The Living God
John 14: 18-19
This is the holy week. This is the week that goes from hosannas to crucify him, from shouts of "messiah" to shouts of hatred. The week that starts with a procession of palms and ends with a cry from the cross: "Eli, Eli, lema sabach thani," – "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me!"
It is the week that we meet the suffering of Jesus in the midst of our own suffering.
As I visited Bethlehem last week, I was asked very challenging questions. Where is the conscience of the world? Why can't you demand the world – especially the Christian world – to do more? Why doesn’t the world take it seriously when 150 people – half of them civilians and 25 of them children – are killed in just a few days in Gaza? Fear is the common thread.
As I go to my office in Jerusalem, things look normal in the streets. This year we are blessed with a good tourist season. Yet I hear about the many home demolitions happening. I hear cries of fear and suffering, as people in Silwan and other neighborhoods are afraid the settlers will take their houses. Again, fear and disappointment are rampant.
And as I go to West Jerusalem, it is the same. Israelis ask me, what do you think of the Yeshiva killing? Will the killing cycle ever end, they wonder? Fear is the common thread.
Last week I was shocked to go with our Environmental Center to villages where the majority of their land has been swallowed up in settlements. We planted trees and visited a man who was able to keep his home because of a decision of the Supreme Court, but it has been fenced in with only 5 feet of space between him and the settlement. Why can't we live on our own land, they wonder?
Now there is talk that the Israelis have imposed a closure on the West Bank because of the upcoming Jewish feast of Purim. Our people are asking me whether the permits that they had to get will be valid so they can come to Jerusalem for Holy Week.
What message can I give in the midst of these deep cries? O Lord, will the vicious circle of bloodshed continue? O Lord, will I ever get my land back? O Lord, when will we see justice? Is life with dignity possible? Can we ever live without fear?
Sometimes I feel that I am like Mary Magdalene, standing in the entrance of the empty tomb and feeling only death. "They have taken away my Lord out of the tomb and I don't know where they have laid him." (John 20:5) And this is part of our crisis in this country, the empty tomb creates empty faith and thus leads us to empty life.
As we stand with Mary Magdalene outside the tomb, we see bad news and that Jesus – and our faith – are dead and gone.
But, this is the time to bring Easter eyes into the empty tomb and see beyond the death. The empty tomb of Easter doesn't stop with hopelessness and death, but leads to the only true hope there is. This empty tomb revives us, creates within us the power of hope and tells us, "As I live, so also will you live."
It is our role as a Christian Church living in the land of resurrection to proclaim this call beyond fear and death into new life. The Church has survived for 2000 years, not because we wallowed in the absence of God. We survived because we honestly carried and embodied the suffering and the Biblical story yet still experienced the Risen Lord. We survived because we remember and believe in the Risen Lord and his words:
"I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me and I in you."
It is our call here as Palestinian Christians, an integral part of the fear and suffering in a hopeless situation, to be witnesses to hope when we see no hope, an oasis of hope in a broken and battered land. We are to promote life, security and justice for all peoples. We are to tell our leaders that the old ways of violence, revenge and retaliation are bringing nothing but more of the same.
This year the State of Israel celebrates 60 years since its establishment. This year the Palestinians commemorate 60 years of the Nakba, when they remember their dismissal and dispossession from their home land. One celebrates with great joy, the other mourns a deep trauma. I believe it is time to look into the past 60 years and evaluate where it has brought us. I ask: can we, Palestinians and Israelis, learn to mutually understand the other's pain and suffering and create a common vision together? The only way forward is to create a reality in which both peoples can celebrate freedom, justice, security and development equally. We need visionary leaders who can come down from their virtual pulpits and out of their cush negotiating rooms to the real world and make some concrete changes on the ground so that the grassroots can see and believe that freedom with security, reconciliation with justice and healing and forgiveness are possible by granting legitimate rights to all.
People ask me if I am optimistic about peace. I tell them I am not optimistic about the political atmosphere. And really, whether I am optimistic, pessimistic, realistic or idealistic doesn't really matter.
What matters it that the church has not survived 2000 years since the First Pentecost because we were optimistic, pessimistic, realistic or idealistic but because we are witnesses to the resurrection. We have experienced the Light and we try to walk as people of the Light, understanding that God uses us to be witnesses for life in this blessed but often battered land. We say not, I am realistic or pessimistic or idealistic or optimistic but I have hope.
Hope is something you participate in, not because it makes sense or will make you a profit but because it is part of who we are and what we believe. Restoring right relations, building up the Body of Christ and of humanity, is the right thing to do, and, eventually, one day, it will tip the scales. Justice and peace will have the final word here, just as in South Africa and Ireland, however impossible and "unrealistic" it seemed at the time.
Everyday here – even in the midst of the fear and the suffering - small bursts of community, hope and reconciliation are happening through extraordinary people, Israelis, Palestinians, Jews, Muslims and Christians. In our schools, programs and churches, we try to plant hope and the resurrection through our children, our people and all those whom we serve – regardless of creed, belief or political belief. In all of our ministries, we seek to express the hope of the resurrection.
In a land that too often can only see the empty tomb, we are together – with our partners – helping to create sparks of resurrection of hope, community, joy and new life. We strive to have hope because the Risen Lord on the cross and by his death has overcome oppression and depression and even death itself and embodied new life for us all.
For 2000 years, we have witnessed to the living Lord from these fields and stones that are our home. We will continue to promote the inclusive vision of justice and peace for all, and encourage all toward mutual understanding of one another's sufferings, for that is the only way forward. Together, peace is possible, a better future is possible, justice is possible, so that, one day, we will stand in this land, without walls, fences, tanks and terror, violence and fear, and shout to the
He is Risen! He is Risen indeed!
Al Masih Qam! He Haqan Qam!
المسيح قام حقاً قام
Bishop Dr. Munib Younan
God of the Resurrection,
Lead us all, we pray,
out of the tombs that entrap us,
the hate that embitters us,
the despair that paralyzes us
and the fear that holds us hostage.
Open our eyes and soften our hearts
to help us see your face in the eyes of the other.
Make us the church you meant us to be,
the people of faith and courage you call us to be,
Bridge-builders, healers, ministers of reconciliation.
Deliver us from Friday's darkness and Saturday's fear
into Sunday's light of hope
so we can walk as raised, risen and reborn
Easter people on the road.
Prayer by the Rev. Julie Rowe, Jerusalem