The Peace of Jerusalem
“We pray for the peace of Jerusalem.”
I’ve heard these words before. I’ve prayed these words before. But they took on a deeper meaning after I heard them prayed while sitting in St. George’s Cathedral in Jerusalem. By that point, I had only been in Jerusalem for about 42 hours but I had already met some of the people whose presence in my life changed this prayer for me. I found myself thinking of it and praying it quite often during my brief time in Jerusalem - while sitting quietly in my room or in the Cathedral and while walking along the Nablus Road and through the Old City. It’s different when you can see the faces and hear the voices of people for whom this prayer is not an abstract concept but an immediate need and reality.
I also thought about these words found in the Books of Isaiah and Micah: “they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” (Micah 4:3)
I don’t think I saw any swords or spears but I did see lots of guns and razor wire.
My favorite line from the Micah “swords and plowshares” verse is “but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid; for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken.” (Micah 4:4) To me, this additional line makes the preceding ones that much more powerful because it shows us what a future without war and the weapons of war could look like.
Now, to be honest, I have no idea what a fig tree looks like. Maybe I saw some. Maybe I didn’t. I really don’t know. (Dendrologists, gardeners, and people with more tree knowledge than me, please feel free to laugh!) I did, however, see a lot of olive trees. So now, when I think about this verse from Micah, my fig trees look like olive trees.
The place where I remember seeing the most olive trees was in the West Bank on the way up to Nablus to visit St. Luke’s Hospital. There were rows and rows of them – some clearly very young and some that looked like they had always been there, silent witnesses to history both past and present.
To get into the West Bank from Jerusalem you pass through a checkpoint in the separation wall. I took a few pictures of it as we drove past and then I just stared at it until it was out of sight. The wall remains one of the abiding images of my visit. And sometimes, when I close my eyes, the wall merges with the peaceful image from Micah and I see the wall looming over the trees and the trees consumed by its shadow.
It’s not a particularly hopeful image and certainly not a peaceful one. And yet, for me, it symbolizes the tension and challenge of living a life of peace in the midst of conflict and complexity. Even in the shadows, life continues.
The commitment of Christians in the Holy Land is to pray for peace and then live out that prayer in their daily lives by recognizing that we are all children of God regardless of our religious belief or ethnicity; by actively choosing to be a presence of reconciliation in their communities; and by reflecting the love and light of God in the shadowy places of life. The Diocese of Jerusalem lives its prayers for peace by providing education and healthcare to all who need it regardless of who they are or how much they can pay, empowering women, and developing youth leadership in parishes and communities.
So, we pray for our brothers and sisters in the Diocese of Jerusalem for whom the act of existing peacefully is a form of resistance to the conflicts around them and whose choice to be a presence of reconciliation is a witness to God’s love for this imperfect world of ours.
And we all pray for the peace of Jerusalem, a holy city for so many people. A witness to the worst humanity has had to offer time and time again. And yet, home to an inextinguishable hope that reminds us that a different way is possible and calls us to be our best selves as we follow that way together.
“For all the peoples walk, each in the name of its god, but we will walk in the name of the Lord our God forever and ever.” (Micah 4:5)