Vicar's Editorials

The Astronaut, Neil Armstrong, was invited to Israel in the early 1970s in the aftermath of his heroics in landing on the moon. As a guest of the Israeli government, he was assigned the prominent archaeologist, Meir Ben-Dov, as his guide to the Old City of Jerusalem. Ben-Dov, who is particularly famous for his excavations on the Temple Mount, took Armstrong to the steps which stood at the entrance to the Temple in the first century. Armstrong began to behave very strangely and asked repeated questions about whether ‘Jesus would have walked here’ or ‘would he have stood here’ and so on, all receiving answers in the affirmative. The archaeologist began to wonder whether the heat might have got to Armstrong, or whether the strange experience of his lunar visit might have had an effect on his brain, but Armstrong explained that, if his behaviour was strange it was only because ‘I find the experience of walking here more moving even than walking on the moon’.

I write this from my hotel room in Jerusalem (the wonders of the information age) and I have to say that I can relate to what Neil Armstrong had to say. I am here with people from around the world, at the largest Anglican conference in over 50 years. Every morning, I have been overwhelmed by the love and joy evident in the lives of delegates from Africa, Asia, the Americas and Oceania. We have begun each day with worship, singing with 2,000 voices from around the world, led by a Nigerian choir who are just astonishing. We are then addressed by leaders around the Anglican world, and it has been wonderful, as Archbishops from Nigeria, Uganda, Chile and Rwanda have all expressed faith in the same Jesus, who walked where we now meet together united by sharing him in common. 

 

To be experiencing this amazing uniting of people across boundaries of geography, ethnicity and culture has been humbling. To do so in the place where Jesus died and rose again is moving beyond words. Yesterday we visited the place where Jesus was baptised. It is an unimpressive place in many ways: a massively reduced river Jordan now only carries 1/20thof its normal load of water due to the demands of irrigation in this extremely hot and exposed area. Thus, we walked down to a muddy stream, not much wider than a Birmingham canal, to stand somewhere near where Jesus stood. Much here has changed, and yet there is something about visiting these places that reminds me of the reality of the things that we read about in the Bible and talk about when we meet together.

This can all be quite hard to process and has hit me in different ways. Strangely, the thing that made me stop in my tracks was not a place, but a sculpture. Outside the next-door hotel there is a work of art that reminded me of something that happened in this very place before it was even a city. It is pictured on the cover.

In the book of Genesis we read of a strange occasion on which God commanded Abraham to take his son Isaac (the miracle-born son God had promised him) up a mountain in the region of Moriah and sacrifice him. Abraham duly began to climb the mountain (Jerusalem stands at almost 2,500 feet). At the place God showed him, Abraham prepared and altar and readied himself for his gruesome task. At the crucial moment, a cry from heaven instructed him that he must not ‘do this dreadful thing’, and Abraham was provided with a ram for the sacrifice in place of Isaac. Thus, in the sculpture, the angel is simultaneously carrying a sheep and tapping Abraham on the shoulder. The text of Genesis then explains that this is the origin of the saying ‘on the mountain of the Lord it was provided’ and ‘on the mountain of the Lord it will be provided’.

God then commends Abraham because he had not withheld ‘your son, your only son, whom you love’ commenting ‘now I know that you fear me’ (i.e. love/worship/honour me). 

Fast forward nearly 2,000 years, and up that same hill walks a young man who is also an ‘only son’, and, as was declared by God’s voice from heaven at his baptism in the Jordan, ‘my son whom I love’. Not far from where I sit now that young man was nailed to a plank of wood and hung out in the air to die. In the place where God spared the life of Abraham’s son Isaac, God’s own Son willingly gave up his life. Imagining how Isaac must have felt to know that God had provided a ram in his place, I am overwhelmed that a far greater sacrifice was provided in my place and the place of all those gathered here with me at the conference and all of you back home who know and love the Lord Jesus. I suppose in short, I have found myself sharing Neil Armstrong’s most profound experience. It’s better than walking on the moon.

 


April 2018
Editorial for April 2018

March 2018
Editorial for March 2018

May 2018
Editorial for May 2018

June 2018
Editorial for June 2018

November Editorial
Art, Beauty and God

December 2017 Editorial
So this is Christmas

Edgbastonian Editorial October 2017
Martin Luther

June 2017
The Vicar writes...

Faith in our Politicians?
The Vicar Writes...

February 2017
Vicar's piece Feb 2017