Today Yvonne and I got up at 4 o’clock in the morning and with a few others from our group went back to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre for its 5.00 am opening. It was just before dawn and the streets of the Old City were quiet. A few street cleaners were out,
and one or two stallholders/shopkeepers were beginning to open up. When we got to the Holy Sepulchre there were a few others there already, but certainly not like the crush there would be in a few hours time. Nevertheless we still had to queue for a few minutes to gain entrance to the Sepulchre itself, mainly because there is only room for three or four at a time. The Franciscan monks wanted everybody to hurry along because they wanted to get things ready for their early Mass. Once again I was struck by the paradox that in these places deemed especially holy it is virtually impossible to have time to sit, think and meditate.
Fortunately the Latin Chapel of the Calvary was quiet and had space for those who wanted to meditate, and a few of us spent some time in here, watching, thinking, contemplating. A little way away, alongside the small Coptic Chapel that stands at the end of the Chapel of the Sepulchre, a robed Syrian Coptic priest and a man in plain clothes alternately intoned the Liturgy. It was a vocal ballet, and although we did not understand the words it was haunting.
Back to the hotel for breakfast. Today there are no organised tours and the only fixed item on the programme is a lunch at St George’s Anglican Cathedral. But today is Pentecost, fifty days after Easter
and the day celebrated by Christians as the day the Holy Spirit was sent to the Apostles. Full story in the Acts of the Apostles chapter 2. The Holy Spirit was manifested in wind (ruach in Hebrew, also translated as ‘breath’ and the same word used in Genesis for God’s Spirit sent to calm primeval chaos) and in fire. The effect on the Apostles was to send them out in the street to tell the world what had happened. And although Jerusalem was full of travellers from all over the known world, each person heard their words in his own language. Well, there are plenty of sermons in this passage – and I have preached a few of them myself! – but the effect of that first Christian Pentecost was demonstrated to us when we went to St George’s Cathedral for the morning service!
Parishes from all over Israel and Palestine had travelled for this service, except for two which had not been able to obtain the necessary permits to travel. Some of them had travelled over two and a half hours to be there. Normally this particular service is the English language version, but today it was Arabic and English. It was surreal and a bit disconcerting to hear standard English hymn tunes being sung with both Arabic and English words. The readings were firstly read in Arabic and then in English and the Bishop in Jerusalem, Bishop Suheil Dawani <http://tinyurl.com/ook59o6> preached in both Arabic and English. From comments afterwards it was clear that most of us who participated in the service at some time or another felt connected, not only with our own home churches but with the Church throughout the world. It was a very special occasion for us, made more so by the lunch afterwards. The Diocese had laid on lunch for all those attending: simple chicken, salad, rice, etc, but the welcome and hospitality was warm and friendly. Some of our number got to sit with members of the parishes and talk to them about their daily lives. There was live music – a group which, it turned out, was led by the Dean of the Cathedral, Hosan Naoum, <http://tinyurl.com/pxlmbfz> and we were very touched when he announced a special song for the travellers from Ely. This was followed by another song, the old Pete Seeger classic We shall overcome. Somehow the fact that it was Pentecost gave it a new dimension.
After lunch we were free to explore at will. Some went to the Old City to walk the walls, some went to the Temple Mount, some went back to the Holy Sepulchre. Yvonne and I decided to go back to the Cathedral and have a closer look at some of the things we had glimpsed in the morning.
Going back to Thursday afternoon, as we had been walking the Via
Dolorosa and afterwards walking back to the hotel, we passed several shops selling Armenian pottery and tiles, and in St George’s they have a beautiful but simple set of the Stations of the Cross in Armenian ware.
We were glad to be able to spend some quiet time there and just take in the atmosphere and the tranquillity of the place after the ‘high’ of the morning. Oh, and did I mention that the English hymn tunes in the morning were played by an agnostic, exiled Russian Jewess? No? Somehow it seemed just right for the welcoming hospitality that St George’s offers.