“Jerusalem, my happy home,
when shall I come to thee?”
But the 16th Century Hymn, Jerusalem, My Happy Home, imagines the New Jerusalem, the Heavenly Jerusalem of the Book of Revelation.
“There David stands with harp in hand
as master of the choir;
ten thousand times would one be blest
who did that music hear.
Our Lady sings Magnificat
With tune surpassing sweet,
And blessed martyrs harmony doth ring
On every street.”
The supra-rational hope of Christians for centuries has been that the Heavenly Jerusalem is linked by some mysterious spiritual cord (chord?) to the Earthly Jerusalem to which I go tomorrow. As I shift my attention from church governance and our local struggles for a more just and free Nevada, I wonder what it is I hope to find, what I am looking for in the Earthly Jerusalem.
It is the pilgrim season but I think I do not go as a pilgrim. What is a pilgrim? What is a pilgrimage for? I no longer look for subjective spiritual experiences. What is my grail on this quest?
We made our travel plans without a clear sense of purpose. Linda and I will take a course on Jesus at St. George’s College. That is the first thing I am looking for. I want to know more about Jesus of Nazareth. Late in my clergy life, it has become important to me to know who he was. When I first became a priest, Jesus was not so important to me as a vague notion of the Cosmic Christ. Then I met the Risen Lord through Ignatian prayer and he became the heart of my faith.
But what had the Risen Lord who dwelt in an invisible place accessible only to the religious imagination have to do with the historical Jesus. I thought the answer unknowable. I was a Jesus agnostic, and not without good cause.
The Biblical scholars who struck me as most honest said we could not know much about the historical Jesus – only the 4 literary Jesus characters of the Gospels. We could not get behind the books to find the man. The writers who painted pictures of Jesus took flimsy shards of evidence to build edifices. Conveniently the evidence always fit the picture of Jesus they wanted to paint. Luke Timothy Johnson chided them for writing books about “Jesus as I particularly like to think of him” – but it seemed to me that Johnson did the same thing. Vermes’ Jesus is a good rabbi. The Jesus Seminar gave us Jesus the cynic philosopher. Schweitzer, Jesus the apocalyptic prophet who turned out to be wrong.
As I have done my reading to prepare for this Jesus course, I have to my surprise encountered persuasive evidence based arguments for a Jesus who is pretty much the guy we find in the Bible – only we have to read the Bible in the context in which it was written. I believe now it is possible to know a great deal about Jesus of Nazareth and I hope to come back from Jerusalem knowing considerably more than I do today.
Now that I believe that such knowledge is possible, I can admit it is important. It is important because the Risen Lord I know must be one with Jesus of Nazareth if he is to be real, if he is to have flesh, if he is to connect with history where I live. Jesus matters.
One other part of my reading has captured my imagination. It is James Carroll’s Jerusalem, Jerusalem – the title, an allusion to Jesus’s lament over the city. The title evokes how the Earthly Jerusalem is the polar opposite of the Heavenly One, a place of strife and turmoil.
Carroll says to understand Jerusalem, you have to understand religion, war, and the connection between the two. Relying on Rene Gerard’s theory of sacrifice, he asks how prehistoric bloodshed on this site, how the slaughter of children on this site, how this Mt. Moriah where Abraham almost slew Isaac serves as the meeting place between our violence and our redemption – somehow playing out in the field of religion. What might the endless battles over Jerusalem tell us about strife in a local congregation or the challenges of forming relationships that would constitute a diocese? Is there a connection between the bloody power struggle that ensued after the death of David and the power struggles in churches today? What does it all say about the divisions in the wider church?
I don’t know. As I go to Jerusalem, these are thing I wonder about, things I hope to understand or perceive in a new way. But are they what God intends to show me in the City where David ruled and Jesus died? I don’t know. Perhaps we shall see.