Weekly Reflection – Peace in Jerusalem

20 October 2023

Like the Dean last week I find myself only able to write about events in the Holy Land, I am drawn, with him, to the same words: O pray for the peace of Jerusalem, we hear in Psalm 122. These words appear in the triumphant setting by C H H Parry in the Coronation Service, we heard them sung in Westminster Abbey on 6th May and at our celebratory evensong here.

But last week, preaching in my old university chapel, their choir sang the same words to the music of Herbert Howells. After the service, I asked the chaplain whether this haunting, beautiful piece had been picked specially as some music for reflection, given the horrific news from the Holy Land. She said no, it had been chosen long before as part of the music schedule; but even if it were coincidence it was not a bad way to respond to the crisis: taking a few moments beyond the barrage of words and images to draw breath and pray.

Jerusalem, of course – and the Holy Land at whose heart it sits – is far from at peace this week. We rightly grieve all loss of life; we rightly condemn the barbaric behaviour of those who deliberately took civilians hostages and deliberately slaughtered people at a music concert; we rightly hope for humanitarian aid to reach those in need; we rightly feel concern for all those, whatever their background or beliefs, who are suffering amid these desperate events.

But beyond that, I wonder whether, in these dreadful days for the peoples of the Holy Land, rather than trying to find words to describe the unimaginable but now all too real horror of the conflict we should recognise the limits of our words and instead follow the urging of this ancient Jewish poet. You can find the anthem online here.

So why not spend a few moments this week listening to this sensitive and moving piece of music. As we do, we pray for the peace of Jerusalem, that long-troubled city; and for all the inhabitants of the Holy Land, whatever their faith or ethnic background. We might pray for the relief of those in need, the protection of innocent life, and wisdom for decision-makers. When it’s difficult to find our own words, perhaps we can borrow the Psalmist’s and make them our own.

With prayers and best wishes,

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