The Evangelical Lutheran Church
in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL)
Resurrection: The Truth Revealed
Easter Message from Jerusalem 2007
Bishop Dr. Munib Younan
Salaam and grace to you from Jerusalem, City of Peace!
It is busy this year in Jerusalem, and the crowds make it hard to make your way through the narrow alleys of the Old City. This year, both the Eastern and the Western Christian calendars coincide, which means that both Christian families celebrate Holy Week and Easter on the same days, unlike most years. It is to us a foretaste of the feast of unity that Christ brings for us. We also celebrate during this same week the Jewish feast of Passover. With these feasts here, the air is thick with a sense of pilgrimage and search for truth. I am reminded of Pilate's question: "What is truth?"
Humanity has always had a deep craving for truth about the larger questions of life: Who are we? Why are we here? How then shall we live?
We are here because we struggle with these questions as the disciples must have as they watched the life, ministry and death of Jesus. When you look at the life of Jesus, especially this past week of betrayal, suffering, torture and death, Pilate's question echoes eerily throughout it all: what is truth? Where does one find truth? What leader, or king, as Pilate called him, would choose this path as "truth?" What truth can possibly be found in the life of a man who willingly walks into suffering and the death of a criminal?
Pilate was worried about whether Jesus thought himself a King who would threaten the Roman rulers. Indeed, many followers wanted Jesus to be that king who would liberate them from occupation and oppression. But Jesus wasn't as interested in the temporal power of earthly kingdoms as he was about deeper truths. Neither Pilate, Jesus' disciples, nor his enemies could foresee that the path to truth and new life would first go through a dark tomb. His followers must have been shattered on that Friday. Mary Magdalene must have been devastated and confused, and she didn't recognize the truth when Jesus came to her face to face on that early Easter morn.
For me, the truth is the empty tomb. The truth is resurrection.
"He is not here, for He is Risen!"
The truth is the unexpected which comes out of nothing, the hope that comes out of nowhere when all light has gone out. The truth is what gives life, hope, joy and purpose. The truth is the love that God poured out into the world in Christ to bring light to all the dark corners where pain, hatred, suffering, injustice and death dwell.
In our globalized world, Pilate's question echoes for us, too: "What is truth?" We have all kinds of experts telling us their truths. More and more, media giants seem to create waves of "truths" that sometimes actually obscure what is actually happening. The political pundits face off in the media writing or arguing their perspectives. How do we judge which is right? If we speak out against popular views, we are labeled as trouble-makers or worse. Yet it is these popular views, the "common wisdom," that has brought us again and again to violence and conflict and to the brink of nuclear war. Who has any truth to give us, now that so many leaders are under investigation for corruption and scandals or indicted for crimes. Our young people cry out, "Who can we trust?"
In the last weeks, the Discovery channel presented a documentary film claiming to have found the tomb of Jesus, with family members, possibly even a wife and children, based on names inscribed on the ossuaries. This has created a stir among some believers who wonder whether this could possibly be true. For me, these kinds of excavations do not shake my faith or create doubts because the truth was announced and witnessed on that first Easter morning: "He is not here. He is Risen!"
We Christians have built our lives and faith on the truth of the empty tomb. No one can find his DNA, for He is Risen!
Here is the only truth that gives Palestinian and Arab Christians life, joy and hope in the midst of political and economic turmoil. The Risen Lord continues to assure us that new life and light come out of darkness and death.
When the mainline evangelical churches in the Middle East recently met, we talked about the increasing numbers of Christians who are leaving here because of the political situation that is causing insecurity and extremism. We are telling our believers to stand fast in the truth and be witnesses to it. The Risen Lord calls the Arab church not to falter or weaken in the midst of turmoil, but to assume its role as a healing force for reconciliation, justice and peace. We ask for your prayers for our ministries here.
The ways of truth are not for the faint of heart. Sometimes I think the reason we have so much trouble finding truth is that we are afraid of it and the difficult choices that are required on this path of truth. If we really see God's truth in the broken streets of this world – the suffering, the injustice, the poverty – then we must assume our responsibility as Christ's body in the world. We want an easier path.
Ann Weems describes this dilemma in her poem called
A GATE CALLED TRUTH in her book of poems, Kneeling in Jerusalem:
"Just outside Jerusalem
We came to a gate called Truth.
We called to the gatekeeper
To let us in.
"The latch is not on," he replied.
"Anyone who will can enter."
We went closer,
But seeing how great
And how heavy was the gate,
We looked for a way around.
There must be another way around."
Our mortal selves always seek in vain for an easier way than the gate of truth or the path of the cross, yet it is only there that we find real life and transforming love. Speaking truth to power puts you at the cutting edge, where you might get cut. This is a truth that Jesus knew all too well, yet that was his chosen path, one who testifies to the truth and advocates for all those who live in spirit and truth. And still he tells us: "You shall know the truth and the truth will make you free!"
In the midst of conflict all around us, this question echoes loudly: what is truth? It seems to us that the world doesn't notice that for us so often in the Middle East injustice prevails, human rights are trodden upon and freedom is only a dream. In the name of security and democracy, world leaders use militarization, war and coercion. It is easier to keep turning money into walls and weapons and placating the powerful than it is to confront the reality. How many more walls will have to be built, lives lost or governments toppled before we realize the truth that only by seeking a justice in which all people are treated with dignity, love and compassion will the healing of the nations begin?
Thank God that recently some are beginning to realize and acknowledge that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is the linchpin to Middle East peace, and it could be the beginning of bridging the now-widening gap between the Western and Muslim worlds. We ask leaders to assume greater responsibility in seeking truth here in our Holy Land and taking on the difficult tasks which that demands of us, just as we call our own leaders to have the faith and courage to face their hard choices.
The truth is that Palestinians and Israelis continue to live in fear that prevents us from seeing and making the hard choices that must be made. The truth is that we are tired, weary, both Palestinians and Israelis, and we both need justice. Occupation is an unbearable burden for both Palestinians and Israelis, and it is grievously wounding both peoples. The truth is that many in the Middle East vehemently reject the harsh extremism and violence that have become such a daily part of life here, yet it sometimes seems that they are the only ones who recognize the injustice of what is happening. The truth is that extremism is growing because of the failure of the world powers to take seriously the realities of injustice, oppression and occupation in our world, and until that changes, extremism and division will continue to grow.
The difficult road ahead to a better tomorrow of hope and healing demands leaders with faith and courage who will roll away the stones of injustice, violence and oppression. We need honest, charismatic leaders who are ready to resurrect justice and peace and we need religious leaders who dare to speak out against any violence or hatred, especially that justified by religion. It's time that religious leaders become the driving force for justice and reconciliation that the Risen Lord calls them to be. Only through a resurrection of mutual love, justice, forgiveness and grace will the darkness of fear, violence and hatred be overcome.
It is hard to live Easter hope in a Good Friday world. It is hard to believe that the paths of truth and righteousness will one day be recognized by those who are called to lead. We are, in the end, like Mary in the garden, blinded by fear and burdened with grief, yet brought to see, in the dawning light, the face of truth in the Risen One. May the tears of pain, of oppression and fear be wiped from our eyes by the mighty acts of our just and righteous God. May the Risen One bring light to your darkness, hope to your fears and new life where you have grown weary. Amen.
Al Masih Qam! Haqan Qam!
Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!