Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Temple Mount and Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, looking over the Kidron Vallay

Temple Mount and Mount of Olives

One Last Night

This poem has been slowly emerging since I walked the route described on my last full day in Jerusalem. Some was what was going through my head as I walked it. Some was written on the journey home, and some in the quiet times since I got home. Those of you who know Jerusalem will notice it is set both in Jerusalem 2000 years ago and today. In a sense that is what we as the story tellers of today need to do, tell the story in both settings.

One Last Night

Jesus and the gang met up for Passover drinks.
We'd booked a room above King David's Tomb
but it was too draughty and cold
and the service was pretty slow.
So we went down the hill,
through Zion Gate, still marked by recent fighting,
to a nice little place in a sun soaked square.
There we sat around several tables,
enjoying each others company and the day,
talking of all that had happened over the last week or so.
Jesus seemed distant, preoccupied, not really taking part,
till he took some bread and divided it amongst us.
"Take eat" he said, "Whenever you eat together, remember me."
The warmth seemed to go out of the sun then.
The day grew quieter, still, like the crowd had melted away.
"Drink this", he said, holding a cup of wine.
"This is the blood of the new promise between you and God,
Whenever you do this, remember me."
John leaned over and asked Jesus what this was all about.
But Jesus just smiled sadly and looked away.
Gradually the mood lightened, and the talk volume went up.
Then, after he'd finished his muffin and Arabic coffee,
Jesus stood and gave thanks to God for all we had had.
"Right then", he said, "Judas you pay.
The rest of us will head off to Gethsemane.
You know the place. You can catch us up there. OK?
Make sure you tip the girl well. Don't be tight.
She did a great job, and it was her first day."
So off we went without Judas,
down the hill, past the Quarter Café
round the corner, and on to Herod’s broad road.
We walked in awe past the Western Wall of Temple Mount,
under the pilgrim laden steps perched on great stone arches,
through the hustle of pilgrims buying from the shops, inset
and ready at days end to retreat behind heavy metal doors.
We pushed through others returning purified from their baths on the right,
body and spirit prepared for the walk up to the Hulgah Gates
and into the Temple itself.
We knew all these well from the last week
but after Jesus' earlier rampage
we hurried on by and hoped none of the agitation would follow.
As the sun began to sink, we exited through Dung Gate
and walked on east, strangely subdued,
no longer the merry band of earlier that day.
Down beneath the wall bedecked with Roman insignia we walked,
down on to Kidron Valley, past the old tombs and burial caves.
I never liked these, and Jesus swept past them with nervous avoid.
I kept looking back for Judas, why was he taking so long?
We'd never left like that before, but he hadn't seemed surprised.
What was he up to?
As we reached the road to the garden, at Gethsemane,
Jesus called several of us out:
Mary, Peter, John, James, a couple of others, and me.
"You go on to the place in the garden," he said to the others.
"We need to go up here for a while."
Then we headed up the sharp steep climb
through the new cemetery, fenced in by the dead
till we found the spot he sought, thank God!
I am not used to that kind of climbing!
We sat gasping for air, as he sat gasping for grief
for Jerusalem, the holy city of peace
sinking quietly in front of us in growing gloom.
On the other side, below Mount Zion
We could see people and torches assembling around Caiaphas’ house
In gathering chill and our gathering bewilderment
Jesus swept us up in his passion, and led us back down into the Kidron.
Back down to others sheltered in their cave,
back down to whatever awaited us this night.
And still there was no sign of Judas.
At Gethsemane we paused again, under the old gnarled olive trees.
It was silent now, the night clear and warm.
While we rested, Jesus went apart to "his rock" we called it.
We came here often, and he would pray on his rock, sometimes for hours
while we would sit, pray, talk, or sleep.
Tonight he asked us to pray with him
but we soon slept, filled with the day, the climb and our fear.
Again he asked for our prayer and support
and again we slept despite his cries and our heartfelt desire.
He returned and shook us into the night.
The torches had moved down the hill
and now marched around the southern wall and
below the eastern face of Temple Mount.
He led us back to the cave,
Still in the garden, but nearer the road to Lion Gate,
to the others who waited and slept,
overjoyed at our return after so long,
confused by our stares and fear.
The torches moved east down into the valley.
And we sat and waited for what might be, unsure and uncertain,
while Jesus waited, sure, certain, pale.
In the moonlight Judas returned, but not alone.
He brought the torches with him!
As we stood to protest, he came to the Master
and greeted him with the traditional kiss on each cheek.
There, with each kiss, our company ended,
crumbling away like sand before the wave.
Some ran for life up or down the valley.
Others quietly backed into the gloom.
Some froze in inaction, indecision and fear.
And others surged forward in defence,
met with sword and club and the mortal shout of combat.
“Enough” he cried, healing the calm.
A frozen moment as the world ended
and Jesus bar Joseph was shackled, tied,
summoned away as he knew he would,
as he had waited this whole day for.
We few left, fuelled by anger, and our own despair and impotence.
Some like Peter and John followed.
Others like me just sat and wept,
too afraid to move, too sad to try.
In our dark night we leaned against cold wall
and waited out the unfolding story
in our grief unable to take any further part.
Later, much later, Peter returned to share our despair.
His silence spoke of his betrayal and guilt
but at least he had been there while we had not.
Our inertia cemented and our guilt in place
night passed into chilled morning.
As the sun lit the city in front of us John returned.
He and Mary and Jesus' mother had stayed near all night
He told of trials and beatings and worse to come.
Jesus was coming to the Antonia.
This would be a Roman problem.
It would be the Governor's call on whether he lived or died,
and he never had a preference for life.
In the new warmth this day brought
we small chilled company walked up the road
into through the Lion Gate
with black clad priests and the annual temple goers.
Up past the imposing Antonia Fortress,
home of those from Rome,
until our way is blocked by a crowd.
Some screaming for death,
some observing the goings on like good spectator sport,
some trying to go about their daily business,
and others pleading the cause of our beloved,
Jesus the One who promised so much.
We edged through the throng to see it unfold
to be there and to do what little we could.
In front stood the priests and lawyers,
black clad for black deeds,
ceremonial robes glittering under the rising sun.
Jesus, silent between Temple and Roman guards
shackled and beaten,
patiently waiting the final movement.
Above and aloof
the Governor Pilate.
Rome in the Holy Land.
Impatient with all before,
wanting this rabble dispersed and his order restored,
wondering why any of this was in his day.
Rome's peace, Rome's justice,
today is based on what works.
And Jesus' death will work this day!
Despite the beating,
despite the wrong,
Pilate's hands are washed
and Jesus is led away to find his means of execution.
We are too late, and yet could never have been early enough.
Jesus fate was decided by powers beyond our grasp.
If anything, it felt like he had ensured it happened as it did.
In this time and place,
in this graphic and public means.
The shout goes up, the crowd surges forward,
repulsed by Roman points,
we begin the slow walk up from the steps of judgment
to the quarry of death.
Up the narrow road,
badgered by shop owners to "just come in",
harassed by street merchants selling trinkets for the tourists,
we walk the way, following,
up to the intersection with Herod's great road.
There he falls, to be gently helped by Roman spears,
encouraged down the road, where his mother waits.
We struggle on wedged between malice and mourning
glimpsing as he staggers again,
and some poor shopper is dragged in to carry his cross.
That could have been me, we sigh with regret and thankfulness.
The heat, no sleep and growing violence add to the exhaustion,
Jesus staggers again, is prodded forward
emerging through the gate.
There his end waits,
the old bloodied quarry stands ready.
Others have died here before,
their last humiliations breathed in full view of an uncaring city.
With slow rasping breath we wait,
as Jesus comforts the wailing women,
and stumbles the final step
up onto Golgotha.
Ancient rock quarry bared
and left for others to die on.
We ache with the horror unfolding.
Our hope and love is stripped bared,
laid carelessly on a recycled cross,
and nailed into place.
With a grief too great
he is hauled upright into his final pose.
The stench of death rises up from this hard place,
this shattered rock.
The callous word taunted from nearby road,
the loud coarse wailing sobbed from Mary's breast,
throats caked dry in dust and heat,
bodies too tired to stand or hope.
Three left in joint wrenching agony
their lives dripping slowly into the dust.
The day around turns to dark
as all light leaves our lives.
In the screams of remorse and terror
it ends.
Deep within, and deep in God
It ends.
In shallow breath and a thirst too great to bear
It ends.
We wait in quiet despair,
wait to do some final tenderness,
wait to be there in death when we had not in life.
We wait for the others death
as ours had already been.
We wait to weep our last and rest these remains
to give some dignity where the last had offered none
With the rolling of the stone
we turn away, and start back down.
Not through that city of hope
but around and down,
finding safe roads to safe places,
to gather with bread and wine
and remember.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Why I Love Liturgy?

Why do I get so frustrated at most youth events? Well, a whole lot of reasons that I hope to explore as part of this blog. But to start with, the issue of liturgy is one that is dear to my heart. And most youth worship events have little or no written liturgy in it. And that worries me. Not because I am an Anglican, and we love liturgy for the sake of it. It worries me because I think good liturgy, well prepared and done well can be life changing, and is certainly spirit moving. So what is good about liturgy?
Well, to start, in the New Zealand Anglican Prayer Book – He Karakia Mihinare is written using mostly the words of scripture. What an amazing thing to speak scripture and to hear the words of scripture and to memorise such big chunks of scripture. I think that is life changing.
Now I know that most of the time we use those words in a very rote and boring way. So I am not suggesting that what goes on in many Anglican parishes Sunday after Sunday is good liturgy. But when I am in church and the priest begins “This is the day the Lord has made” I respond with all my heart “let us rejoice and be glad in it.” These are profound things we are saying to God and to each other. And when you are part of a congregation that really gets into what it is saying it is a moving experience. Wouldn’t it be great to offer young people a way of speaking that is truly God centred and counter cultural. Good liturgy offers that.
Finally, good liturgy has a flow that can move people. You don’t even need to use the words in the book to get into the flow. Like the service I described last time. In the end we did two confessions and the power of the communion was lost in the desire to have “talk” and activity last. If the flow of the liturgy had been used, the talk would have led into the confession over what it is that stops us being for god 24/7, and then into the Eucharist where Christ invites us to come without our masks, as we are, and to receive the food we need to leave our masks off. For me that is a far more profound thing. Yet so often that movement is lost because no-one wants to use liturgy or its flow.

I am not expressing myself very well, but god liturgy has a depth and power to it that for me anyway is so often missing in what we offer in terms of worship, both on Sunday and at youth events. In its place at youth events is this musical mishmash that only goes so far, and relies on good tunes to move people. It lacks the depth of good liturgy. It lacks the biblical anchoring of good liturgy. And as a result is very limited in how far it can move the spirit of young people. I want more for them.