For the Peace of Jerusalem
“As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds his people both now and forevermore. Peace be on Israel.” – Psalm 125:2,5b
In the din and danger of the First World War, Sir Hubert Parry was charged with writing a new song. England needed a hymn that would inspire a beleaguered generation. Set to an 1804 poem by William Blake, “And did those feet in ancient time,” the piece would come to be known as “Jerusalem.”
It is not hard to see why it became an instant hit. The piece is imbued with a sense of majesty, power, and joy that a nation in mourning sorely needed. A year later, crusading British troops would enter the actual Jerusalem after defeating the Ottomans.
Blake’s poem celebrates the city of Jerusalem as a metaphor for heaven on earth. A metaphorical Jerusalem could come home to England. And at a time when home felt so hellish, heaven come to English earth inspired much-needed hope.
Parry was no stranger to this metaphor. In his other popular anthem, “I was glad” (based on Psalm 127), the line, “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem,” was commonly understood to imply peace at home, too.
In the English choral tradition, the movable, the metaphorical Jerusalem of peace carries a promise beyond what the real city has ever known. The actual Jerusalem is fraught with some of the greatest and most intractable tensions in our world today.
As we watch and wait for a new heaven and a new earth, we yearn for this moveable peace. But watching and waiting are not enough.
If we want the peace of Jerusalem (and peace for Jerusalem), we have to see ourselves as active agents in God’s story. Peace begins with us. We watch, then, for the opportunities God presents us every day to build peace, starting at home.
O Come, Prince of Peace. May your people be protected by the strength of mountains. May your cities be holy. May peace inhabit the cities. And may we bring your peace. Now and forever.
Kaji Douša is the Senior Pastor of The Park Avenue Christian Church, a congregation of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the United Church of Christ, in New York City.