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

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