Friday 13 July 2012

Yesterday was Elisa’s birthday and we can’t think of any better present than to be here in the Old City of Jerusalem (though I did buy her something else as well). The atmosphere is amazing! Our day began with the ringing of Church bells, and if that sounds very English in a pastoral sort of way, it’s anything but. The bells have a completely non-British sound – echoes of Byzantium and W B Yeats’ ‘gong tormented sea’ (just read it). The heat is unBritish, the in your face salesmen are unBritish, the winding alleyways and lack of greenery – unBritish: and the smells are definitely unBritish. Yet we feel at home. There’s something about Jerusalem...

Our day has ended with the sight of thousands of Jewish people of every description and wearing every description of headgear. They were making their way back from worship at we presume the Western wall. Night has fallen and Shabbat began some hours ago at sunset. We went up on to roofs of the Old City to catch the evening light and found a couple of hundred young people there waiting for Shabbat to start. When it did they all hugged each other, just like doing the peace at St Matt’s but noisier (did I mention it isn’t very British) and then started singing Hebrew songs and dancing. I think they were party of American student Jews on tour. Older and more staid Jews were presumably welcoming in the Sabbath at home as tradition requires.

After that the muezzins started. I am sure it sounded wonderful before the invention of the loudspeaker but I’m afraid electronics have rather ruined the muslim prayer call for the neighbours. We suspect there’s an element of competition about it all: with so many mosques close together you’re bound to want yours to stand out from the one next door. I think it could be the same with the churches too – our spire’s higher than yours...

We have been to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre today, containing the sites where both Jesus’ cross and his tomb are supposed to have stood. There is actually surprisingly good authority for this. St Helena the mother of Constantine, the first Christian Emperor, researched it all in the third century and found evidence that there had been Christian worship on the site for a very long time already. Check it out online. I don’t normally go in for places dripping with gold  and jewels and I certainly objected to being shoved out of Jesus’ supposed tomb as soon as I started to pray (they can spot troublemakers!). But to stand by the site of the cross and look at the exposed riven stone (see Matthew 27 for the earthquake) was a deeply moving experience. And there were people from all over the world sharing it. Jesus said, “When I am lifted up I will draw everyone to myself.” That’s certainly true in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. We even met some Finns and were delighted to hear stories about what God is doing in their country.

I’m sorry not to be able to post any photos either here or on Facebook. I forgot that this old laptop doesn’t have a slot for the camera’s memory card and I also forgot to bring a cable... so no pics till we get back. Sorry.

Lots of love,

Colin and Elisa x x

Friday 6 July 2012

Elisa and I are now in Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee. It's very very hot (everybody warned us!) and there is a haze over the lake most of the time, from all the evaporation I suppose. It's also shabbat and we are about to go off for a sabbath meal provided by our hotel at outrageous extra cost because we are are to expect that everything will be closed down.

We just had a very interesting time up on the hills close to the lake. They have unearthed the village of Chorazin including the synagogue and some houses. It's mentioned in the Gospels as a place Jesus knew and did mighty works in:

Alas for you, Chorazin! Alas for you Bethsaida! If the same might works that were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago... (Matthew 11:21)

As we looked around at the devastated rocks that made up the deserted village, it made us feel, "Lord, don't let us become like that! We want to have soft hearts and listening minds towards you!" On the other hand those words come just before Jesus' words of comfort to those who do come to him with a good heart:

Come to me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest... You will find rest for your souls. (Matthew 11:28)

Matthew has delberately put these words of the Lord together so that after the pain that comes from hardening our heart to the Lord comes the reassurance of comfort when we are responsive to Him. How wonderful it was to be in the same places Jesus was in, to see the same hills and lake, to walk on soil that He Himself trod! So we were reminded also of the wordds of the angel after the resurrection:

You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here!... He is going ahead of you into Galilee, there you will see Him, just as He promised. (Mark 16:6-7)

Yes, it felt very special to be in Galilee and read that promise. But of course it means we can see Him by faith anywhere, not just in Galilee, because He is alive. Thank you for all your prayers that we will encounter His presence more deeply while we are here, I think they're working!

Just one other Bible verse. There are turtle doves everywhere, even in the big cities like Tel Aviv. It's a sad reflection that these days they have become all but extinct in the UK. Up on that hillside we could hear their cooing all round us, a sort of churr-churr. In the Song of songs it's a sound used symbolically for the the Lord's call to love Him and respond to His love (that's if you go in for symbolic readings - it's definitely a love poem as well). It's Song of songs 2:12-14. Elisa and I prayed that God would renew and restore our first love for Him too.

I'll just close with a local Jewish joke, having now swum in the waters that Jesus and his disciples knew so well:

Why did Jesus walk on the water? Because the boats here are so expensive!

God bless you all and thank you for praying!

Lots of love, Colin and Elisa.

Monday 2 July 2012

We are almost ready to take off for Israel tomorrow morning. We've eaten our last bacon sarnie for 3 weeks, left instructions for Tom and Ben and we're nearly there with our packing. As we prepare for lots of heat and sunshine it's sad to leave you all in the cold and rain.

We hope to carry on blogging a bit from Israel (provided I can get the blog to work - it took several goes today) but we'll probably put pictures on Facebook.

Your prayers for health, safe travel and an uplifting time in God's own country - and I don't mean Yorkshire this time - are greatly appreciated!

Lots of love, Colin and Elisa.