, established by Jesus here in this place as he was himself baptised by John.
You may have begun to detect a theme here: for Gary and me, it was in the tranquillity and beauty of the outdoor places that we found ourselves closest to God’s loving and healing touch. The same is true for our experiences by the Sea of Galilee itself where Jesus spent much of his ministry.
Here we experienced two more beautiful Eucharists, concelebrated by Jeff and Jane. The first was just by the lake at Tabgha where Jesus appeared to the disciples after his Resurrection - see photo. In the refreshing breeze I could virtually see him - sharing a simple barbecue of fish and bread on the beach, as we faced out towards the beautiful sea behind Jeff and Jane, who elevated the bread and cup of life at the altar. Our communion was again very moving. We’ve so much to be thankful for.
The second Mass was celebrated at dawn - 5.30am - on Ascension Day outside our hotel, just as the sun was rising in front of us on the other side of the lake above the Golan Heights. (see photo) We were struck afresh at just how Jesus breaks into our lives each day with new hope and life. What a way to set us up for our last day and journey home!
Today is the Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord, when as we heard in the gospel Jesus took with him Peter, James and John up a mountain “where they could be by themselves”. It seems that he was giving them a special opportunity to have a glimpse into his divine nature as he was transfigured before them in a dazzling moment of revelation when they also saw Moses and Elijah and the unfolding of God’s salvation. They hear God’s voice saying “This is my Son, the Beloved. Listen to him”. We were fortunate to be able to go up to the top of Mount Tabor and visit the beautiful Basilica of the Transfiguration where Jeff presided at the Mass in a dazzlingly gold chasuble! (see photo)
We feel very privileged to have journeyed together as pilgrims and shared some profound moments and experiences on a mountain, in the desert, by the sea and in the city. Like Peter, James and John each of us had experiences with glimpses into the divine nature of God in those places at different times and in different ways - both together and alone. This was a pilgrimage which transformed us and our own understanding of the gospels which truly came to life through special moments of revelation in oases of calm and tranquillity. We truly will never read the Gospels in the same way again. We can now visualise the places and events as we read and hear the stories and bring them ever closer to our hearts.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.