May 15, 2011.

Dear Friends,

We will gather together for our Badaliya Prayer on Sunday, May 15, 2011 from 3 pm to 4:30 pm at St. Pauls Church in Cambridge, in the small chapel located in the Parish Center. Please join us in person or in spirit as we pray for peace and reconciliation in the Middle East and especially in the Holy Land.

"He is not here. He has risen." This is the sign over the door inside the empty garden tomb outside the walls of Jerusalem beyond the Damascus Gate to the Old City of Jerusalem. Established by Protestants in the 19th century, this site of the cave-like Garden Tomb near to a hill resembling the biblical description of Golgatha, the Place of the Skull where Jesus was crucified, brings the images to life. During these 50 days between Easter and Pentcost we are as astonished by the stories of the appearances of Jesus to the disciples as Mary Magdelene was when he called her by name and she recognized Him.

The Damascus Gate is the entrance to the Muslim neighborhood in the Old City of Jerusalem and reminded us, as we walked through it during our March pilgrimage to the Holy Land, that our hope for peace between the three Abrahamic faith traditions has everything to do with this ancient city. Not only are the Muslim, Christian and Jewish neighborhoods divided into sections but the Greek, Armenian and Latin Patriarchates also seperate this overcrowded city into distinct religious and ethnic neighborhoods. As Seyyed Hossein Nasr remarked in a lecture given in Caracas, Venezuela in 1996, " One might say that it is united only in the mind of God....."

Nasr spoke about the need for us to understand the Islamic perspective on this holy city since "for [all] the children of Abraham Jerusalem is not just another city nor even another holy city but a city that is related intimately with the ultimate end of humanity and eschatological realities of global significance that will affect the whole of the human species."

If we remain faithful to Massignon's original statutes for the Badaliya prayer, focusing our attention on the significance of the city of Jerusalem for Islam will surely enhance our Christian spiritual journey throughout these fifty days of Easter as we experience the mysterious appearances of the risen Christ in anticipation of the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.

Nasr stated that the attachment to this city for all three faith traditions is based on the revelations of God to each of them. "Here in Jerusalem God has spoken more than once, each "time" addressing a new religious universe which He chose to bring into being. The attachment of Muslims to Jerusalem is permanent and will last as long as human history itself." The fact that two thousand years of exile did not change the attachment of "pious and traditional" Jews to this Holy City would certainly suggest that they would understand better than anyone else the depths of attachment of Muslims to this same city, Nasr points out.

There are four reasons that Jerusalem is so significant for Muslims. First, when the Prophet of Islam was instructed by God that Muslims should pray five times a day, Jerusalem was chosen by God as the first direction for their prayer, called qiblah. It was only 12 years after his initial revelation, in the second year of the Hijra, his journey to the city of Medina, that he was instructed to face Mecca in prayer. Jerusalem is called the first qiblah and remains in the heart of every Muslim until today as they pray five times a day.

The second reason is that it was from Jerusalem that the Prophet made his nocturnal journey to the Presence of the Divine. This Night Journey, called al-mi'raj, is the inner spiritual ascent to the Divine to which the prayer of all believers leads them. It was from the rock over which the famous Dome was built on the Haram as-Sharif that the "footprint" of the Prophet was left following his journey to the Divine Presence.

The third is that Muslims share the Christian belief in the second coming of Christ at the end of time associated with Jerusalem. For Muslims it is in Jerusalem that Christ will return, the dead will be raised to life and the last judgement will take place. For this reason Muslims have chosen to be buried in this Holy City for centuries.

Al-Quds, the Holy City in Arabic, is a "sacred sanctuary", to which Muslims as well as Jews and Christians are drawn to make pilgrimage. Nasr reminds us that "during the last thirteen or fourteen centuries when Jerusalem was in Muslim hands pilgrimage was always possible for Jews and Christians and their holy sites were protected in the city."

Let us not forget that it is here that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was built in the Old City of Jerusalem in the 4th century when Helena, the mother of the Emperor Constantine, discovered the True Cross of Jesus in a cave beneath it. This is the traditional and most sacred site for Orthodox, Latin and Eastern Rite Christians of the crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus. It is to this shrine that millions of pilgrims from all over the world come to join the procession on the Vigil of Easter. Yet, today it is forbidden for the "living stones", the Arab Christian children living in the West Bank and Gaza and even in East Jerusalem.

It remains for us to free the city of Jerusalem from all that keeps her bound and unavailable to all the children of Abraham. Let that be our prayer during this holy Easter Season.

And he said to them, "Thus it is written that the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance and forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem." (Luke 24:48)

He has indeed Risen!

Peace to you.