The Rt. Revd. and Rt. Hon. Lord Williams of Oystermouth

God's Purpose and Presence revealed in the Land of the Holy One by Lord Rowan Williams

I’m struck again and again when I read the accounts of Jesus’ passion and death in the gospels by the close focus on place.  There are scholars who argue that the original passion narrative would have been something like a script for a ‘Stations of the Cross’ liturgy performed by the first Christians in Jerusalem – a sequence of short narrative episodes that could be read or recited at different sites around the city.  This makes a good deal of sense.  The first Christians would have been sensitive to the idea that they could be connected with God’s action simply by standing in the place where God had shown the divine purpose and presence.  The very idea of the land of promise in Hebrew scripture is bound up with the belief that the soil you stand on is a living sign of divine faithfulness – in the succession of the seasons and the harvests but also in its silent witness to what God has done in history.

It’s one reason why the ‘Holy Land’ should not be a matter of contested territory between Jews and Christians – and indeed Muslims: there is a single promise at the root of it all, the promise to Abraham that he and his descendants will have a place in which to make real and concrete the will of God for a loving and just society.  That is the ground – literally – on which Jews, Christians and Muslims can find something to work for passionately together.  The living will of God for a justice that will embrace all is something that can’t remain an abstraction.  There has to be somewhere for it to happen, and in Hebrew scripture this is the land of promise.  The Christian revelation doesn’t either deny the importance of the land of promise understood in this way, or seek to compete with or displace the people of the First Covenant; but it declares that, on this soil of the land of promise, God’s justice has been embodied uniquely and completely in the child of promise, Jesus of Nazareth.  Here, in this place within this particular timeframe, the Wisdom of God walked the earth and suffered the violence of political power at the hands of an occupying empire which had seized the land of promise by force.

To walk the path which Jesus literally and physically walked in the days of Holy Week is to say that Jesus once again reveals the land’s true function as a place where God’s will is made visible in history; he fulfils the promise of the land of promise.  We who trust in the promise renewed and fleshed out in Jesus are called to make that will visible in our own settings; to make the purpose of God as clear as Jesus did, with the same specificity and local particularity, in all the ways that are demanded by the details of that setting, with all the deep attention to those demands that Jesus shows.  Walking through the Stations of the Cross, ‘walking through’ the Passion story as those earliest Christians may have done, rehearsing that same journey symbolically in our liturgy, is a way of recalling ourselves to our vocation to make the soil we stand upon holy by enacting the will of God there, struggling with all our energy to find how we do that with our brothers and sisters of other faiths and identities.  In the words of the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews, we have found a ‘new and living way’ through Jesus, a new way to realise and honour the holiness of the soil we tread on.