In the last few weeks of Lent, I have used the practice of veiling the crucifixes and icons as a metaphor for understanding not only the season of Lent but of our collective state of being as humans. The veils literally obscure our vision of what is beneath, and yet that veil does not turn us away but heightens our senses and increases our desire for the object even more. The reality of the cross or the icon is intensified by the shadow that covers it. Last week I compared this veiling to humanity, pointing out how the true reality, God Himself, is veiled to humanity by three thick coverings. First, there is present the veil of our finite humanity that is incapable of knowing the infinite. Second, the fall wounded our passions and faculties of will and intellect, further veiling our understanding of God. Third, our own sins distance us further from reality as we seek temporary happiness offered to us in the world, our flesh, and the devil. Humans, as a result, pursue their lives in a frenzied darkness, and yet that very delirium urges man for something more. The shadows on this side of the veils drive man to seek after something greater when the pleasures of this world, and pain of disharmony, and the fact of our finite nature fail to give us the rest and peace that all men desire. Augustine put it well: ‘Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.’
That rest is found as we accept the love God has for us as He forgives us our sins, heals our wounded nature, and finally renews humanity by uniting His Divine nature to human nature. In repentance we see through the veil of sin as God washes away our sin. In humility we see through the veil of the wounds as we receive the great gift of baptism when God begins to heal our wounds. And in thankfulness we see through the veil of our finite nature as God adopts us as His very own sons and daughters. The path through these veils is narrow but God has worked in magnificent ways to bring His creation, His people back to Him. Repentance, humility, and thankfulness help us see God’s work and unveil reality: unveil creation so that we see all things as God sees them.
This week, I want to focus on that reality, to see where our Lenten journey brings us, to understand where all these symbols and actions and bible stories lead us. The Introit, again, will be our guide, and it shows us that we are heading to Jerusalem–in fact this Psalm was used as a psalm for pilgrimages. All Jewish men were expected to go to Jerusalem three times a year for the three main feasts: Passover, the Feast of Booths, and the Feast of Weeks. It is in this context that Ps. 122 was written. It starts:
I WAS glad when they said unto me, * We will go into the house of the LORD. Here the Psalmist takes great delight in the pilgrimage, looking forward to the entrance into Jerusalem, which he calls the house of the Lord, for truly this was the place where God dwelt with His people.
2 Our feet shall stand in thy gates, * O Jerusalem. The English translation mistakenly uses the future tense here, where the Hebrew is clearly a historical tense, signaling that the pilgrim has arrived or is at the present moment at the entrance of the city. The Psalm was either in remembrance of the pilgrimage or said in thanksgiving for the safe journey now brought to its culmination
3 Jerusalem is built as a city * that is at unity in itself. The author seems to look around and take in the glorious sight: that Jerusalem is literally ‘compact together.’ This is harder to render in English and could either mean that the city is a strong fortification built upon and within the hills or that it is altogether, rather than spread out like the Hebrews lived in the wilderness.
But notice that the Psalmist just writes that Jerusalem is built as a city, not that it is a city. This is because there are two Jerusalems…the one that we know on earth which is just a sign or a type or a shadow of the real Jerusalem which is in Heaven. This is an important change to notice. When we talk about analogies, we often use a “real” image that we have in front of us to understand what seems to be “unreal”, i.e. God or the unseen. But Christians understand analogy in a different way. The images around us point us to what is really real! Jerusalem as a city is really just an image of the really real Jerusalem in heaven!
Our opening hymn puts it: “Blessed city, heavnly Salem, vision dear of peace and love.” What a great first line, and correct for Jerusalem literally means “city of peace.” Jeru meaning city or foundation and salem or (as it is usually pronounced in Heberw: shalom) means peace. According to an ancient Jewish story, the name came from God Himself: “the place on which Abraham had erected the altar was the same whereon Adam had brought the first sacrifice, and Cain and Abel had offered their gifts to God–the same whereon Noah raised an altar to God after he left the ark; and Abraham, who knew that it was the place appointed for the Temple, called it Yireh, for it would be the abiding place of the fear and the service of God. But as Shem (Noah’s son, high priest) had given it the name Shalem, Place of Peace, and God would not give offence to either Abraham or Shem, He united the two names, and called the city by the name Jerusalem.”
So as we read PS. 122 as a pilgrimage to the earthly city, even more so is it our Psalm as we travel to the heavenly Jerusalem. And yet, this is not just some future achievement but the heavenly Jerusalem is already present to us as we live our lives. This is how St. Paul conceives of Jerusalem in the Epistle: But Jerusalem which is above is free; which is the mother of us all. For it is written, Rejoice, thou barren that bearest not; break forth and cry, thou that travailest not: for the desolate hath many more children than she which hath an husband.
And then a few verses later: So then, brethren, we are not children of the bond-woman, but of the free. Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free.
Paul always talks about Jerusalem in the present tense…..we are now children of the promise . . . already standing fast in liberty.
The author of the book of Hebrews writes in the same way: “[Heb 12:22-24 KJV] 22 But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem.”
That is reality! But you see how hard it is to understand–this is not just some future reality but is our reality right now in which we make our pilgrimage. In a mysterious way, we already get to participate in the end as we journey towards the end. This, of course, sounds strange, but it if our end is the heavenly Jerusalem which is eternal, it is not constrained by time as we conceive it, and therefore we really do experience in our day-to-day lives the eternal end towards which we walk. All our images, symbols, stories, metaphors, and analogies are present in order to help us understand that end which is also a present reality!
St. John the Divine in Revelation gives us the clue to understand this web of symbols. In Revelation 19, the marriage feast of the Lamb is announced: [Rev 19:7-9 KJV] 7 Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready. 8 And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints. 9 And he saith unto me, Write, Blessed [are] they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he saith unto me, These are the true sayings of God.
But even though the wedding feast is prepared, and all are called, the Devil and all his armies organize for the final battle in Rev. 20 and 21 – once they are finally vanquished, St. John tells of the feast: [Rev 21:1-5 KJV] 1 And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. 2 And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God [is] with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, [and be] their God. 4 And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.
The marriage feast is enjoyed as the Bride, the New Jerusalem comes down to meet her Groom, Christ Himself. But the Groom is symbolized as the Lamb who offers himself as the sacrifice for His bride and therefore is also the meal for sacrifices were used as the meat for feasts. And here we see (finally) why the imagery of Jerusalem is used to support the Gospel of Jesus feeding the people in John 6.
Just before, in John 5, the Jewish leaders of Jerusalem have set themselves to kill Jesus because he accuses the leaders of not loving the Father because they do not love Him. Even more, he says, they do not even love Moses. John records, by the way, that this miracle happened as Jesus had gone up on a mountain, around the time of the passover, in the wilderness. All of these details put us into the story of Moses. The people notice these details–they look at Jesus’ actions and see a new Moses. But notice that Jesus moves even beyond this claim! Right after the feeding, John records Jesus saying: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Ye seek me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled. Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed. … Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world. … I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. – Jhn 6:26-27, 32-33, 51 KJV
Jesus is claiming to be more than Moses. He is claiming to be one with the Father, not just a prophet! In fact, in this narrative it is the disciples who are the image of Moses for they talk with God (Jesus) face to face, it is the disciples who distribute the bread to the people. Now upon the mountain the people feed upon God Himself with eternal food. Once again, a vision of the New Jerusalem at the marriage feast, the same feast that is presented to you today in the Mass.
We are the New Jerusalem, the building blocks of the city of God, the bride of Christ. We not only make a pilgrimage to that end, we are that end…each of us shaped, molded, chisaled, and set to be the living walls of God’s dwelling place. As our hymn puts it:
Many a blow and biting sculpture
polished well those stones elect,
in their places now compacted
by the heavenly Architect,
who therewith hath willed for ever
that his palace should be decked.
May we too be shaped by God on our pilgrimage to that Heavenly City in which we live now.