Published on Sun, 13 Aug 2017 13:00
Parish Pilgrimage Sermons August 2017

Talk given by Liz and David Clarson on 13th August 2017.


Liz: ‘May the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts be pleasing to you O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer’

David: We were not here last Sunday to hear Gary and Andy. But we have read their notes and find our experiences of Peace and Tranquillity are very similar to theirs.

But today we want to add to, not contradict, what they said, and reflect on some very different aspects of the Pilgrimage.

We personally were very conscious of the tensions and conflicts present in the Holy Land and have been reflecting on this since our return.  Even after spending 10 days there, we don’t feel we have a much better understanding of the place, nor can we offer you simplistic solutions.    It struck us, on our first day, when we were celebrating communion in the Garden of Gethsemane, looking across to the imposing city walls, that Jesus himself wept over Jerusalem.    It is sadly still a place of conflict.

A Flashpoint

Liz: We remember the first Parish weekend we went to at Wychcroft and Giles giving a talk about the history of the Middle East, pointing out that three of the major religions of the world arose in such close proximity and in an area of the world, which as we know from the Old Testament, was a flashpoint. So we were not expecting just to experience the Peace and Tranquillity you heard about last week.

Actually being in the Holy Land reinforced for us how the area is a magnet for so many people from different countries and cultures. This is how it has always been, both as a centre for trade and as the home of religion. Of course being sacred to three religions, Islam, Judaism and Christianity, also points up the differences in these same religions and what they consider to be their territorial rights as they try to pursue their faith in the same space.   One can’t ignore either, the conflicts and differences within the three religions – we ourselves were faced with an example of this at six in the morning at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, when two competing services, Catholic and Orthodox, were vying to be heard in the same space.  We were reminded by seeing other groups of pilgrims just how broad and diverse the world- wide family of Christians is, as we met Christian groups of all denominations and persuasions from all around the world.

Our guide told us that many of the sites there, had been used by Romans, Jews, Byzantines, Crusaders, Ottomans and Christians. As a visitor it is easy to just note this as point of history. But each group didn’t just say to the next, it’s your turn now. These sites were fought over to the death, and again it reminds us of the conflicts there have been over the centuries in this area.

We also became aware that the divisions are not simply between Jews, Christians and Muslims, or Israelis and Palestinians. Over the three millennia things have got a bit more mixed up. As an example our guide was a Palestinian and an Armenian Christian; we met the Dean of St George’s Cathedral in Jerusalem who is a Palestinian with Israeli citizenship, married to a Palestinian without Israeli citizenship. The area is a real cultural and religious mix, with all the tensions that brings.

So it made us question, is this a flashpoint or is it in fact a tapestry with all these diverse elements held together somehow?  The complexity of the situation make us cautious of coming to any simplistic views or opinions.

David: What conflicts did we see?

Two particular stand out.

Of course where the conflict is most vividly demonstrated is in the wall that runs through the West Bank and where we saw it, dividing the Palestinians and Israelis in Bethlehem. Israel considers this a security barrier against terrorism, while Palestinians call it a racial segregation or apartheid wall.  You can see the photo with the 30 foot wall and watch-towers in the booklet. Banksy has been there so there is some poignant graffiti, street art and black humour. He has renamed the hotel a few feet from the wall with a play on the name of the hotel in the Aldwych, not the Waldorf Hotel, but the Walled-off Hotel. One thing we reflected upon afterwards was how few tourists or pilgrims were there compared with the other Holy sites. That may of course be a reflection on the attitude of our tour operator and the fact that our guide was a Palestinian.

The wall as you can imagine separates in so many ways: the differences either side are so marked, and we know Michael and Hoda will be talking more about that in a couple of weeks. While we were there, the Economist ran a series of articles on Israel. Being a lover of economic statistics I was appalled to read that the average income in Israel as a whole is $35,000 a year, whilst for those who live on the West Bank and Gaza strip it is less than $3,000 a year. 

Liz: If our emotions weren’t battered enough by the visit to the dividing wall, they were equally affected by Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem. It is much more extensive than the Holocaust exhibition in the Imperial War Museum, and has its own dedicated site. You have a photo of the Children’s memorial in the booklet. This is a cave-like structure filled with tiny dots of light, one  for each child murdered during the Holocaust and the sound of a voice reading the names of the children, their ages, and their countries of origin. It was very moving.

We were struck by the fact of so much pain and suffering on both sides, but couldn’t avoid the question:  hasn’t the human race learnt any lessons from history?

Whilst we were in the Holy Land we felt safe and there was no reported trouble, but sadly there has been since our return, as you may have read, at the Temple Mount, which is one of the most sacred sites for all three Abrahamic religions. We would be shocked to see a notice like the one in the photo on the door of St John’s, yet it is commonplace in the Holy Land to see signs outside Holy places, forbidding guns on the sites. Such signs point up the reality of life there and the consequences of conflict.

David: We hope we have conveyed something of the complexity and many layers of the country

but ……

How do we make sense of it all?

Our readings today highlight the importance of reaching out to God. Elijah lived at a time of great upheaval and conflict. He felt overwhelmed with life and the personal danger he faced. Queen Jezebel was hunting him down to kill him.  Elijah found God, in the midst of the turbulence of his life, not in the earthquake, wind or fire, but in the quietness that followed, the ‘still, small voice of calm’ as the hymn puts it.

The Gospel too vividly illustrates how Christ responds to us, when we feel overwhelmed and call out to Him. Peter noticing the strong wind begins to sink and cries out ‘Lord save me!’ Jesus immediately reaches out and holds him secure. The gospel reading doesn’t say there are no more winds and rough waters. It is Jesus’ hand that supports and guides us through these situations and we are encouraged to hold on tightly.

Liz: Like Elijah and Peter, we too can feel overwhelmed with situations that are seemingly intractable. We could feel nothing but hopelessness about the situation between the Israelis and Palestinians. But we have selected as our last photo, the cross by the shore of the Sea of Galilee. It was in the quietness of Galilee where we especially sensed the presence of Christ as a fellow pilgrim, tussling with the world as it is.

The cross reminds us that in the middle of all this conflict, Jesus is at work bringing reconciliation.  During our pilgrimage we met with organisations that are trying to bridge the divide and bring relief to the vulnerable and dispossessed;  the boy’s home we visited in Bethany, the Bethlehem Rehabilitation Centre, our tour operator’s educational trust and Hosam Naoum, the Dean of St George’s Cathedral and his links with the different cultures. Please pray for their continuing work and for ourselves, that in the stillness, we may encounter the love of God.


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