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Easter Message 2023

by mPeNDayu

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
Bishop Dr. Munib A. Younan
Easter Message 2023
“Resurrection is our hope in a hopeless situation”
“Through him (Christ) you have come to trust in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are set on God.” 1 Peter 1:21
What is happening in Jerusalem? Why are we living through such tumultuous times? A series of events has left the people and their leaders in confusion and wonder:
Jesus has triumphantly entered the city on a colt. The people, including children, welcomed him by spreading palm branches and their cloaks in the streets. But the religious and political authorities were challenged by this show of triumph and power.
Who can this be who raised Lazarus from the dead?
Who can this be who is treated as a king?
They immediately sought to trap Jesus and stop him. But they didn’t have to look far: one of Jesus’ own disciples, Judas Iscariot, was quick to betray him with thirty pieces of silver and a kiss.
Jesus gathered his disciples for a meal and began the supper by washing their feet. Then they went to the garden of Gethsemane to pray. Jesus was asking to know the will of God but was disappointed that his disciples could not stay awake with him.
After the prayers authorities entered the garden and detained Jesus. One of the disciples tried to support him by slicing off the ear of the servant of the High Priest, but Jesus said no: “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” (Matthew 26:51)
Later, Pilate interrogated Jesus but found him innocent. Then he asked the crowds: “What do you want? Do you want me to crucify Jesus of Nazareth or Jesus Barabbas?” The multitude unanimously voted to free Barabbas and to crucify Jesus. It is very amusing to observe that those who shouted on Palm Sunday: “Hosanna, Hosanna! Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord- the King of Israel!” (John 12:13). After three days, they shout: “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!”(John 19:6).
After the crucifixion, the disciples were so disappointed that two of them, walking on the same day to Emmaus, said to themselves, “But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.” (Luke 24:21)
This is the story we hear every year doing Holy Week. Now, as then, we in Jerusalem are living in a time of disappointment and betrayal. We do not know where recent political events are taking us. The incidents in Nablus and Jenin lead us Palestinians to ask, “What is next? Is the world paying attention at all?” The attack on Huwara by Israeli settlers makes us ask, “Who will protect these villages?” The violations of human rights continue to take place.
And, of course, the massive demonstrations across Israel are another sign of the tumultuous times we are experiencing. What complicates the whole scenario is that there seems to be no vision for justice. All of us are suffering the consequences of an ingrained occupation mentality. How can our children and future generations live in such a hopeless situation?
Since the beginning of the New Year 2023 there have been seven atrocities targeting Christian holy places. The Heads of the Churches in Jerusalem acknowledge that there is no organized or governmental effort against the Christian community. However, Christians are experiencing a deteriorating atmosphere that includes harassment, apathy from authorities, and the fear that incidents of spitting and vandalism by extremist settlers could turn into something more dangerous.
One of the great fears is that the Orthodox property at Jaffa Gate will be expropriated by the settler movement. Until recently, Jaffa Gate has been known as the path for local and international pilgrims coming to see Christian holy sites.
Will it continue to be a door for all to enter the Holy City, or will it become an exclusive gate for just one population of Jerusalem?
The Heads of Churches are also worried that the planned national park on Mount of Olives, that includes some of the Churches’ property may change the nature of the Mosaic nature of Jerusalem.
All of these incidents obliged the Heads of Churches to express their fear for the future of Christianity in the Land of Resurrection.
As I read the words of the First Letter of Peter, I find encouragement and even a strategy for all of us living through these unsettling and fearful times. Peter asks the first century Christians to be resilient, and to remember that their hope is in the Risen Christ. Peter speaks of the inevitability of trials, attacks, and persecution. We are to carry our cross as Jesus taught us. The reformer Martin Luther in his reflection on the cross says: “The cross teaches us to believe in hope even where there is no hope”. For there is no hope for the resurrection without the cross.
Of course, his audience was already accustomed to political power and natural resources being wielded against them. Even so, he encourages them to not succumb to the political tumult and drama but instead to turn toward God, who raised Jesus from the dead. We live in the city of the Resurrection, and we belong to this land where Jesus was born, and taught, and healed, and raised people from the dead. For this reason, Resurrection is our hope, in spite of any conspiracies, violence, sufferings, occupation or oppression that we may encounter. Christ is risen, and so shall we!
The Risen Christ has showed us that there is sunshine behind every menacing cloud. When I travel by plane, I am always encouraged when we rise above the clouds and see that even on a stormy day, there is the warmth and light of the sun hiding just above what we can see from earth. As we gather for our Easter celebrations, we can remember this fact and take strength in knowing that this storm will not last forever. Resurrection is not only our hope, it is the foundation of our faith and our lives. In fact, resurrection is what ties us to together as the bearers of the cross in this city and in this time.
In his book “Strength to Love”, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. speaks about his exhaustion and how sometimes it feels his courage has disappeared. This famous “kitchen table conversation” with God may give us some help at this time. He writes,
“I have been taking a stand for what I believe is right. But now I am afraid. The people are looking to me for leadership, and if I stand before them without strength and courage, they too will falter. I am at the end of my power…I’ve come to the point when I can’t face it alone.”
In the depth of this prayer, Dr. King experienced the presence of God. He heard a voice saying, “Stand up for righteousness, stand up for truth, and God will be by your side forever.”
This is a prayer for all who work for justice, for all who suffer injustice, for all who have felt that the struggle for human rights is too much to bear. We can bring our own exhaustion and our own fears to God in the same way, and God in God’s goodness will answer. Even when we don’t have the words to pray aloud, the Spirit hears the prayers of our hearts and surrounds us in love.
And so, during this Easter season, when the situation in our city, Jerusalem, and in our land feel extraordinarily heavy and hopeless, we will pray even more fervently. We will celebrate Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection with prayer and even more joy! We will continue speak the truth, to defend human dignity, to be brokers of justice and ministers of reconciliation, because in rising from the dead, Christ Jesus, our brother and savior, has destroyed the powers of hatred, death and oppression once and for all.
“In Christ alone my hope is found;
He is my light, my strength, my song;
This cornerstone, this solid ground,
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace,
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease!
My comforter, my all in all—
Here in the love of Christ I stand.”
(Keith Getty and Stuart Townend)
From Jerusalem I greet you:
Al Masih kam! Haqqan kam!
Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia!

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