Bishop Christopher writes...
I am writing this in Jerusalem, where, with the Dean of Southwark, I am leading my third Diocesan Pilgrimage to the Holy Land. We - that is a happy band of nearly 90 pilgrims - are staying in East Jerusalem, just outside the Old City walls, close to the Damascus Gate, the entry to the Muslim quarter of the Old City.
The Damascus Gate is also one of the pathways to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built over the remains of the traditional rock of Calvary, where pilgrims flock to remember the cruel suffering of our Lord on the Cross, his death and the wonderful events of the first Easter day, with Mary Magdalene as the first witness to the Resurrection. And of course, it must have been through a gate in a similar position in the ancient city walls that Saul of Tarsus set out on his journey to Damascus, seeking, as he thought, to arrest the followers of Jesus, but destined instead to meet the Risen Lord on the Road to Damascus and to be himself taken captive.
Today, entering through the Lion Gate (St Stephen’s Gate) all ninety Pilgrims made our way along the Via Dolorosa, remembering Jesus’s final journey to Calvary, carrying the Cross. After following the Way of the Cross, with its fourteen stations culminating in the Holy Sepulchre, Bishop Karowei presided and preached as we celebrated the Eucharist together in nearby Redeemer Church. With the recent death of a very dear cousin, whom I had known for the whole of my life very much in mind, it was the Fourth Station in which Jesus meets his Mother which moved me deeply - we bring our own losses to the foot of the Cross.
For each of us, at different times and moments in our lives, different aspects of our journeys will strike a chord, bringing solace, provoking reflection, offering clarity and a deepening awareness of God’s loving purposes. This is particularly true and real in the context of a shared pilgrimage such as this one with place and Holy Scriptures and people coming powerfully together today in Jerusalem, tomorrow in Bethlehem and then on to Galilee! Whatever the journey, we carry and bring to it our own experiences, our sorrows and joys. And this is supremely so in Holy Week, when we make a great journey together. We relive, so far as we can, the Last Supper, the Way of the Cross on Good Friday, the strange deadly silence of Holy Saturday, and at length, beyond all hope, the unfathomable triumphant joy of Easter Day.
This is a journey we can all make, wherever we are, whether in Lingfield, in Streatham, in Thamesmead (to name but three of the many places in the Diocese). We do well if we enter into it fully, not turning ahead to the last page in the book, but encountering the reality of sorrow and loss, as Christ’s Mother knew her loss when she met her son on the road to Calvary. For the story of Easter does not deny the reality of suffering. Our suffering is real, and made the more real because God became one of us and entered into our human condition wholly: indeed the Word became Flesh. Yet, beyond all sorrow, the reality of Easter offers a hope which is stronger than death.
I pray that as we honestly bring to the foot of the Cross our own lived experience, so we will also meet the Risen Lord on whatever roads we may travel, whether to Golgotha to Damascus or to Emmaus and want with all our hearts to share this Good News with others.