The First Palm Sunday

April 8, 2014

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It was, as it usually was, a blazing hot day in Jerusalem. There were a fair few more people in the city than usual as pilgrims came from around the country to celebrate Passover and the streets were busy. The crowds were swelled by those who were hoping to catch a glimpse of the latest winner of the prestigious Temple (Wood) Turner prize for Carpentry, a certain Jesus from Nazareth, who was rumoured to be coming to the city to collect his prize.

The competition, whilst prestigious, was also mired in controversy with a number of previous winners having been discredited. Noah had been awarded the prize for his sculpture ‘A Big Boat’ but the general feeling was that, as the judging panel consisted of his wife and sons (due to nobody else being alive) the voting was possibly biased in his favour. Joshua was discredited when his sculpture ‘A Tree in wood’ turned out to be, well, a tree that had just grown rather than been carved.

Still Jesus’ entry into the competition “Loaves and Fish in Olive Wood” had been generally well received by the judging panel. The workmanship was naïve, certainly, but that lent a certain air of authenticity to the piece and, so long as he didn’t make a meal of winning…

Anna was polishing the buttons on her uniform. She was proud of the fact that she was the only woman currently serving in Blue Watch of the Jerusalem Municipal Fire Brigade. Actually, she was the only woman serving in any Watch of the JMFB and she knew she had to work twice as hard as a man would in order to be accepted but she had proved her value time and time again.

Her shift had started mid-morning and had been unremarkable so far. A couple of flat-bread ovens that had been left unattended had needed attention but, other than that, attending to her uniform was all that was occupying her time. And it needed to look good because, traditionally, the JMFB provided the guard of honour for the winner of the Temple (wood) Turner prize for Carpentry as he (or potentially she – but it had always been a ‘he’ for as long as anyone could remember) arrived in the city to receive the plaudits and the Golden Lathe trophy.

Just after one o’clock, she gathered with the rest of Blue Watch and marched in formation down to Lion’s Gate. It was certainly hot and uncomfortable in her full dress uniform and she was carrying the ceremonial bucket which was heavy but, thankfully, not as heavy as the ceremonial hose that was being hauled along on its trolley by Samuel and Aaron.

When they reached Lion’s Gate the crowd was even more populous than it had been in previous years – ten or fifteen deep in places with people hanging out of windows and on rooftops, too.

As the Watch members stood to attention it was clear that some of the crowd were being overcome by both the heat and the occasion, with ladies swooning quite regularly. If the situation carried on, and the crowd numbers continued to swell, it was quite likely that Jesus would be damned with fainting praise as he walked to the Temple to collect his prize.

And it was not just the crowd who were being overcome – after the exertions of hauling the ceremonial hosepipe through the City, Aaron and Samuel had been given leave to go and refresh themselves as they were looking decidedly peaky.

Captain Fadi, a wise and experienced man, knew that the crowd needed to be cooled down. He could hear the cheers of the crowd as those further down the slope of Mt Moriah got their first glimpse of the prize winner and the excitement reached boiling point. He ordered Anna to splash the crowd with water from the ceremonial bucket to cool them down – but it was having little effect.

“It’s not enough, Captain,” cried Anna, “we need to do more.”

Captain Fadi knew that the situation could quickly get out of hand and took a brave decision – despite Samuel and Aaron not being back yet, and although Anna was, as yet, untrained in its effective use, he yelled over the tumult “Hey, Anna, grab the hose – we’ll use that to spray the crowd.”

As is often the case in these situations (Matthew 18.2, John 6.9) there was a small boy nearby and he took up the Captain’s cry: “Anna, the hose”… soon all the crown joined in yelling

“Hose, Anna, Hey Anna, Anna, Anna, Hose, Anna Hey Anna, Hose, Anna”

“We need to get the spray over more people, Anna,” cried Captain Fadi, “climb onto the roof of the tallest building and spray from there”.

Once again, the crowd echoed his cries “Hose, Anna, in the highest!”

And THAT’s when Jesus entered Jerusalem.

So now you know.

 

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This lent I’m giving up giving up…

March 17, 2014

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How does the liturgical season of Lent normally affect us? Well, for many, it is a time when we ‘give something up’ – maybe chocolate, or alcohol, or biscuits, or … well, the list is endless. And why do we do this? Because, in some way, our small sacrifice of self-denial encourages us to relate to Jesus Christ and his self-denial during the 40 days and nights he spent in the wilderness.  It reminds us what it is like to confront temptation and, like Jesus, overcome it. And, what’s more, we can be morosely miserable about it and take great pleasure in telling people “No, no sugar in my tea; I’ve given it up for Lent.”

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Was it Oscar Wilde who said “I can resist everything except temptation”? What good and faithful followers of Jesus we must be if we can go 40 days without caffeinated drinks or lemon drizzle cake. True disciples, undoubtedly.

And, what’s more, these little sacrifices we make usually have an added benefit – we lose weight, or we save money or we get fitter. It’s almost as though we’re not actually making a sacrifice for Jesus but, rather helping ourselves out instead.

Would we put as much effort into Lent, into our self-denial, our sacrifice, if we knew that someone else was to benefit instead? If we didn’t accrue the benefit of our labours but they were to go to someone else? Maybe someone who wasn’t expecting it … God forbid the beneficiary was someone who didn’t deserve it!

But isn’t that actually what happened all those years ago? Jesus made the biggest sacrifice of all, gave his life, not for His benefit – but for ours. And humanity didn’t deserve it then – and doesn’t deserve it now, yet still the sacrifice was made.

So this year, let’s not look at making self serving sacrifices, let’s do something for others.. Acts of Random Kindness for people who maybe don’t deserve it.

I was the recipient of an ARK 20 years ago in Liverpool – I’d parked in the City Centre to go to a meeting which had overrun. When I got back to my car I feared the worst as I saw something tucked under the windscreen wipers and knew I’d been ticketed for outstaying the parking meter. But it was an anonymous note which just said “I’ve put 20p in your parking meter; maybe you could do the same for someone else. God bless”.

So let’s not stop doing something in these days leading up to Easter, let’s DO something instead. It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture, sometimes just a small word or act can change the world of someone in need. The Dalai Lama is quoted as saying “If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping in a closed room with a mosquito.”

If you need help with ideas, why not register at http://www.40acts.org.uk/ and they will send you daily emails offering ideas of what you might do to make a difference to someone or a situation.

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By the way, I’ve not given up chocolate for Lent so, if any of you have done, and want to make sure that you aren’t tempted by that bar of Dairy Milk…. my address is in the phonebook

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Holy Land 2012 – Day 9

August 31, 2012

Our morning started, after breakfast, with a visit to Yad Vashem – the holocaust memorial museum. It is impossible (for me, at any rate) to visit here and not feel, in some way, ashamed and somehow culpable when I revisit the horrors that were actioned against Jews and others by a supposedly civilised nation – and how little notice, at times, other nations, and the leadership of the Churches, took. I am constantly struck by the bravery of the Resistance fighters, and given hope by the way Denmark stood, four square, behind their Jewish citizens and ensured their escape and freedom. “I do not know what a Jew is, we only know what human brings are” Pastor Andre Trocme, August 1942 – Denmark.

As a youth and children’s worker I am all too conscious of the perceived wisdom that many abusers where themselves abused in childhood. Israel seems to fit this pattern perfectly. Having seen how the ‘separation wall’ has affected Palestinian Christians and Muslims alike, and having heard eye-witness testimony of how Palestinians in West Jerusalem were forced to leave their homes and possessions and have their property confiscated by Israelis it is impossible not to be struck by the irony of these words from the information boards in Yad Vashem relating to the way the Nazis responded to the ‘Jewish problem”:

“The Nazis in Poland took special measures against the Jews intended to isolate them from their surroundings, stealing their property…they forced the Jews to live in severely overcrowded ghettos, behind fences and walls. They cut the Jews off from their surroundings and their sources of livelihood and condemned them to a life of humiliation and poverty”.

It was a quiet group that got back on the coach and headed to the Israel museum.

Having found, eventually, the correct entrance (and asked the potentially embarrassing question of if anybody would own up to being a pensioner in order to get a discount) we headed straight for the Shrine of the Book which, dedicated to the display and study of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the Essene community who wrote them, linked back to our visit to Qumran. The full length facsimile of the Isaiah scroll forms the centrepiece of the exhibition housed in a contemporary building the roof of which is designed to look like the lid of the pot jars in which many of the scrolls had been stored 2000 years before. The scale model (1:50) of Jerusalem at the time of the second temple helped us to orientate ourselves with much of what we would be seeing tomorrow afternoon when we walk the Via Dolorosa through the old city.

We bought some lunch at the museum to take with us to the Augusta Victoria hospital where we had arranged to meet Margot, the director of the international kindergarten which is based at this hospital compound and is run by the Lutheran World Federation. Margot had also arranged for us to gain access to the church tower so that we could take in the spectacular views of the countryside around Jerusalem. Despite the lift not working all but 2 of the group climbed the steps up the tower. I was one of the ‘sensible 2’ as I knew what was coming next and decided to conserve my energy….

Picking us up at 2, the bus dropped us off again at the Church of the Pater Noster – site of one of the 4 churches in the Holy Land constructed on the orders of the Roman Emperor Constantine at the behest of his mother, Queen Helena, who was instrumental in ensuring the conversion of the Roman empire to Christianity. The church commemorates Jesus teaching the Apostles how to pray giving the example of the words in the Lord’s Prayer. Only the ruins of the crypt remain of the original church and, indeed, the magnificent basilica which was planned to be built on the site in the 1920s has never been completed as money ran out…

Passing the tomb of the prophets we then began the steep walk down the Mount of Olives stopping at Dominus Flevit with its 1st century ossuary store, chalice window, Byzantine and Crusader mosaics and the ‘hen and chicks’ (from Luke’s gospel) altar mosaic.

Carrying on down the mount, passing the Jewish cemetery on our left and the Russian Orthodox Convent of Mary Magdalene on our right we reached Gethsemane and The Church of the Agony – also known as the Church of All Nations – our second Barluzzi church of the day (Dominus Flevit bring our first).

Crossing over the Mt Olive road we went down the steps to the Franciscan Cave of the Olive Press with its altar featuring 2 sleeping disciples) before going through the Crusader doorway and down the 44 steps to the Eastern Orthodox church of Mary’s tomb.

Walking along, down and then back up the Kidron Valley, past Absalom’s tomb (and the tombs of the 2 other people we couldn’t remember!) we entered the Old City by the Dung Gate and made our way to near the Church of the Holy Sepulchre for a well earned rest, and refreshment, on the rooftop terrace of Papa Andrea’s restaurant.

We forewent visiting the Church of Peter In Gallicantu, and Dormition Abbey, as the group were clearly drained. So, instead, we chose to take the short walk up to Jaffa Gate and, following the walls of the Old City, back to our hotel at Notre Dame centre for dinner and, we hope, a relaxing evening!

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Holy Land 2012 – Day 6

August 28, 2012

Loay was a few minutes late this morning – we were concerned because he has always been on time for us but he explained that the Israelis had set up a flash checkpoint just outside Jericho that was causing delays. We were probably lucky that he was only a few minutes late and not delayed longer…

Nonetheless, this morning we were able to get to Qaser al Yahud just as it opened. It is a very simple holy site, a Greek Orthodox monastery, a tomb like structure, an altar and steps down to the River Jordan. The river is the border between Israel/Palestine and Jordan, the river is not wide here and I had never been this close before. I could almost reach out and touch Jordanian land – a competent olympic long jumper would have had no trouble in getting to the other side Also interesting was the number of holy sites on the Jordanian side. The Jordanian royal family is allowing a number of sites to be constructed along the bank of the river for pilgrims. But back to the Jericho site… there was a shop, of course, but only a small one and the site is nothing like as commercialised as the one at Yardenit near Tiberias. It was the first time that either Brian or I had visited this site (ergo anyone else in the group!) and I think it is one which I will try to include on future itineraries, despite the warnings not to stray from the marked paths as the ground has been land-mined.

But time waits for no-one, and we didn’t want to linger too long in the heat, so we were soon on the bus for the 75 Kilometre drive up the rift valley to our next stop: Beat She’an. We had no real problem at the checkpoint leaving the West Bank – mostly because Luay told the soldiers we had come from Jerusalem. Had we said we had come from Jericho, our passage might not have been so easy. One of my favourite archaeological sites in the Holy Land (therefore the group were going to visit whether they wanted to or not) the extensive excavations at Beat She’an reveal a complete Roman town with bath house, forum, wide avenues and the obligatory amphitheatre with vomitoria. In the Roman period it was the most important of the 10 cities, the Decapolis, and the only one on the west bank of the Jordan River. In the heat, nobody was going to climb the hill to the roman fort which overlooks the town but, at least there was an opportunity for a quick viewing – and an ice cream, of course. I don’t sweat much for a fat lad but Beat She’an is always guaranteed to soak my shirt. Still, better to perspire than to expire which, apart from staying on the bus is the only other option.

And so onwards, to Bet Gabriel on the southern shore of Lake Galillee where we were going to stop for lunch and a walk along the shore. An art and cultural centre for peace built in the early 1990s the centre incorporates a cinema and art galleries along with lecture theatres and a restaurant with a view north towards the Sea of Galilee (Lake Tiberias, Lake Kinneret, Lake Gennesaret, Syrian Sea – take your pick!) It was also where Shimon Peres and King Hussein of Jordan signed the historic peace treaty between Israel and Jordan in 1996.

Up to the top of the Golan Heights, via a winding road that had the bus (but thankfully not Loay) protesting to kibbutz of Kefar Haruv to get a view of the lake from on high before plunging (metaphorically) down, past Ne’ot Golan, to Kursi. There’s a Byzantine monastery at Kursi. When Jesus ‘crossed to the other side of the lake’ it was to Kursi he came (called ‘Gergesa’ in the New Testament) and cast demons (‘we are legion’) into a herd of swine before driving them over a cliff into the lake. 20120828-174140.jpg20120828-174202.jpg20120828-174221.jpg

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A Visit To The Holy Land

November 17, 2011

“I’ve always wanted to visit the places I hear of in the Gospels  ….”

“I’d like to experience what it means to live in Israel/Palestine today …”

“I want an opportunity to deepen my faith and understanding ….”

A visit to the Holy Land provides opportunities and experiences that, as well as lasting a lifetime, can develop your understanding of faith.

Revd. Brian Jolly (Altrincham United Reformed Church) and Leo Roberts (CYDO) are leading a small group (20 members) on a 12-day visit to the Holy Land from 23rd August 2012 to 3rd September 2012. Places are strictly limited and will be allocated on a ‘first come; first served’ basis.

We will not only be visiting the Gospel sites (starting in Bethlehem, visiting Nazareth, then Galilee before spending time in jerusalem) but will also have the opportunity to meet with members of local faith communities – Christian, Muslim and Jewish. Hearing their stories and learning a little of their lives will inform us about the Holy Land and help us to begin to understand what it means to live in the Holy Land today.

The cost of the trip, including flights, accommodation (twin rooms, en-suite) on a half-board basis) and all internal transport is £1375.

For further information, or to get an application pack, please get in touch

Thursday, 23rd August

Meet at Manchester Airport 0700, departing on flight LS907 at 10.00.

Arrive Ben Gurion Airport, Tel Aviv

at 17.15. Transfer to Bethlehem.

Dinner and overnight in Bethlehem, at The Bethlehem Hotel

Friday 24th August  Jerusalem/Bethlehem orientation

Today we travel around Bethlehem and Jerusalem to get our bearings. In the morning we travel east from Bethlehem into the desert to Herodion, the summer palace and burial place of King Herod. Later we travel a short distance to the north to circle the Old City of Jerusalem, stopping for lunch and spectacular views from Mount Scopus and the Mount of Olives (to the east), and the Haas Promenade (to the south).

Dinner and overnight in Bethlehem, at The Bethlehem Hotel

Saturday 25th August 

In and around Bethlehem

This morning we visit Dheisheh Refugee Camp, to hear from residents about the history of the camp and life today. Later we view the Separation Barrier and hear from other residents of Bethlehem about living under occupation. After lunch we visit the Shepherd’s Fields in the village of Beit Sahour, to the east of Jerusalem Bethlehem, before walking through Bethlehem Old City to the Church of the Nativity.

Today includes a meeting with  Jack Giacaman and his family, and a visit to their olive wood factory & shop.

Dinner and overnight in Bethlehem, at The Bethlehem Hotel

 Sunday 26th August 

Bethlehem & Jericho

We join the Lutheran congregation at Bethlehem Christmas Church for morning worship, and afterwards visit the Lutheran International Centre of Bethlehem.

In the afternoon we transfer from Bethlehem to the desert oasis of Jericho, situated at the lowest point on the earth’s surface. We visit Tel Jericho and view the hills of Jordan to the east, before arriving at Jericho Resort Hotel.

Dinner and overnight at Jericho Resort Hotel

Monday 27th August 

Beside the Dead Sea

An early morning start to drive south along the western shore of the Dead Sea to Masada, King Herod’s Winter Palace. After an audio-visual presentation explaining the history of Masada, we ascend the mountain by cable car to tour the archaeological excavations and enjoy spectacular views of the Dead Sea.

Late morning and early afternoon provide opportunity to experience the facilities of the Dead Sea Spa at Ein Gedi (including Dead Sea mud, the Dead Sea, mineral & fresh water pools). Later in the afternoon we return to Jericho, stopping en route to visit the archaeological excavations at Qumran, the 1st century desert centre for the Essene Community, where the Dead Sea scrolls were written.

Dinner and overnight at Jericho Resort Hotel

Tuesday 28th August 

The Jordan Valley and Nazareth

Today we travel north along the Jordan Valley to Nazareth to visit Mary’s Well, the Basilica of the Annunciation and Nazareth village before making our way to Kibbutz Ma Agan, situated on the south eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee.

Dinner and overnight at

Kibbutz Ma Agan, Sea of Galilee

Wednesday 29th August 

The Sea of Galilee

Today is spent beside the Sea of Galilee, and includes visits to Kursi, Bethsaida,  Capernaum, Mensa Christi, Tabgha and the Mount of Beatitudes, and a boat ride.

Dinner and overnight at

Kibbutz Ma Agan, Sea of Galilee

Thursday 30th August

The Mediterranean Coast

This morning we head west to the Mediterranean coast, for a morning visit to Caeserea Maritima. In the afternoon we make our way up to the Holy City of Jerusalem.

Dinner and overnight at the

Notre Dame Centre, Jerusalem

Friday 31st August

The Old City of Jerusalem

Today begins with visits to the Church of the Pater Noster and Dominus Flevit on the Mount of Olives, and the Garden of Gethsemane. Later we cross the Kidron Valley to enter the Old City of Jerusalem and walk the Via Dolorosa (the Way of Sorrows) to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Other visits inside the Old City include The Church of St Anne, the pools of Bethesda, St James’ Armenian Cathedral and the Western Wall.

Dinner and overnight at

Notre Dame Centre, Jerusalem

 Saturday 1st September  –  The Temple Mount, Bethany and West Jerusalem

This morning begins with a visit to Harem-esh-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary) to view the Al Aqsa Mosque and the golden Dome of the Rock. Later we visit Bethany, the home village of Mary, Martha and Lazarus.

Ain the afternoon we visit the memorial to the Holocaust (Yad Vashem) and an extensive model of 1st century Jerusalem at the Israel Museum.

Dinner and overnight at Notre Dame Centre, Jerusalem

Sunday 2nd September  – Jerusalem/Hebron

This morning we worship with the Palestinian congregation at St George’s Anglican Cathedral in East Jerusalem

In the afternoon, we will visit Hebron with a member of the Israel Committee Against House Demolitions to visit the Tombs of the Patriarchs and meet with the Christian Peacemaker Team.

Dinner and overnight at Notre Dame Centre, Jerusalem

Monday 3rd September

Emmaus …. and home

This morning we will visit one of the 4 traditional sites of Emmaus where we will celebrate Communion to end our visit, before transferring to Ben Gurion Airport, Tel Aviv.

Depart Tel Aviv on flight LS908, arriving in Manchester at 22.00