Sunday, May 16. The Seventh Sunday of Easter and Jerusalem Sunday.
Readings for Today: Acts 1.15-17,21-26; Psalm 1; 1 John 5.9-13; John 17.6-19
Since 2013, when the General Synod of our national church voted to affirm our solidarity with the Anglican Diocese of Jerusalem, thisSunday in the life of our Canadian church is known as Jerusalem Sunday. It’s been a day when local churches across Canada are called to learn about our Anglican brothers and sisters in the Middle East, to pray for them, and to assist them in our ministries.
This year Jerusalem Sunday falls in the middle of an especially horrific cycle of violence in the region. Disputes over evictions of Palestinian families from houses in East Jerusalem, as well as new security restrictions against Palestinians in Jerusalem, escalated into full-fledged exchanges of fire across the border of the Gaza Strip between the Israeli military and Hamas, the Palestinian militant group. In Israeli cities, violence between Jewish and Arab groups threatens to destroy the multifaith and multicultural community and neighbourliness that has been a hallmark of Israeli society at its best.
In the midst of this conflict is the Anglican Diocese of Jerusalem, made up of almost thirty parishes, 30 priests and more than 7,000 church members in Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine and Syria. Besides its parish ministries, the Diocese is active in education and health care, and operates clinics and hospitals, including the Al Ahil Arab Hospital in Gaza City. One can only imagine what the scenes in that hospital are presently like. The Diocese also offers a ministry of hospitality to pilgrims to the Holy Land, including St. George’s College in Jerusalem, a place of learning, rest, and prayer. The current bishop of Jerusalem is Archbishop Suheil Dawani, the fourteenth Anglican bishop of Jerusalem and the fourth Palestinian bishop.
On this day of prayer, in the middle of what may be a new war, the Diocese of Jerusalem reminds us of the role of the church as a witness to God’s commitment to love and peace. As a minority in the middle east, the Diocese tries to model peaceful and respectful relations and dialogue between the nations and religions. Now, more than ever, we need to pray for God to keep them strong, to protect them, and to bless their efforts to show the love of Christ to their neighbours. In fact, this crisis invites us to think about why we are called to pray for other dioceses and regions of our Anglican Communion.
As part of our prayers and intercessions, it’s customary for us to pray for whichever part of the Communion comes up in the weekly cycle of prayer. Sometimes these names are hard to pronounce and they are distant – there are so many Anglican dioceses just in Kenya and Uganda, and how can we meaningfully pray for them or know anything about them? Here I would say two things.
The first is that today is an opportunity for us to think about how we are part of a much wider church. All Saints may be just one of many diocesan churches, part of one of many dioceses in our national church, which is in turn just one of many national churches in our Anglican Communion, and so we are just a very small branch on a very big vine, to borrow Jesus’ words from two Sundays ago. What unites us is that all of these churches exist to serve God, to be the presence of Christ in service to their parts of the world, and we all as churches have a duty to pray for all.
On Friday for our Compline services, we recorded the nightime hymn, “The Day Thou Gavest Lord Has Ended”, which includes those wonderful lines of how, as the sun marches across the earth, a part of the church is always awake to praise and pray: “As over each continent and island each dawn leads on another day, the voice of prayer is never silent, nor do thy praises die away”. We may never know those people and parishes we pray for on any given Sunday, and neither do they know us, but we pray for one another and for the fulfillment of Jesus prayer to the Father, that God guards the church as Jesus did on earth. Because we exist in a companionship of prayer, we are reminded that our shared identity as Anglicans, as disciples, as proclaimers of Christ to the world, transcend any of our particular differences. We are, in the words of that old hymn, “one in the spirit and one in the Lord”.
The second point I want to make is that the Diocese of Jerusalem, while it is no holier than any other part of the worldwide church, has a particular role in connecting us with Jesus and the physical and historical substance of our faith. The Diocese, like all Christian churches in the middle east, lives and walks in the streets and fields where Jesus and his disciples and apostles lived and walked. It reminds us that our faith is not some vague otherworldly piety or spirituality, but is rooted in the world that Jesus knew, that Jesus blessed, and in which Jesus called his disciples to continue his work in that same world.
In today’s gospel, Jesus prays to his Father that “As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world (Jn 17.18). So Jesus knows that his disciples belong in the world, even if they are not worldly, which is why he prays to the Father to protect them from the Evil One. The Evil One can mean anything that seeks to undermine and corrupt the children of God – anything that has to do with lies, violence, corruption, and human power. We are seeing the effects of systemic evil in this current violence. I say this without wanting to portray one side or another as evil. I have nothing to say to you about the rights and wrongs of what is currently happening in Israel and Gaza today. I would merely say that both sides are enmeshed in a process that is evil because it is contrary to peace. Peace can only come when men and women who are serious about dialogue, compromise, and truthfulness can sit down and reach a settlement.
Until then, this is why the witness of the Diocese of Jerusalem is so important. Jerusalem is the ground zero of our faith. It’s the breaking of bread, Jerusalem is death and resurrection, it’s the coming of the Holy Spirit, it’s diverse people made the church in prayer and faith and miracle. In its stewardship of the place where it all began, the Diocese of Jerusalem points to hope, to God’s life, to God’s promises and God’s faithfulness. In its dialogue with its Jewish and Muslim neighbours, it is the model of what peace, God’s shalom, can look like. We need to pray that the Diocese can continue to do and be these things, just as we need their prayers, for together we are the church, the companionship of disciples that together shows Christ to the world and to one another.