A Message from Father Nick 11, 31st May 2020

Where the Spirit leads…looking at the world

Jerusalem on the Madaba mosaic map (6th century)

Today’s picture has a place in our story. It shows what is left of the famous Madaba mosaic, our oldest known map of the Christian Holy Land. This was made in the sixth century, not long before the expansion of Islam changed the face of that land in a significant way. At the centre of the map is the holy city of Jerusalem, and outside it, among many listed features, lie Jericho, Askalon and the Dead Sea.

The map is in the Greek Orthodox church of St George at Madaba in Jordan. There are of course other denominations in the Holy Land too, Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant, though the overall number of Christians is decreasing. It’s a common and moving experience to be reminded by a congregation after mass that they think of themselves as “living stones” of the original Church. As they are quick to point out to visitors, the Christian presence here is not recent: ” Our ancestors,” they insist, “were present at Pentecost.”

But the story is even older than that. Not far from Madaba is Mount Nebo, where Moses gazed into the “Promised Land”, the land to which he had led his people but which he would never be able to enter. He is buried somewhere on this mountain, though, as the book of Deuteronomy tells us, “no one has ever found his grave”. It is possible to stand at a viewing point and look as he did across the Dead Sea plain, towards Jerusalem and places that would later come to mean so much to us.

Perhaps most poignant of all, if we follow the road across the mountain, making our way towards Jerusalem, we come to the place where Jesus was baptised by John the Baptist. This place, known in Scripture as “Bethany on the far side of the Jordan” (John 1:28), was where his mission began. It is the lowest point on the surface of the world.