Random and not so random musings from a 5th generation NE Missourian who became a 1st generation Episcopalian. Let the good times roll!

(BBC Proms rendition of Jerusalem)

They're not the Four Questions of Passover, but I believe, that, in an odd way, the Glastonbury Legend and the four questions in the hymn "Jerusalem" are matters important to our faith, even if they are not matters essential to it.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Glastonbury Legend...well, actually there are two arms of it, but it starts with the legend that Joseph of Arimathea, a tin merchant, traveled to England with the young Jesus.  The legend was around since at least the 13th century, coupled with the idea that later, Joseph also brought back a chalice containing Christ's blood (aka the Holy Grail) to Glastonbury.  The idea that Jesus had actually set foot in England was immortalized in William Blake's poem in 1808, and set to music by Sir Hubert Parry in 1916.

It's at this point the story gets a bit of a checkered past.  The reason for setting it to music was pretty much...well...nationalistic.  Originally to be a part of Britain's "Fight for Right" movement, and written at the time the British occupation of Palestine commenced during WWI, Parry pulled it from anything having to do with the Fight for Right movement, quickly became one of Britain's most beloved songs, even elevated to the status of a hymn in the Church of England.  (This carries another delicious irony--Blake was a Nonconformist and formally rejected the Church of England.)

Yet for modern-day Britons, "Jerusalem" is the equivalent of an alternative national anthem, crossing religious boundaries (note the woman wearing a hijab under her ball cap, at about 2:05 in the video above.)  It's sung at rugby matches...

...even when the participants are in the British commonwealth but not from England...

...and, of course, at Royal Weddings.

Back to "Jerusalem" and those four questions, though.  Blake lines them out in the first stanza of his poem:

And did those feet in ancient time

Walk upon Englands mountains green:
And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen!
And did the Countenance Divine,
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here,
Among these dark Satanic Mills?

(keep in mind punctuation rules in 1808 weren't quite what they are today.)

Although we don't carry the words over into the U.S., we do carry the melody over into #597 of the Hymnal 1982 in the Episcopal Church, as "O day of peace, that dimly shines."  Even in the alternative words we present a reflection of the Glastonbury Legend.  

It is in those questions, I believe, that something fundamental to our faith, even in America, matters as a part of our Anglican heritage.

The first question speaks to our belief in the immanence of Christ--that notion that Christ is always present and with us, somehow, somewhere.  The second question raises the possibility that all that we are, and all that we have, is sufficient to offer before God.  After all, if there was even the remote possibility that the temporal Jesus was present in places beyond the scope of what we know in the Bible, the possibility that Jesus' divinity resides alongside us and within us doesn't sound so goofy, does it?

In the third question, we are reminded that behind the clouds and storms of life, God is still present, shining behind and through them--and in the final question we are urged to be a part of the New Jerusalem.  There's some debate among scholars whether the "dark Satanic Mills" refer to the Industrial Revolution, the Church of England (Remember, Blake was a Nonconformist), or to something more abstract.  All that aside, the fourth question lays the foundation that it is part of our journey with Christ to challenge the unjust structures of society, in the hope of the New Jerusalem.

Legends matter.  The truths within them matter even more, and have little to do with the accuracy of the facts.  It means the New Jerusalem can arise from Ferguson, or Charleston, or Chattanooga, or Lafayette, if we are willing to believe, and respond to God's call in each of us to see our own green and pleasant land.



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Kirksville, Missouri, United States
I'm a longtime area resident of that quirky and wonderful place called Kirksville, MO and am wondering what God has hiding round the next corner in my life.

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