2016 Easter Message from Bishop Munib Younan

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

2016 Easter Message

From Bishop Dr. Munib Younan

Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land

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1 Corinthians 15:1-2

Now I should remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you—unless you have come to believe in vain.

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Salaam and grace to you from Jerusalem, in the name of our Risen Lord Jesus Christ.

Today Christians across the world rejoice in the Good News we have received, on which we stand, and through which we have been saved: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures.

Jesus is raised from the tomb! Alleluia!

Light is stronger than darkness! Alleluia!

Life is stronger than death! Alleluia!

This is the center of our Christian faith and the source of our hope. For this reason, we celebrate Easter with joy and love.

For this reason, we sing along with Ephraem this beautiful hymn from the 4th century:

Glory to you, friend of all!

Glory to you, O merciful Lord!

Glory to you, longsuffering God!

Glory to you, who takes away all sins!

Glory to you, who came to save us!

Glory to you, who became flesh in the womb of the virgin!

Glory to you, bound in cords!

Glory to you, whipped and scourged!

Glory to you, mocked and derided!

Glory to you, nailed to the cross!

Glory to you, buried and risen!

Glory to you, proclaimed to all humankind, who believe in you! Amen.

 

This Easter Good News has come to the world again at just the right time.

At this time, the world desperately needs the message of the empty tomb. We need the light and life of Easter morning. In just the first three months of this year, we in the Middle East have been witnessing an alarming wave of violence. Recent days have seen tragedies unfold in Turkey, Syria, Iraq, the Ivory Coast, Pakistan, Nigeria, and many other nations. Even this week, which we call Holy, began with a terror attack in Brussels. It’s difficult to comprehend the amount of death and destruction which has plagued our world, in just the few short months since the world’s Christians gathered to celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace.

All across the world today we see that a culture of death and fear is heavily promoted to the people – by extremists, by the media, even by some politicians. The message they plant in us is that we should be afraid of losing our freedoms, or afraid of giving away too much power. They tell us we should be afraid of the evil which lurks beyond our borders, or the evil which lurks even next door. This culture of death and fear instills in us a certain envy, in which the only way for us to have life is to deny the life of the other—whether the enemy, or the neighbor of a different religion, or the refugee.

This culture of death is what Jesus experienced on his Via Dolorosa, the Way of the Cross.

Jesus experienced a culture of deception and betrayal when one of his disciples joined him for the Last Supper, but then sold him for thirty pieces of silver.

Jesus experienced a culture of denial and abandonment when Peter emphatically denied him, not once but three times.

Jesus experienced a culture of power over others when Herod and Pilate reconciled out of their common desire to humiliate him.

Jesus knew well the culture of death, and where it ultimately leads.

Today we are haunted and even obsessed by this same culture of death, but this culture is exactly what the resurrection of Jesus destroys. The resurrection of Jesus means we must not accept such a culture. We will not give in to despair, to hopelessness, to violence, or to complacency. We need not stay in the tomb, for by the power of Jesus’ resurrection, we have been raised to new life with him.

The resurrection reveals how the justice of God is wholly different from the justice of the world. Where the world insists that death and fear and jealousy and mistrust and deceiving are unavoidable facts of existence, a culture we must accept and work within, necessary evils which ensure our own personal happiness, the resurrection proclaims exactly the opposite. By rising from the tomb, Jesus shows us a new path forward. The Risen Lord has given us a Culture of Life.

And what is this life? It is a life of freedom, a life of joy, a life of equal dignity. The resurrected life is one of acceptance and love and protection of the other. The resurrected life is one which honors every gender, every race, every ability, every nationality, every faith. This new life, our Easter life, is the culture Christians everywhere share, in spite of differences in language or tradition or geographic location. Together, in every corner of the world, followers of Jesus share and proclaim and testify to this Culture of Life.

Perhaps over the years, we have allowed the world’s culture of death and fear to influence us. Perhaps we have opened the door to jealousy, to mistrust of the other, even to an acceptance of violence. Perhaps we have forgotten how Easter morning was a new day – the first day of the week, the first day of Jesus’ resurrected life, but also the first day of the church’s unique Culture of Life.

How could anyone forget such Good News? How could we forget we have been raised? How could we forget who we are?

When the church stands by as refugee families drown seeking freedom, we have forgotten.

When the church honors bell towers and organs over bread for the hungry, we have forgotten.

When the church stays silent in the face of injustice, oppression, and occupation, we have forgotten.

When the church’s message begins to reflect fear of the world outside, we have forgotten.

When we, who have already been raised to life, begin to feel comfortable inside the tomb, we have forgotten who we are. We have forgotten that we are children of the resurrection, children of abundant life.

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ, if we have forgotten, then the Day of Resurrection is the day we remember. On that resurrection morning, the women stood at the empty tomb and could not believe their eyes. But then, the two men in dazzling clothes appeared and said to them: “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.”

And then, the women remembered! They remembered, and they ran to tell the Good News to all who would listen.

On this Day of the Resurrection, we also remember! We remember that the stone was already rolled back. We remember that that tomb was empty. We remember how God used the cross, an instrument of humiliation and death, to give us life. For this reason, the Orthodox liturgy sings: “Jesus is risen from the dead. He has overcome death with death and given life to all who are in tombs.”

By his rising, Jesus has freed us from the culture of death and fear. With him, and with all believers around the world, we now share one common Culture of Life.

On this Easter morning, I pray that Christians everywhere will remember who they are: People of life. People of joy and of freedom. People of mercy and forgiveness. People of love and of liberation.

Above all, remember that we are a people empowered by the resurrection of Jesus Christ to be ambassadors of our unique culture—a culture of life and life abundant. Therefore, in every church, in every community, in every nation, in every context, in every situation, let our testimony be as one:

The tomb is empty!

Life is stronger than death!

Alleluia, Christ is risen!

Il-Masih Kam! Hakkan kam!

 

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2015 Christmas Message from Bishop Younan

تمثيلية قصة الميلاد لأطفال مدرسة الرجاء الإنجيلية اللوثرية – رام الله Christmas Play for Children of the Evangelical Lutheran School of Hope - Ramallah
تمثيلية قصة الميلاد لأطفال مدرسة الرجاء الإنجيلية اللوثرية – رام الله
Christmas Play for Children of the Evangelical Lutheran School of Hope – Ramallah

 

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

CHRISTMAS MESSAGE 2015

Bishop Dr. Munib Younan

Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”  John 1:5

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 Salaam and grace to you this Christmas from the land of Jesus’ birth. Wherever you are in the world, may you celebrate it in peace, and may we all live in peace in the New Year. There is no better time to speak about peace than at Christmas, when the Prince of Peace was born among us.

At Christmastime we hear the story of the birth of Jesus, which took place in the little town of Bethlehem and was announced by an angel who said, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:10-12) This angelic announcement came as a shock to the shepherds in the fields that night. They were even afraid of the Good News!

Today, we welcome the angel’s voice as the center of the Christmas message and the source of our joy. Sometimes however, as we are consumed with the beautiful songs and the beautiful decorations of the season, we may forget the babe in the manger. We may lose the true meaning and message of our celebrations.

At Christmastime, we do not care to hear the voice of John the Baptist, for example, who calls to us from the wilderness: “Repent!” and “Prepare the way of the Lord!” and “Make his paths straight!” Such prophetic announcements seem to get in the way of our festivities. We don’t want anyone or anything to disturb our Christmas feasts and our Christmas joy.

However, the disturbing voice of John the Baptist is also a much-needed part of the Christmas story, because even as people across the world are decorating their homes with lights, a cloud of darkness has settled over us. The threat of terror and war is felt in nearly every place around the globe—in Paris, in Beirut, in Mali, in Nigeria, in San Bernardino and other places. Refugees are fleeing violence and persecution in great numbers. War and rumors of wars are coming to nations which were once on good terms. Extremists are finding a voice and even followers in every religion. Here in the Middle East, many Christians are feeling squeezed from every side of the divide.

It is clear that John the Baptist’s prophetic words are for us today. Nations need to repent. Politicians needs to change their ways. Humanity must turn back to God. The path to peace, justice, and equality must be made straight – not only through goodwill and good feelings, but through good policy and good governments.

With the world boiling over, it seems we are walking in deep darkness. This darkness blinds us, causing people to be overcome by hatred for those who are different. This is the darkness the prophet Isaiah speaks of when he writes, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined.” (Isaiah 9:2)

As the world gathers to celebrate the birth of the Messiah, we must remember that the joyful news of Christmas is also disturbing news. Like John the Baptist’s voice crying in the wilderness, the angel’s announcement shocks and surprises us. It shakes our foundations and challenges our prejudices. It pierces the darkness of our sin with the light of God’s peace, justice, and mercy.

This year, we receive the announcement of Jesus’ birth as exactly the kind of disturbing, prophetic news the world desperately needs. We take comfort in knowing the baby Jesus was born at night, when darkness ruled the earth. And we rejoice that the light of Jesus Christ still shines brightly from the heart of Palestine, giving Christians everywhere hope and strength. As it was written, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” (John 1:5)

This Christmas I call on all who have heard the disturbing, world-changing news of Jesus’ birth to become prophetic messengers of God’s peace, justice, love and mercy. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” God’s answer to a broken world was to send us the light of Jesus Christ. Therefore, we do not preach darkness. We do not teach revenge or despair. We do not resort to extremism. We do not teach xenophobia toward other religions and people. We are witnesses to the light of love.

For this reason, I ask all who have followed the star and have been touched by the love of the babe of Bethlehem to share the light of peace, justice, and equality with those living in darkness.

This year, we especially want to share the light with two communities: Refugees, and the Christians of the Middle East.

First, we have seen how those who have felt the full weight of the darkness this year are the countless refugees fleeing their homes in search of safety, as the Holy Family did. Many countries are opening their borders, and many communities are opening their hearts and homes to give these families hope for the future. I give thanks for these acts of mercy and kindness, which are truly in the spirit of Christmas.

At the same time, some are afraid to share their bread with strangers, and today’s political rhetoric treats refugees only as numbers to be counted and threats to be contained. As a refugee myself, I call on leaders of all nations and all people to remember that these are human beings, made in the image of God. We must not allow these brothers and sisters to move from the darkness of oppression and killing to another darkness—the darkness of hatred, of exclusion, and of religious prejudice. We must not allow our fear to keep the light of hope, the light of peace, the light of gender justice and human rights, and the light of freedom of religion from shining on our refugee sisters and brothers. God calls us to embrace them with the warmth and light of Christ.

Secondly, today there are many who are worried for the future of Christianity in the Middle East. As always, I say that it is not enough to be worried or concerned or to generalize. Our Christian brothers and sisters in Syria, in Iraq, and in many other countries are suffering. They know only the darkness of injustice, persecution, and displacement. It is not enough to pray for their safety. They need safe and secure countries for their return home. They need laws to protect them and neighbors to respect them. They need to be empowered for justice. And they need a light to reveal the way.

Today, we Arab Christians living near the manger of Bethlehem are asking, “What does the world mean when they say they want to care for Christians in the Middle East? Do they see us having a role to play here today, or do they see us as museum objects?” Many Christians in this place are suffering, and some are thinking that the only choice is to leave for another country. Many have already left. But we are seeing that there is no place which is safer than another. There is no country and no continent untouched by the darkness of violence and prejudice. Truly I tell you, we Christians have been in the vicinity of the manger for two thousand years, and we want to stay for another two thousand years.

For this reason, Arab Christianity has a vital role to play in these times. I especially call on Arab and Middle Eastern Christians to remember that God has called us to be here for a purpose. It is not a liability to be an Arab and Middle Eastern Christian. It is a privilege to be living witnesses to the light of Christ in the region where the light first came into the world.

We have the privilege and responsibility to share with the world what it looks like to live in peace with our Muslim and Jewish neighbors. In a time when the darkness of religious hatred seems to be growing, we can share the light of living together. We are called to be peace-builders, brokers of justice, and prophetic voices, even in the midst of suffering, persecution, occupation, and extremism. We are called to be a light in the darkness because we have experienced the light of love from the manger in Bethlehem. As it was written by the prophet Isaiah: “For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6)

More than two thousand years ago, the Prince of Peace was born in Bethlehem, reconciling us to God, and calling us to live in harmony with our neighbors of other religions, other languages, and other cultures. Today, we are still learning how to live in the light of that disturbing, world-changing event. If it was true then, why not now? And if it is possible here, then why not in Syria and Iraq? Why not in France and the United States? Why not in other parts of the world?

The Prince of Peace is born. Love has come, a light in the darkness. Therefore, Christmas is a time to be strong and steadfast, and to trust that even when the night seems the darkest, it cannot overcome the light of Our Lord Jesus. All that oppresses us cannot conquer us. Again, we rejoice in the Good News: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” (John 1:5)

Even though we are living in dark times, I invite you, my brothers and sisters in Christ around the world, to find hope, peace and joy in the true meaning of Christmas this year. Let your celebrations be feasts not of consumerism, but of love for your neighbor. Let your prayers for peace become seeds of prophetic action. And wherever you are this Christmas, let your witness be a light shining in this present darkness, as the birth of the baby Jesus in Bethlehem brought light to the whole world. Let us commit ourselves to pray for each other, and pray that God will change the darkness of this stage in history by the power of the light of Christ.

 كـل عـام وانتـم بخـير

I Wish  you

A Peaceful

MERRY CHRISTMAS

&

A  BLESSED  NEW  YEAR  2016

Full of Just Peace, Forgiveness and Reconciliation

An Open Letter to World Leaders from a Bishop in Jerusalem and a Refugee

1 September 2015

Jerusalem

Dear leaders of the world and people of good conscience,

I write to you from Jerusalem to address the very serious refugee situation affecting countries across the Middle East and now Europe. I myself am a refugee, as well as a bishop. Both my faith and my history oblige me to speak up for these women, men, and children who are washing up on beaches, are found decomposing in trucks on the highway, are crossing borders of barbed wire, and are barely surviving in makeshift camps.

The last weeks have seen not only an increase in the numbers of these refugees, but also an increase in tragic outcomes for many. This is a shameful situation, and one which the international community cannot ignore. It must be remembered that refugees are not vacationers. They did not leave their homes because they were looking for adventure. They are displaced as a result of poverty, violence, terror, and political conflict. Frustration and fear lead them to risk their lives and their life-savings in search of safe havens where they can live and raise families in peace. We must remember that these are not “waves” or “masses” or “hordes”—these are human beings who deserve dignity and respect.

As a refugee and as Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, I have two messages for world leaders:

  1. I believe it is the responsibility of the world community, including the European Union, to have a clear policy to accept the stranger among us. “Welcoming the Stranger,” a set of affirmations from faith leaders developed in collaboration with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, is a good place to begin and a good model to follow. Most major religious traditions in the world advocate welcoming the stranger, showing hospitality to all. In Matthew 25 Jesus says the nations of the world will be judged by how they treat the poor, the hungry, the immigrant: “‘And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’”
  1. All political leaders are responsible for this current refugee crisis, either directly or indirectly. This is the result of a global system, not merely a local crisis. The international community has not helped solve the conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa, including the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Economic and political interests have taken priority over peacemaking and dialogue. Our region has become so chaotic that it opens the door to extremists and terrorists; our people are becoming desperate. The Middle East needs justice and peace, not only to end the flow of refugees, but so that displaced people can return to their homes in dignity, and live in free democratic states.

My words may be strong. They may be direct. But this humanitarian crisis requires even stronger actions. These people, our brothers and sisters, are crying: “Who will welcome us? Where is justice?” God hears the cries of the poor, the oppressed, and the refugee. I pray that soon, political leaders and policy makers in the Global North will also hear their cries. This will begin when leaders approach refugee communities not merely as problems to be solved, but as fellow children of God deserving accompaniment, dignity, and human rights.

For this reason, I urge all world leaders and people of good conscience to act quickly, for the sake of the humanity we share.

Bishop Dr. Munib Younan

Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land

 

PHOTOS: Beit Sahour Scout’s Bingo Fundraiser

BEIT SAHOUR – On Saturday, May 9th, 2015, over 400 people attended the Beit Sahour Scouts bingo fundraiser in Beit Sahour.  Bingo, as well as raffles and games, were held throughout the evening.  The money will go towards a summer camping trip.

PHOTOS: Easter Celebrations at the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Hope in Ramallah

RAMALLAH – The Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Hope in Ramallah celebrated Easter Sunday on April 12th, 2015.  The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Hope – as well as the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd in Amman, Jordan – celebrate on an ecumenical calendar.  These two congregations celebrate together with their Orthodox brothers and sisters for Easter while Orthodox congregations celebrate on the Lutheran/Western calendar for Christmas.

The Mayor of Ramallah, Mr. Mousa Hadded, attend the service.  After the sermon, Rev. Imad Haddad honored Mr. Muneer Zananiri for his care of the church over the years.

 

PHOTOS: Easter Egg Hunt at the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Hope in Ramallah

RAMALLAH – The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Hope in Ramallah held a short prayer service and Easter egg hunt on April 11th, 2015.  The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Hope – as well as the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd in Amman, Jordan – celebrate on an ecumenical calendar.  These two congregations celebrate together with their Orthodox brothers and sisters for Easter while Orthodox congregations celebrate on the Lutheran/Western calendar for Christmas.  Because of this, The Church of Hope and the Church of the Good Shepherd celebrated Easter one week after the rest of the ELCJHL congregations.

 

PHOTOS: English Speaking Easter Sunrise Service

JERUSALEM – The English Speaking Congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Jerusalem celebrated Easter on April 5th, 2015, with a sunrise service on the Mount of Olives.  The service was led by Rev. Carrie Smith and assisted by her husband, Rev. Robert Smith.  Visitors from around the globe attended the service that involved music, contemplation, and communion.

PHOTOS: Environmental Education Center’s Bird Ringing Station in Jericho

JERICHO – The Environmental Education Center (EEC) set up a bird ringing (or bird banding) station in Jericho during the spring migration.  Bird ringing is practiced around the world as a way to learn more about bird populations and migration and to help in conservation.  This year, the EEC recorded two new bird species – the Rock Sparrow and the Desert Finch.  Look through the photos to below to see two days worth of birds captured and released in the Jericho area.

The Easter Message for 2015

before-the-procession

 

2015 Easter Message from Jerusalem
“Who will roll away the stone?”
Mark 16:1-8
Bishop Dr. Munib A. Younan

Alleluia, Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed, Alleluia!
Easter Sunday, the Feast of the Resurrection of Our Lord, is really a feast of Jerusalem. All across the world today, Christians in western traditions are remembering our Lord’s crucifixion and resurrection, and when they do it they are thinking about Jerusalem. Whoever speaks of the resurrection naturally mentions Jerusalem, the city of resurrection.  Here in Jerusalem, after a long week of suffering and difficulty, after the cross, we rejoice with our sisters and brothers everywhere that Jesus is both crucified and risen. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the hope of the whole world, but especially here in Jerusalem we cling to the news of the resurrection as our hope, our strength, and our courage to face the challenges and obstacles in the Middle East today.  This is the only thing that has kept us in this Holy Land.

We notice in the Gospel text that it was three women who, after the pain and tears of Good Friday, went early to the tomb on Sunday morning, when the male disciples had escaped. After all, it is often the women who are present in the most difficult times – at childbirth, caring for the sick, nurturing the elderly and the dying. On this morning, it was women once again who came with both gentleness and strength to anoint the body of Jesus in the tomb. Although the sun was risen, the darkness of night and grief still covered them. As they approached the tomb, they faced a serious problem: “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?”

If you visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (also known as the Church of the Resurrection), you can see very well what a concern this must have been for the women. In the Coptic and Syrian Orthodox areas you can see tombs which are similar to ones used in Jesus’ time. These tombs were meant for two or three persons, and the openings would have required a very large stone to close the entrance. This was exactly the worry of Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome as they approached the tomb of Jesus: “The stone is too large, and we are just a few. The stone is stamped by a military order, and we have no authority. Who will roll away the stone for us?”

This question remains for us today in the Middle East. Who will roll away the stone of extremism, of terror and violence, or the persecution of Christians and many ethnic and religious communities? Who will roll away the stones of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia? Who will roll away the stone of the ongoing occupation, of the separation barrier, of injustice? The obstacles are so large, and we are just a few. Who will roll away the stone for us?

In this way, we can certainly identify with the women of that first Easter morning. Every day, we hear the terrible stories of Christians persecuted in Iraq, in Syria, in Libya. We see a wave of extremism which grows due to a power vacuum created by incorrect policies forced on the Middle East. We see people using the name of God to kill God’s people. We see shocking images which shake our bodies and silence us. Like the women who left the tomb and said nothing to anyone, we are at a loss for words. In the face of incredible obstacles and things we do not understand, we feel powerless and afraid. Who will roll away the stone for us?

Of course, there are many who do have something to say about the Middle East today. Conferences are organized, articles are written, and everyone from politicians and pundits to theologians and television personalities are asking “How big is the stone? What shape is the stone? Who put the stone there?” There is much talk of solidarity from the world, but we worry that it is only talk, and by ourselves we cannot do much for our Christian brothers and sisters and others who are suffering persecution. I’m sure the people in Iraq, Syria, Nigeria, and Pakistan are asking different questions: “Who will end this? Who will stop the extremists? Who will speak up when God’s image is humiliated and desecrated in the human being? Who will rescue us?”

At the same time, the stone of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict now seems bigger than ever. Some say the stone should just sit while other more important issues are discussed. Some argue that finding a solution is impossible, that the stone will never be moved, that equal rights and a just peace are just a dream.
Who will roll away the stone? Many believe military power and might is the answer. But when did military action ever bring an end to conflict? When did guns ever bring real and lasting peace with justice? When did tanks and bombs bring life? The women on that first Easter morning did not bring any media with them to the tomb. They did not bring an expert or a strong man or an army to roll way the stone. They came to anoint the one they loved! But when they arrived, they were shocked and surprised, for the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back.

The stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back! This is the message which gives us hope today. We who are grieved for the present realities of the Middle East are like the women on that Easter morning, walking in the darkness of our grief, weighed down by fear. We come expecting to see the stone. We know well the reality of death, extremism, violence, and the denial of the rights of others in this world. There is no ignoring the occupation or the wall or the unjust policies which stand in our way. Who will roll away the stone for us?

The Good News is that the living God has already rolled back the stone blocking our hearts and lives. The stone of the tomb, seen today as the forces of extremism, terror, and injustice, has already been moved aside by the power of the resurrection. These forces hold no power over us! The power of the risen Christ has cleared every obstacle lying between us and abundant life. The power of the risen Christ has rolled away every stone standing between us and the risen Lord. For this reason, we give no power to those who would kill the body, for we know they cannot kill the spirit of the people of the resurrection.
I join my voice with Patriarch Emeritus of the Roman Catholic Church in Jerusalem, Michel Sabbah, who said, “Today is a time of martyria, a time of witness.” Martyria does not mean we offer ourselves up as lambs to the slaughter, but it does mean we willingly offer the martyrdom of our hearts and wills, as Christ offered himself on behalf of humanity, once and for all. As Archbishop Oscar Romero once said, “Not all’ says the Second Vatican Council, ‘will have the honor to give their blood physically, to be killed for the faith.’ However, God asks, of all those who believe in Him, a spirit of martyrdom, that is, we must die for our faith, even if the Lord does not grant us this honor.”

Therefore, this present very difficult situation in the Middle East must not be for us a time of groaning and despairing. Instead, in the midst of oppression, terror, and the boiling in the Middle East, we are to stand and ask ourselves, “How does the risen Lord motivate us to be a living witness?” After a long and dark Good Friday here in the Middle East and across the world, I point my sisters and brothers to 2 Corinthians 4:8-10: “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies.”

This is not a time to believe in the power of extremism or of those who want to harm the bodies of our brothers and sisters. Now is a time to believe in the power of resurrection, which is the power of embracing the other over denying the other. Christ risen is the power of goodness over evil, love over hate, light over darkness and life over death. Now is the time to be living witnesses to resurrection.

One such living witness is Pope Tawadros II of the Coptic Orthodox Church. After the killing of twenty-one Coptic Christians at the hands of terrorists in Libya, he proclaimed that now is not the time for revenge, saying, “We condemn these evil acts, but we forgive the perpetrators, as we have been forgiven.” He is a living witness to the power of resurrection over the power of death.

Some would say these are stories of weakness. Some would say that the ones who forgive, the ones who show mercy, the ones who are a witness to the Gospel of love, leave nothing in their hands. Some would say it is easy to be a fatalist and throw everything on God. But the Good News of the resurrection is that love, mercy, and forgiveness are hallmarks of strength, not weakness. By his resurrection, Christ overcame evil, oppression, injustice and death, giving life to all. For “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong” (1 Corinthians 1:27) and “the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.” (1 Corinthians 3:19)

Who will roll away the stone? The Middle East today does not need guns, or tanks, or extreme military might to counteract extreme political and pseudo-religious agendas. What the Middle East needs today is the power of love, mercy, and forgiveness. We need the kind of forgiveness displayed by a church which lost twenty-one of its baptized members. We need the kind of witness shown by the many fathers and mothers of the faith, on whose sacrifice the church has grown. We need the kind of love shown on the cross and at the empty tomb—a self-emptying, sacrificial love for the sake of the whole world. This is the love and hope we celebrate on Easter morning! And this sacrificial love, this living witness, is what will raise up the Middle East to a new day of peace, justice, freedom, and equal rights for all.

Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb? In these last years and months, and especially in these last weeks, I know that many can identify with Mary, Salome, and Mary Magdalene. People all over the world see the situation here in the Middle East and are at a loss for words. Many of you here have been asking “Who will roll away the stone for us, Bishop?” And I admit, there are days when I am doubtful. There are days when the darkness seems too heavy and the stones too large. There are days of hopelessness which compel us to look only to the cross and the dying Jesus. There are days when Good Friday seems to last forever.

But at this moment, I am telling my people to hold fast to the hope of the resurrection. We must always look to the empty tomb, trusting that because Christ is risen, God will never allow any stone to crush our spirit. Because Christ is risen, God will not allow the hearts of politicians and world leaders to remain cold as stone, caring only for their own interests and power. Because Christ is risen, God will not allow these peoples to be divided forever. Because the stone was already rolled back on that resurrection morning, we hold steadfast in the hope that God is at work even now, opening the eyes of the politicians, the churches, and the world—even as God has opened the tomb.

The risen Lord is at work here in the Middle East and in the Christian community across the world. He has called us to be living witnesses to the power of resurrection! Therefore, I greet you with this two thousand year old greeting of Jerusalem:

Christ is risen! Indeed he is risen!
Christ is risen! Indeed he is risen!
Christ is risen! Indeed he is risen!

Al Masih Qam!  Haqan Qam!

 المسيح قام             حقاً قام

كل عام وأنتم وعائلاتكم بألف خير

 

PHOTOS: Arabic Speaking Congregation of Jerusalem Celebrates Palm Sunday

JERUSALEM – The Arabic Speaking Congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Jerusalem celebrated Palm Sunday at the Chapel of the Ascension on the Mount of Olives.  Children processed around the chapel with palms and were blessed by Bishop Munib Younan.

During the service, Young Adult in Global Mission (YAGM) Coordinator, Julie Rossate, presented Rev. Sani Ibrahim Azar and the Arabic Speaking Congregation of Jerusalem with a mosaic from their partner Rock Spring Congregational Church in Arlington, Virginia.