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The Eternal City of God

Father Terry writes:

In our opening prayer today, we ask of God: ‘Hear the pleading of your people, and bestow your peace on our times’. To which I would think we would all heartily say: Amen. Only 25 years ago we were hoping for a new era of peace. Apartheid had been overcome. The Berlin Wall had been torn down. Northern Ireland was making more and more progress. It seemed that we could spend money on vanquishing hunger and disease rather than building weapons. Alas, at the start of 2019 this seems a distant dream. The world seems a fragile place once more.

We ought to take heart from the first reading (Isa. 62.1-5). What you need to know is that at the time those words were written, Jerusalem was either in ruins or still being slowly and painfully rebuilt. In 587 BC the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar had captured Jerusalem after a long siege. Jerusalem was plundered and Solomon's Temple was destroyed. Most of the elite were taken into captivity in Babylon. The city was razed to the ground. Only a small number of people were permitted to remain.

It is in the aftermath of this that the prophet speaks. He sees that a new Jerusalem will arise. This city symbolises the whole people of God. It will be a place famed for its justice and peace. God will love this city, and its people so much that it will be like a marriage covenant, with God rejoicing in his people to whom he is wedded in love. It must have sounded crazy and impossible at the time.

What happened? We think first of the Jerusalem of today, which in the 2000 years since those words were spoken has been rebuilt and destroyed and rebuilt again. But the prophecy we hear today invites us to think of Jerusalem as the symbol of another city: this city is the invisible City of God. St Augustine wrote about this city, that it exists in every age and in every land where people turn to God in love and faithfulness. This city is found in bustling cosmopolitan London and in every world city. It is found in country areas and in deserts. It is found in places of great poverty, for riches do not guarantee that you will be close to God, and poverty does not separate you from God. In this city, the Jerusalem of God, the poor, the handicapped, the refugees, are as much at home as everybody else. This is the City of God, the eternal Jerusalem that already counts the saints among its citizens. This is where we belong.

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