Dean Nick's Lent Letter

Dear Friends,

I’m writing from East Jerusalem, where I am on an extended visit during my period of sabbatical leave.

I’ve been worshipping at a variety of places here, among them the Anglican Cathedral of St George. Coincidentally, the building was consecrated in 1898 by the then Bishop of Salisbury, John Wordsworth. I sit next to Bishop Wordsworth’s memorial in Salisbury Cathedral at Morning Prayer every day. So in that sense I feel very close to home.

But in others, less so. Jerusalem is fifty miles or so from Gaza, and the echoes of the war that rage there resound here daily. There are very few international visitors. While the Via Dolorosa and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre normally throng with pilgrims from all around the world just now they are almost empty. The economy of the city has been hard hit – the hotel where I stayed with some of you in 2022 is closed and barred.

The impact of the war is obvious not just in locked buildings and anxious shopkeepers. East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza may have been occupied for more than fifty years, but today the Israeli security presence is more evident than ever. Armed Border Police guard every gate to East Jerusalem’s Old City and are stationed at strategic places throughout its winding streets. On the Islamic holiday of Isra and Miraj the local festivities were particularly closely watched. Access to the West Bank through the usual checkpoints is heavily restricted, and access to the Al Aqsa mosque tightly controlled – where once ten of thousands would go there to pray on Friday, now only a few thousand are permitted. This feels like a city under siege.

I was privileged to attend a Bible study with Palestinian Christians recently. The text we looked at was the great commandment which Jesus endorses, that we are to love our neighbours as ourselves. All the stock responses that I might have made – about the vulnerability of God in Christ as a pattern for our relationships – all the stock responses fell away as those present asked themselves, what does it mean to love my neighbour here and now, in this city under siege? What does it mean to love my neighbour when my neighbour is an armed settler who has taken a house on the street where I live?

So - one of those participating described how she had been stopped by a young Israeli soldier the previous day. She has lived in the Old City of Jerusalem all her life, and she was trying to go home. The soldier took her identity card and went off with it. She was told to wait. She was told that it would take a while. Eventually the soldier returned, flung the card back at her, and allowed her to pass. It’s a daily routine – a daily humiliation – that many face. What does it mean to love the soldier who treats you with contempt?

The participants in the Bible study agreed that the command was to love, not to like, and that these are different. They agreed that to hate was a sin. They agreed that love must at the very least mean never losing sight of the other’s humanity. But they also agreed that loving their neighbour asked of them more than they could achieve in their own strength. More than one of them chafed at the notion of being asked to love those who hate them.

It’s right there that I have tried to begin Lent. In that honest space – a space which I too often deny or ignore – a space in which (firstly) I admit that what I want is invariably at variance with what God wants, and in which (secondly) I admit that what I need is invariably beyond what I can achieve for myself.

This year I received Lenten ashes at St George’s, and as I did so I grieved for the ashes of Gaza and the suffering of the peoples of this land. And my prayer is that in the weeks ahead that space might be transformed – that what I want might be more closely aligned with what God wants, and that I might allow God to do in me what God needs to do in the world. For the way of faith is not about growing in experience or expertise but about growing in the knowledge of God, and the wisdom of God, and the love of God – or, rather, about those growing in us.

I pray that you will have a blessed and holy Lent.

Your friend,


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