This coming Sunday is Aldersgate Sunday – the closest Sunday to the 24th May which is
commemorated in the Methodist Church as Wesley Day and is as close to a saint’s day as we get
in the Methodist Church, we don’t, on the whole, go in for revering ‘ordinary’ people! However, to
me it’s significant that 24th May does not commemorate a birth or a death, but a spiritual
experience which took place in Aldersgate Street, London – the conversion experience of John
Wesley, which took place on 24 May 1738 with his brother Charles having a similar experience a
few days later.
The Bible Reading from the Old Testament set for today is from Isaiah 51 and the first verse is the
one I’m going to concentrate on “Look to me, you who pursue righteousness, you that seek the
Lord. Look to the rock from which you were hewn and to the quarry from which you were dug.” It
reminds me of a time I was in Jerusalem and I want to share with you some of the thoughts I had
when I was there – many of them had something to do with rock!
The Garden of Gethsemane was even more beautiful than usual on this day – we’d had heavy rain
during the night, unusual for that time of year in Jerusalem, and the air was fresh and clean with a
slight, but refreshing breeze. The olive trees were in full flower, ancient trees which brought forth
new life each year. In the hollow trunk of one old tree, still coming into leaf, some garden tools
were stored – a natural shed – even nearing the end of its life this tree still had an important
purpose. As well as olive trees, the garden has many other flowers too – the perfume of the roses
hung delicately in the air, hollyhocks were in their full and stately splendour and, as it was Friday
(the Muslim holy day) it was quieter then usual – there was less traffic noise and I could hear the
birds singing. The grey green leaves of the olive trees are so calming – so
I’ve visited this place so many times – I can’t count the number anymore but on this day I notice
for the first time that there’s a well in the centre of the garden – water to bring life and as I sit in the
garden I begin to feel refreshed and I notice the words on a plaque close to where I am sitting:
“O Jesus, in deepest night and agony
you spoke words of trust and
surrender to God the Father
In love and gratitude
I want to say in times of distress
‘my Father, I do not understand you
– but I trust you’”
‘I do not understand’ – no, I think, I don’t – I don’t understand the world – this city – myself – but, in
that moment I know beyond all measure that I could trust God – my rock – but what did I mean by
my rock? I start to wonder if it was a moment such as John Wesley had when his heart was
strangely warmed – when everything he’d lived and believed until that moment suddenly began to
make sense in the light of the fact that I didn’t have to understand it all!
I moved into the basilica (the word means ‘place of the king’) The Church of All Nations with its
star spangled ceiling and darkened glass windows to give the impression of perpetual night. Once
when I was here the monk custodian of the place opened the barrier to the rock where the altar
stands and let me touch the rock commemorated as the place where Jesus knelt and pleaded
with God to “let this cup pass” but that wasn’t on offer today – there was a service taking place
there. Slightly disappointed I turned to wander around the rest of the building and moved to sit on
a stone bench set into the side wall of the building. I suddenly realised that my hand was resting
on a rocky outcrop – a continuation of the one that is now surrounded by railings – I’ve never
noticed this before – maybe THIS is the place where Jesus knelt – how can we be sure it’s the
place over there now surrounded by railings? I touch the rock gently at first and them press my
hand down more firmly and an amazing feeling comes over me as me heart starts to pound (is
that the same as ‘strangely warmed’?) – the words of an old hymn come to me –
It is a thing most wonderful,
almost too wonderful to be’
that God’s own son
should come from heaven
and die to save a child like me.
“Look to the rock from which you were hewn – the quarry from which you were dug” – the words
of our bible reading for today – the rock from which I was hewn – the rock of being a child of God –
a follower of Jesus – even if I don’t fully understand.
Over the previous weeks I’d touched rock in many places among others – the Church of the
Nativity in Bethlehem, the possible place of Calvary in the Holy Sepulchre church in Jerusalem,
Bethsaida, Capernaum – the rock cut caves of Qumran where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found,
the Lithostratus (the stone pavement commemorated as the place where Jesus stood before
Pilate) and now, in this place, touching the rock of agony and betrayal I feel an overwhelming
sense of peace.
I look up again at the star spangled domes that form the ceiling – more stars than I can count and
I think “Lord, who am I that you are mindful of me?” The answer – in the words of John Wesley I
am numbered amongst the ‘ALL’ who can be saved to the uttermost by the love of Jesus – and so
I think that over a few days in May 1738 John and Charles Wesley, having been raised as
Christians by their devout mother Susannah, discovered fully what it meant to look to the rock. I
think I discovered in that church that day that we all have to find the rock for ourselves – it isn’t
necessarily the one that others look, or perhaps I should say – we won’t necessarily understand it
it in the way others do, but the rock where we can find God in Jesus and feel ourselves loved and,
in the words of John Wesley who we remember today, saved to the uttermost.
“All need to be saved.
All may be saved.
All may know themselves saved.
All may be saved to the uttermost.”
In this very different and more secular age, we could do well to look towards our roots and
rediscover the riches they hold, – not just out of nostalgia or some romantic notion of the “good
old days” (there is no such thing!), nor because we want to beat a denominational drum (we often
lose the strength of the gospel in doing so), but simply because there ARE many riches to be
I will leave the final words to John Wesley himself who, on his deathbed, is reported to have said
“The best of all is, God is with us.” I hope my dying words might be as profound – in fact, I wish
my every word could be so profound!
O Thou who camest from above, the pure celestial fire to impart
kindle a flame of sacred love on the mean altar of my heart.
There let it for thy glory burn with inextinguishable blaze,
and trembling to its source return, in humble prayer and fervent praise.
Jesus, confirm my heart’s desire to work and speak and think for thee;
still let me guard the holy fire, and still stir up thy gift in me.
Ready for all thy perfect will, my acts of faith and love repeat,
till death thy endless mercies seal, and make my sacrifice complete.
Ruth Parry May 2022