Not exactly what Julius Caesar said upon his triumphant entry into Rome, but arrived in Venice not as a conqueror but a weary traveller who had awakened in Zurich at 5 a.m. To catch my train (which switched in Milan). I won’t bore you with the details of nearly missing that connection and then the slow and sometimes lumbering journey to Venice. I arrived an hour late but because I am on Sabbatical, I had no engagement other than to check into my room.
Venice is beautiful and a little smelly in May (cannot imagine what August must be like). Yesterday (Friday), I spent the morning at St Mark’s,marveling at the rich mosaics and Byzantine achitecture and then sitting atop the front ledge some six or so stories high, looking out at the piazza and reading for an hour Roger Crowley’s terrific history of Venice, City Of Fortune. That evening I took a vaporratto (a boat bus) to the Jewish ghetto. Venice was the first European city to create a ghetto where they made Jews live and locked them in at night! There was a Holocaust memorial outside in the square and as Shabbat descended, I stood near one of the two synagogues hoping to hear evening prayers. I am grateful to be able to visit in this ancient city where history slashes and swirls like the tides of water breaking into canals of lived existences.
I landed safely in Zurich Saturday morning (Zurich time). As I write, it is Tuesday evening and I have had a restful yet engaging few days of one of Europe’s most charming cities. A glacial lake, a lucid river, parks and cafes… it is easy to get used to Zurich. I didn’t come here however to vacation but to deepen my knowledge of and about the reformation city led by the great Swiss Reformer, Ulrich Zwingli. I worshipped in his church, Grossmunster on Sunday (having toured it the previous day) and then the next day spent hours at Fraumunster, a church that had been founded as a Benedictine convent but was transformed into a Reform church under Zwingli’s direction. Inside Fraumunster, I was met by luminous stained glass windows created by Marc Chagall. I took a pew far in the back and meditated on these windows, my context within this historic church and city, read Paul Tillich’s The Courage To Be to completion and prayed and thanked God for my father, recently deceased. It is one thing to read about these events, another to tread over the sacred ground of men and women who exhibited such courage in the face of tyranny and great odds.
I arrived Saturday morning to see the beautiful cherry trees arrayed in a multitude of pink blossoms against a blue sky. These trees are along the eastern border of the church. Last Sunday the Japanese Cherry Tree out front that Emma Wright donated a few years ago to our church was in full blossom, along with its cousins all along the Tidal Basin. The world is beautiful.
Easter is a week away. Tomorrow we begin Holy Week by marking Palm Sunday and then on Thursday is our Maundy Thursday service at 7pm. This is a holy, solemn week in which we ponder not so much the beauty of the world as the harsh truth of the inhumanity of humankind. Please be sure to join us. The services will prepare you for Easter when we baptize three people and celebrate the holiest day in the Christian calendar.