Standing at the doorway between one year and the next there is a pull to remember what has been given and prepare for what may be to come. For me the past year contained the extraordinary gift of encountering what has been termed the ‘Fifth Gospel’; the chance to visit the land where Jesus lived, died and rose again. The eight days, led by a friend who is a Biblical Scholar, were filled with rich experiences that will surely take a long time to process: staying at the Tantur ecumenical study centre at the edge of Jerusalem with a view of Bethlehem, joining the huge crowds at the holy places, being reminded of the horrors of the Holocaust in the Yad Vashem centre, hearing the stories of Palestinian students at the university of Bethlehem who face many daily indignities in their lives, sitting with members of the L’Arche community as they made beautiful sheep from felt, happening to arrive for a celebratory mass at the Benedictine monastery of Tabgha on the supposed spot where five thousand people were fed (when all who had attended mass were welcomed and fed with warmth and generosity), and watching the sun rise on the gently lapping waters of the Sea of Galilee. Just to name a few of the pearls that are beginning to sink down towards deeper waters.
It was Nazareth that was the high point for me, visiting the Basilica of the Annunciation, seeing the recent excavations and the chapel of St. Joseph, and our prearranged visit to the Sisters of Nazareth, just up the road from the Basilica. We had our own Annunciation angel, Angela from Ireland, as our guide to the excavations beneath their property. She told us that workmen mending a pipe had discovered a Byzantine church underneath their house, and subsequently a first century house and a first century tomb had been discovered at an even lower level. Over the years local people had often told the sisters that the Tomb of the Just One was on their land, but they had been preoccupied with their mission to teach and not really listened. We shared a reading about St Joseph by the opening of the tomb, and, near the doorway shown above, we stopped to consider that Jesus may well have come through that very door during his hidden years; it could even have been the door to the home of the Holy Family. It’s not possible to go through that particular doorway into the house beyond, as it is due to receive careful archaeological attention in the coming months and years.
What new things did I learn from the visit? The great height of the Transfiguration mountain, Tabor, where it was good to spend time in a little ruined Benedictine chapel; that Mary walked a significant distance to visit her cousin Elizabeth; that Jesus, like us would have known political uncertainty; that much of his ministry took place in an area of outstanding natural beauty; and about the central importance of Jerusalem. It was moving to go up the steps to where the Temple would have been, but I was also reminded of St Jerome’s words that had arrived on a daily email feed ‘As for those who say ‘The temple of the Lord’…..let them listen to the apostle’s words ‘ Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells within you?’. Jerome also says ‘I should not dream of restricting God’s almighty power to a single region or confine within a single parcel of land him whom heaven itself cannot contain’. May He who has walked among us in places which are now both sacred and troubled walk with us through the doorways of our lives into this coming year, enabling an ever deeper understanding of the meaning of His actions and words, and of the pearl of great price that is within us all.
Celia Lazarus, Minster Abbey