My heart was heavy yesterday. All day long I was thinking about our trip to Israel Palestine and the many wonderful, spirit-filled people we had met there. Then Joan told me that the Israelis had refused to allow our West Bank Christian brothers and sisters to enter Jerusalem to celebrate the passion and death of Jesus. My mind immediately went back to our visit with an American Jewish settler in Efrata. In claiming his right to live in the Holy land (actually to illegally live in occupied territory in contravention of international law and two United Nationâ€™s resolutions), the settler vehemently decried the fact that the Jews had been barred from access to their sacred sites for so long. Now they are barring Christians from their sacred sites. The oppressed become the oppressors!
I sent emails to Melkite Archbishop Elias Chacour from Ibillin, Abuna Raed from Taybeh (Ephraim), Rev. Mitri Raheb from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Christmas in Bethlehem, and the family we shared a meal with in Beit Sahour. I also sent a letter detailing the Israeli oppression of the Palestinian people to my congressional delegation, the three presidential candidates and Secretary of State Rice.
I really felt as if I were standing at the empty tomb. My Champion, as Elias Chacour calls Jesus, had nonviolently confronted the evils of oppression by the Romans and their priestly cronies. He was crucified like a common criminal on a cross. He hung naked and bruised and bleeding as he tried not to suffocate to death. He too seemed to have despaired, â€œMy God, my God, why have you abandoned me?â€ and yet, he knew Abba, â€œInto your hands I commend my spirit.â€
When I knelt to kiss the wood of the cross at the Good Friday liturgy, I knew, knew deep down, that the cross is all about oppression. It is all about peopleâ€™s inhumanity to other people. It is about the daily indignities of occupation and oppression. It is about bulldozed houses, uprooted olive trees, settlers throwing stones at children on their way to school, checkpoints and humiliating searches, limited access to roads and the holy sites. It is about innocent people dying because they are â€œcollateral damage.â€ It is about settlers thinking that they have a right to confiscate land owned by Palestinians for their whitened sepulcher settlements. It is about people dying because they cannot get through a checkpoint in order to get needed medical attention. How perverse that the people who were without a land have come into a land with people (not without people as the Zionist myth goes) and in short order become the occupiers and oppressors! How ironic that the now closed Palestinian shops on Shuhada Street in Hebron have been tagged , yes tagged gang style, with the Star of David!
Then, by some dint of fate or spirit filled direction, I came across the web site for the Churches for Middle East Peace. http://www.cmep.org/Alerts/2008March21.htm
The various Christian leaders in Palestine had posted their Easter Letters. I encourage you to follow this link and to read them. There is so much hope amid the darkness of occupation and oppression. There is such faith that the promise of the resurrection will be realized. I could not help but think of Archbishop Romeroâ€™s statement, â€œIf I am killed, I will rise up in the Salvadoran people.â€ Today, this very weekend, Jesus is rising up in the Palestinian people. He is their Champion. He is their hope. The wood of his cross will deliver them from oppression. The cross is about oppression. The cross comes from speaking out against the inhumanity of the occupation. It comes from asserting the God given human rights every person should be able to enjoy. The cross leads oppressed people to believe that they will be delivered. They will rise up to new life. The cross is their hope.
The tomb is not empty. Jesus has risen and goes before the Palestinian people. He has confronted oppression and death and has emerged victorious. He will liberate the captives and set the oppressed free. He will raise up the lowly and bring down the rich and powerful oppressors.
The Patriarchs and the Heads of the Churches write:
Christ is risen!
Many people limit their thoughts on Easter to the empty tomb. How important then, for us to concentrate on the first manifestation which our Lord made to his disciples. There is considerable encouragement to be gained from the fact that the living Christ is greeting his living Church. We do not under estimate the burden of so many of our faithful today from the continuing violence and acts of terrorism that surround them, and of which we all are victims, in the West Bank, in Gaza and in the Israeli society. Nevertheless, the Risen Lord reminds us and tells us that we have a role and we have to change the present situation, through the power and strength which He gives us.
The Latin patriarch, Michel Sabbah writes:
Christ is risen. Indeed he is risen! Amidst the difficult conditions which are worsening every day in our land and in the region, – we remember the death of the Archbishop of Mosul in Iraq and the lives of all Iraqis who have been living a daily tragedy since the declaration of war on Iraq. Amidst these difficult times, we celebrate Easter in Jerusalem and we tell you, brothers and sisters and all of you, men and women of good will: donâ€™t feel weak in front of the death forces working within our ranks. Saint Paul said: “You did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear” (Romans 15:8), but you received the spirit of God to be strong, with the same strength of God and His love.
Bishop Minub Younan from the Evangelical Lutheran Church writes in part:
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.
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Al Masih Qam! He Heqan Qam!
Finally, Dr. Bernard Sabella writes:
Mother Natureâ€™s celebration at this time of year remains always associated with the message of resurrection. The heart beats happily at the sights of the greenery of the land and its kaleidoscopic scenery. Yet the heart is pained by the continuing unabated conflict and its many victims. As the desert sandy storms hurt the body and weigh down on the soul, the political situation with its many victims, one victim is too many, equally weighs down on body and soul.
Resurrection is a cyclical process from winter to spring; from death to life; from war to peace. In its simplest message, the process is reassuring that death, entombment and conflict are not the end of all things and that life has meaning over and above individual lives and particular attachments. That resurrection is both a divine and natural scheme cannot be disputed. One thing, though, remains disputed is whether we mortals can contribute to the process of resurrection, particularly in the long protracted conflict that has sown suffering throughout the land we all refer to as holy.
Read and ponder all the statements in full. These religious leaders help us understand the cross and resurrection because they and their people are living it daily. Pray fro them. Pray for their oppressors. We often forget that oppression takes its toll on the oppressors.
As we share the pain of the empty tomb by living in solidarity of the oppressed in our world, let us reflect the joy of resurrectionâ€”the promise that all things will be made new.