One hundred years ago, this weekend, the city of Jerusalem was captured by the British army in the First World War. It was part of the Middle Eastern campaign against the Ottoman Army. Men from this parish fought and died there, they are commemorated on our war memorial and lie buried in war cemeteries of Jerusalem and Palestine. The commander of the army was General Allenby, and when he entered Jerusalem on the 11th December 1917, he got down from his horse, and entered the holy city on foot. The Kaiser, who had had imperial designs on the city had entered it on horseback in 1898, and infuriated the locals. General Allenby was much more mindful of local sensibilities. Though he was obliged to declare martial law, he said 'since your city is regarded with affection by the adherents of three of the great religions of mankind and its soil has been consecrated by the prayers and pilgrimages of multitudes of devout people of these three religions for many centuries, therefore do I make it known to you that every holy place of whatsoever form of the three religions will be maintained and protected according to the existing customs and beliefs of those to whose faith they are sacred.'

Jerusalem is a hilltop city of no strategic importance. But it matters enormously for religious and political reasons. The city is of the greatest importance to Jews, Muslims and Christians. Every square inch of it, is jealously guarded. It is a place where the preservation of the status quo is very important for stability and the prevention of conflict. President Trump’s unilateral recognition of Jerusalem as capital of Israel and his intention to move the US embassy there, is very worrying and has received widespread condemnation; effectively he is recognising the Israeli conquest of east Jerusalem, which Palestine claims as its capital.  

Trump’s decision has delighted evangelical Christians, especially Christian Zionists who want to see the temple of Jerusalem rebuilt. This they believe will be followed by Armageddon, the final battle of humanity which will be followed by the second coming of Christ and the inauguration of his kingdom.  The rebuilding of the temple on the Temple Mount would require the destruction of the Dome of the Rock, the third holiest places in Islam, the site of the prophet Muhammad’s spiritual ascent into heaven.

It is a sad fact of history that people of religion get God wrong in the most alarming ways. It is surely a blasphemous conceit that mere human beings believe that they can force God’s hand. It is surely a criminal perversion of the Christian faith that people should believe that such a terrible conflict, with a devastating loss of life would be desirable.

Christ will return in his own time, the Lord tells us it is not for us to question about dates and times. We must live our lives as though he could return today. As St Peter says ‘while you are waiting, do your best to live lives without spot or stain so that he will find you at peace.’

Isaiah points out that our bad acts bring consequences, we bring the judgement of God upon ourselves.  God says through his prophet, ‘my ways are not your ways, my thoughts are not your thoughts.’  We have not learned to discern his will and follow his ways. The pursuit of selfishness is one of the great curses of mankind.

John the Baptist calls on the people to prepare to receive the Messiah. But the preparation he asks the people to make is an inner cleansing, a real repentance. Just as St John the Baptist and his call to repentance prepares the way for Jesus, so also, the confession of our sins comes at the beginning of our Mass, we have to look back at what we have done or failed to do, we have to repent and confess our failings and spiritually cleanse ourselves to prepare to receive Jesus in holy communion.

St Peter reminds us that though we think in terms of the here and now God he takes the long view. He sees all our frenzied activity in the context of eternity. To him a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like a day. That should put our fleeting problems and the mountains we have made from molehills into perspective.

In the conflict between israel and Palestine we learn the meaning of the expression, give them an inch and they will take a mile. In such a bitterly contested place, trust is a scarce and precious commodity. We see there how no side can have all it all their own way without causing immense suffering to the others. The Holy City of Jerusalem forms the greatest obstacle to world peace, but also presents the greatest opportunity. If an enduring peace can come to Jerusalem, then it can come to any troubled place and any intractable situation. And the request of the psalmist needs to be heeded more than ever, ‘pray for the peace of Jerusalem.