Sunday….. in Jerusalem! The Evangelical Lutheran Church is a very welcoming community for those living away from home. Pastor Fred, in his opening address announced that, as it was Pentecost Sunday, this was to be an interactive service, and he proceeded to give out readings to 14 very different people. It was a very effective way of symbolizing the effect of many people speaking in many languages
The biblical narrative of Pentecost is given in the second chapter of the Book of Acts. As recounted in Acts 2:1-6:
And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven. Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language.
I was pondering this passage as I meandered through the labyrinthine streets of the Old City of Jerusalem and found myself at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. I sometimes drop by there after I leave the EAPPI office and am gifted by the music of processions of monks and priests. This church is a mecca for Christians and tourists alike, a church that encourages different Christian communities to celebrate with their own distinctive traditions. It is a working church where there are often services taking place as tourists stroll about admiring the magnificent architecture.
I found a schmorgasborg of Christian traditions and I was surrounded by the cacophony of many languages. I listened to the soft chant of the Latin priests as they blended with the robust singing of the Eastern Orthodox Churches. However, I was drawn to the exotic middle eastern voices and found a small group of celebrants in a little stone alcove filled to capacity with three priests, two alter boys and three attendants. The priest was dressed in splendid red brocade robes embroidered with gold threads.
The Priest sang the liturgy in low full resonant voices that drew onlookers into the alcove. One man was watching the proceedings attentively and was later joined by a woman with two small children. I wondered if the altar boy was his grandson. The singing invited meditation was interrupted when I was blessed by water thrust over me from a eucalyptus branch.
As this service was winding down, I heard loud knocks rhythmically approaching – startling in a city where military activity is the norm. However, I soon observed I had nothing to fear as priests in black robes wearing red fez’ were passing by, striking their staffs on the ancient stone floors. Following them were mostly older priests, many with long seemingly unkempt beards, dressed in scarlet embroidered robes. They were flanking a priest wearing a magnificent white robe studded with jewels. Teenage boys in white, carrying the heavy candle sticks and incense, brought up the rear. Their procession passed by three times and, like the children mesmerized by the Pied Piper, I was drawn to them. The singing was enthusiastic, the prayers sincere as worshipers followed, kneeled and sang. Onlookers, pilgrims, and the curious…all together, in this magnificent Church – the embodiment of inclusiveness.
By now, I was really getting into the spirit of Pentecost. When the Greek Orthodox service was over, I approached a monk to ask if there was to be a Latin Service that day.
‘Yes, at five, the priests will have a singing procession.’
Back again at five. I joined the priest’s procession to the chapels. Gentle singing of the rosary accompanies me as I followed these Catholic priests.
Organ music burst onto this gentle service. I was amazed that this small choir could hold their own against such powerful competition.