Saturday, 12 November 2016

What We Mean By Jerusalem

Today is Remembrance Sunday.  We’ll stand by the Cenotaph - probably whipped by a biting wind – and vow to remember ‘At the going down of the sun and in the morning’ those who died in war.  We long for a time when, not only are there no wars, no Aleppos, Mosuls or no refugees on rickety boats, but no poverty and no injustice.  William Blake writes of building our own Jerusalem, a place where there is peace and love and enough of everything to go round, somewhere where God is glorified.

McDonalds in Nazareth
Jerusalem Market
I’ve been to the real Jerusalem - less than two weeks ago, so it’s all very fresh in my mind.  Our holiday in Israel was not a pilgrimage, but we found ourselves travelling alongside many committed Christians.  We visited Nazareth.  We took a boat across the Sea of Galilee, where we dropped anchor and, in the sudden stillness after the boat engines had been turned off, read from the Bible.  After visiting where the Sermon on the Mount and the Feeding of the Five Thousand were said to have taken place (no one is absolutely sure), we looked at the ancient town of Capernaum, then drove alongside the Dead Sea, and on to Jerusalem itself, where we watched dark suited Jews, ringlets dropping beneath their black crown hats, celebrate Shabbat at the Western Wall.  Throughout our time there, Psalm 122 was resonating through my mind:

I was glad when they said unto me:
We will go into the house of the Lord.
Our feet shall stand in thy gates: O Jerusalem.
Jerusalem is built as a city: that is at unity in itself.

Jerusalem Rooftops
Unfortunately, Jerusalem is anything but at unity in itself.  We had, repeatedly, to go through security checkpoints, including at the Western Wall, and, during our stay, there was a minor incident in the city, causing massive traffic jams.  When we crossed into Zone A (Palestinian-governed territory), Eric, our amazing Jewish guide, was forbidden by law to join us, so another guide, Ibrahim, accompanied us to Bethlehem and the fields where the angel brought ‘glad tidings of great joy’ to the shepherds.  Ibrahim, one of only thirteen thousand beleaguered Palestinian Christians, found it moving and reassuring when we sang ‘While Shepherds Watched’ there.

The Garden Tomb
Car in Bethlehem - Look out for the Fish!
On the way back from Bethlehem, our bus driver got lost in the city which was ‘not least… in Judah’, winding through narrow streets with sharp turns, his way blocked by building sites (aka heaps of stony rubble), rubbish paladins inhabited by cats - and the wall the Israelis have built to keep the Palestinians out.  My husband kept asking, “How can we possibly sing ‘O little town of Bethlehem, How still we see thee lie’?”

The real Bethlehem isn’t still and the real Jerusalem isn’t at unity, but the hope, of peace and love, which they signify, has become greater than the actual places.  We must hang on to it, especially on Remembrance Sunday.

Rosemary Johnson

Rosemary Johnson has had short stories published in online and in print, but currently is concentrating on editing a historical novel.  Rosemary has a blog, Write On, but it's undergoing a refurb at present.


  1. Thought-provoking, thank you.

  2. Incredibly sad places. Remember how Jesus said, "Jerusalem, how often have I wanted to gather you under my wings ... yet you would not?" And, incredibly complicated.

  3. Yes, the divisions are very sad, but I believe they are working at it.