Til We Have Built Jerusalem

Oh Jerusalem, city of the ages! Jerusalem, sorrow of the years and hope of the ages.  From Jesus’ cry recorded in Mathew 23 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem … How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling”, to John’s vision in Revelation 21; “And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God”, Jerusalem has captured man’s imagination and heart like no other city.

Abraham was “looking for a City with foundations, whose Architect and Builder is God”, and that city was this City of God we figuratively call New Jerusalem.

God’s people in the Old Testament era anticipated a time when “the law shall go forth from Zion (Jerusalem)”. The hope of the Jews was then and now is that Jerusalem will be a city set upon a hill, and that the wealth of all the nations would stream into it.

Jesus pointed to a greater reality.  Jerusalem would be sacked in 70 AD, and the word would be spread throughout all the world.  The woman at the well in John 4 said to Jesus:

20 Our fathers worshiped in this mountain, and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.” 21 Jesus *said to her, “Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers.

This leads us to Wiliam Blake’s poem Jerusalem. Rarely have words been put to pen that best expresses the Christian vision of Jerusalem, not as localized city in the Middle East but as symbol for a new kind of city, the City of God rather than the city of man’s sorrow.

First printed in 1808, Blake’s poem was set to music and made an anthem.  Upon hearing the orchestral version for the first time, King George V said that he preferred “Jerusalem” over the British national anthem “God Save the King”. “Jerusalem” is considered to be England’s most popular patriotic song; The New York Times said it was “fast becoming an alternative national anthem.” The internationally acclaimed film Chariots of Fire got its title from the third stanza of the poem.

What I find appealing is the very incarnational approach to Jesus in Blake’s words;

And did those feet in ancient time,
Walk upon Englands mountains green:
And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen!

Blake envisions the incarnate Son of Man walking in England as any man would walk. Then he moves to speak of the Satanic Mills, the ugly world of Industrialism and how Jesus had been eclipsed by the monstrous machine of factory work and conditions.

And did the Countenance Divine,
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here,
Among these dark Satanic Mills?

But Blake turns to a fighting spirit to transform things, to as the Apostles were accused of in Acts 17:6, “turn the world upside down”.

Bring me my Bow of burning gold;
Bring me my Arrows of desire:
Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariot of fire!

Finally Blake lets loose upon the English speaking world of the last 200 years his culminating vision, Jerusalem built in England, in Blake’s own land, as it would be in every man’s land throughout the world.

I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand:
Till we have built Jerusalem,
In Englands green & pleasant Land.

Jesus said the Kingdom of God is like a leaven, it starts small but in the end leavens the whole lump.  This is Blake’s vision.  May the church recapture this historic vision, and leave behind the hope of that has become too entrenched in the church, the hope of going to heaven when we die and of waiting on earth until Christ comes back in a blaze of glory to change things.  This hope is more mental flight than the “Mental Fight” Blake heralds.

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