On the holy mount stands the city he founded;
the LORD loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob.
Glorious things are spoken of you, O city of God.
Among those who know me I mention Rahab and Babylon; Philistia too, and Tyre, with Ethiopia—“This one was born there,” they say.
And of Zion it shall be said, “This one and that one were born in it”; for the Most High himself will establish it.
The LORD records, as he registers the peoples, “This one was born there.”
Singers and dancers alike say, “All my springs are in you.”
My first visit to the city of Zion, Jerusalem, was on my honeymoon. As newlyweds who very much believed that God had brought us together, my husband, John and I wanted to begin our married life together in the Holy Land. It was my first trip to the Holy Land, and the trip was framed for me early on by our guide from St. George’s College Jerusalem. The guide knew that it was my first visit. When he greeted me, he said, “Welcome home!” I immediately understood that he was claiming for me that Jerusalem was indeed my spiritual home. That simple greeting set the course of all that I would experience and understand on my inaugural visit to my spiritual home, Jerusalem.
Psalm 87 has at its core the theme that “…the holy city of Zion is the birthplace of many nations and peoples.” (Toni Craven and Walter Harrelson). This beautiful poem and hymn of praise is paraphrased in John Newton’s hymn, “Glorious things of thee are spoken.”
One cannot visit Jerusalem without encountering the lived experience of many nations, peoples, and the mix of the Abrahamic faith traditions. While complex, there is great beauty and meaning in all of that. My first experience of this came in the early morning hours of our first day in Jerusalem when we were awakened at 4:00am with the call to prayer from the mosque next to our hotel. It was quite jarring initially, but I came to appreciate the discipline of punctuating my day with set times to offer prayers to God. I gradually learned to offer my own prayers when hearing the call to prayer throughout the city. So, too, I found it profoundly moving to squeeze my written prayer into a crevasse of the Western Wall when we visited that holy site. Not surprisingly, our pilgrimage to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher was an intense experience for me as a Christian. I will never forget laying the Jerusalem cross I always wear on the stone in the Edicule, which tradition holds to be the tomb of Jesus, and saying my prayers. I would love to hear some of your own experiences of the Holy Land and pray that those of you who have not yet been will put it at the top of your bucket list!
In the words of the psalmist, may we like singers and dancers, offer our praises to God and joy for the city of Zion!
Glorious things of thee are spoken, Zion city of our God; he whose word cannot be broken formed thee for his own abode; on the Rock of Ages founded, what can shake thy sure repose? With salvation’s walls surrounded, thou may’st smile at all thy foes.
(John Newton, The Hymnal 1982)