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Bishops' Letter

Bishop Christopher writes...

I have just returned from a very blessed Pilgrimage in the Holy Land with 30 Curates from the Diocese, visiting the places associated with our Lord’s birth, ministry, death and resurrection. We stayed initially at the College of St George, attached to the Anglican Cathedral in Jerusalem.  The new Dean of the College is Canon Richard Sewell, until recently Team Rector of Barnes, and with the support of Bishop Richard we are seeking to enrich the relationship between Southwark and St George’s College.  I very much hope that more of our Parishes will work with St George’s when they go on pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

As anyone who has visited the Holy Land knows it can be quite intense, particularly in Jerusalem, where some of the tensions and conflicts of the first century seem to echo in contemporary reality.   But there is also great joy and peace to be found.  On our last morning we gathered on the shore of the Sea of Galilee to celebrate the Eucharist together at the break of day. Out on the lake a fishing boat went quietly by as we shared the Paschal meal.   Again, ancient scenes have their echo in the present.

It is a very powerful experience to pray very early in the morning, as we did, in the immense and mysterious space of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre at the heart of the walled city of Jerusalem before the thronging crowds of pilgrims fill the place to overflowing.   When kneeling at the Orthodox Altar which stands – so our most reliable tradition teaches – on the very summit of Calvary, you can touch the bedrock where the Cross was set on which the Saviour of the world died.   Then down some steps and round under the vast Dome, where are the remains of the tomb in which the body of Christ lay while his Disciples hid in sorrow and fear until he rose from the dead on the Third Day. And in Galilee, we walked on the very shore where the Risen Lord cooked breakfast and ate it with his friends, then challenged Peter to declare his love before saying once again, ‘Follow me’.

In our Christian journey we do not deny the suffering and sorrow we know ourselves, or which others with whom we walk must endure.   These are hard realities.   Yet we do also hold them together with the deeper truth that the light shines in the darkness and the darkness does not overcome it.  Our Easter joy is hard won. 

Pilgrimage helps us to see this.  For on Pilgrimage we are conscious not just of what we are passing through in the here and now, but of the longer eternal moment in which we live with God.  We are aware of the journey as a whole, its sorrows not by-passed or denied, but transfigured by the light of the eternal city towards which we journey.  The Collect for the Third Sunday in Lent expresses this well:

Almighty God,
whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain,
and entered not into glory before he was crucified:
mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the Cross,
may find it none other than the way of life and peace;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.

As we continue our pilgrimage, in our parishes and communities across the Diocese, through the remaining days of Lent, I wish you a blessed Holy Week and great joy at Easter, when we shall proclaim once again, ‘Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia.’

+Christopher Southwark