Archbishop Wilson: "We will not abandon the Church or the people of the Holy Land".
In a powerful homily delivered at St George’s Cathedral, Archbishop John Wilson said we “will not abandon the Church and the people of the Holy Land”, as he called for a just and lasting peace.
With recent developments in the conflict, including a four-day truce, release of hostages and delivery of aid, Archbishop Wilson called for peace to become permanent.
At the annual Investiture Mass for the Equestrian Order of the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, on Saturday 25 November, Archbishop John Wilson, the Grand Prior of the Order said:
“We unite in prayerful yearning that the gift of ‘peace among people of good will’ might overcome the outrage of bloodshed and destruction.”
Drawing on the Parable told by the Lord Jesus in the Gospel of Mark, where the owner sends debt-collectors, replacements and his own son who are all killed, Archbishop John said the “the beloved son” is a reference to Christ himself, sent by God” but who is rejected. Expanding on the interpretation of the passage, he said:
“Perhaps we can see the servants as messengers of peace and justice, continually rebuffed by violence and death.
"Over and again, the work for peace ends in killing. But there comes a Son who is not simply the heir to an earthly kingdom. He too meets death, yet rises to life, victorious over death and sin. In him there is hope that peace can triumph because Easter’s victory is love.”
Archbishop John’s inspiring words remind us that there is always hope peace can triumph, because God wills peace, if only we raise our hearts in prayer and hope.
Archbishop concluded by saying:
“Let the kingdom of truth and life, of holiness and grace, of justice, love and peace reign.”
The full homily can be read below.
Photo credit: © Mazur/cbcew.org.uk
Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem - Investiture Mass, St George’s Cathedral, Southwark, 25 Nov 2023 (Zech 12:10-11; 13: 6-7; Mk 12:1-12)
Dear brothers and sisters in Order of the Holy Sepulchre
Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
The words of the Prophet Zechariah raise a question which has chilling resonance for the situation in the Holy Land: ‘What are these wounds on your body?’ The answer is stark: ‘These I received in the house of my friends.’
When the Scriptures speak of the ‘House of the Lord,’ they are often referring to the temple. In another sense, the ‘House of the Lord’ refers to the gathering of God’s people. In wider interpretation still, it can refer to the family of humankind, to God’s ‘house of friends.’
God’s household, God’s people, are called to friendship, to kindness, and to prayer. Yet in recent weeks, God’s family in Israel and Palestine has experienced terrorism and violence. The present four-day truce in hostilities brings some relief, with the release of hostages and the delivery of humanitarian aid; but can this truce not become permanent?
War has come to the birth-place of the Prince of Peace. The Patriarchs and Heads of Churches in Jerusalem have spoken about the ‘thousands of innocent civilians, including women and children, [who have died] or suffered serious injuries.’ ‘Many more’ they state, ‘grieve over the loss of their homes, their loved ones, or the uncertain fate of those dear to them. Throughout the region, even more have lost their work and are suffering from serious economic challenges.’ (Statement, 10 November 2023)
From our brothers and sisters in the Latin Patriarchate, and the wider Christian community, we know the dreadful impact of warfare. ‘These are not normal times,’ said the Church leaders. Advent and Christmas this year must put aside ‘unnecessary festive activities,’ focusing on spiritual and material solidarity, praying fervently ‘for a just and lasting peace.’ Our own Advent and Christmas, our own journey to Bethlehem, must be different this year. We unite in prayerful yearning that the gift of ‘peace among people of good will’ might overcome the outrage of bloodshed and destruction.
Pope Francis reminds us ‘to take just one side in this conflict: that of peace. But not in words – in prayer, with total dedication.’ (General Audience, 18 October 2023) This, sisters and brothers in the Order of the Holy Sepulchre – and dear knights and dames invested today – is a specific call to us who bear the insignia of the Jerusalem Cross which symbolises the five wounds of Christ.
People from all communities in the Holy Land are our friends. From a distance, in such an inadequate way, we share the horror of their devastation. We know their names. We can picture their faces. We have visited their homes, their schools, and their churches. We have walked their streets and shared hospitality together. What on earth must it be like for them? To see their loved ones killed and maimed; to see innocent bystanders, families, and children fall victim to senseless conflict; to see their homes, workplace, and communities blown to pieces? How can the Church bring together shattered fragments of life, livelihood, and trust, to build again vital dialogues and harmonies of hope? Amidst so much uncertainty, we pledge ourselves anew to be part of the solution. We will not abandon the Church and people of the Holy Land. As the Lieutenancy of England and Wales, whatever we can do, we must and will do.
The Parable told by the Lord Jesus and recorded by St Mark is, poignantly, about land. In this case, a vineyard. The owner builds a wall around it, erects a watchtower, and leases it to tenants. When he sends his debt-collector to recoup a share of the harvest, the tenants thrash him. They kill his replacement, and beat and murder ‘a number of others,’ the Gospel doesn’t specify how many. Finally, the owner sends his son, certain that he will be respected. But he too is killed. Eventually, the owner will take revenge and the tenants too will meet their death.
It’s a challenging story, with many different levels of interpretation. It speaks of God’s merciful persistence in reaching out to his people. The servants could be seen to represent the prophets whose message often went unheeded. The ‘beloved son,’ is a reference to Christ himself, sent by God as the key foundation stone, but rejected. The Lord Jesus’ hearers were angry after hearing this parable. It was about them, about their unfettered greed and misplaced power.
But here’s another possible interpretation. Perhaps we can see the servants as messengers of peace and justice, continually rebuffed by violence and death. Over and again, the work for peace ends in killing. But there comes a Son who is not simply the heir to an earthly kingdom. He too meets death, yet rises to life, victorious over death and sin. In him there is hope that peace can triumph because Easter’s victory is love.
The folksy hymn ‘The Lord of the Dance,’ conveys the essential truth of the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus.
They cut me down and I leapt up high
I am the Life that’ll never, never die!
I’ll live in you if you'll live in Me -
I am the Lord of the Dance, said He!
In solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Christ, and all believers and people of good will in the homeland of the Lord Jesus, we must raise our hearts in prayer and hope:
They cut me down and I leapt up high
I am the peace that'll never, never die!
I'll live in you if you'll live in Me -
I am the Lord of the peace, said He!
Amen Lord. Let the kingdom of truth and life, of holiness and grace, of justice, love and peace reign. Amen
Most Rev John Wilson KC*HS
Archbishop of Southwark & Grand Prior of the Lieutenancy of England and Wales of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem