Friday, 11 May 2012

Where Jesus touched the earth

It's easy to get a bit cynical about pilgrimage sites in the Holy Land.  Everywhere you go, there seems to be a church built on a location where Jesus and/or his disciples said or did something.  Dominus Flevit, where Jesus wept over Jerusalem; the Church of All Nations at Gethsemane, over the rock where Jesus agonised over the coming cross; the Church of St Peter in Gallicantu, where Peter denied Christ; the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built upon the place where Jesus was crucified and buried and from where he rose from death.  You get the impression that if Jesus was known to have sat down or sneezed somewhere, a church would have been built!

None of the sites are necessarily proven.  What we can say is that there is a long tradition associated with them, and that the building of churches in these places has prevented them from being 'lost' to the pilgrim. If you like the idea of 'sacred space', you will certainly find a sense of holiness arising as you add your prayers to those of many generations of pilgrims before you.  And the journey from one place to another, for example on the Via Dolorosa (Way of Suffering, or Way of the Cross), helps to evoke the memory of events from 2000 years ago.  Nonetheless, some struggle with the 'churchification' and commercialisation of Christ.

How are we to find Jesus in all of this?  The following poem by Steve Turner puts it well:

'Where Jesus touched the earth'
I went to see where Jesus
Church of All Nations
Once touched the earth
but the Church
Had got there before me
And obscured his footprints
With arches, buttresses,
Gold and incense.

I went to see where Jesus
Once touched the earth.
I couldn't see for
Concrete and collection boxes,
For postcards and guide books.

So I looked further down.
I looked to the ground.
But the ground was thirty feet
Higher than back in AD3.
This is not where Jesus walked.

I looked down, down to my feet,
My legs, my arms, chest.
I looked down to where Jesus
Touches the earth.

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