As the Christian Church celebrates Easter this year, I have been asked, “What kind of message will you offer your people? What viable hope can you give?” On this Easter Day I feel as if I am walking with the three women – Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome.

Easter  Message
Bishop Dr. Munib A. Younan
The Lutheran Bishop in Jerusalem

Who Will Roll The Stone Away?

Easter Gospel:  Mark 16:1-8

As the Christian Church celebrates Easter this year, I have been asked, “What kind of message will you offer your people?  What viable hope can you give?”  On this Easter Day I feel as if I am walking with the three women – Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome.  I feel I am walking with them to the tomb of the crucified Jesus, and a big stone has been rolled in front of the cave to protect the body from predators.  I feel I am going with the three women to perform the traditional anointing of the dead Jesus.  As I approach the burial cave early Sunday morning with Salome and the two Marys, I ask with them:

The big stone was far too heavy for the women to move – this stone which represented the finality of death and the heavy questions which faced Jesus’ followers.  What would happen now?  Would the soldiers arrest them also?  Would they end up on a cross themselves?  Where should they go?  What should they do?  Every question was filled with hopelessness.

We live in hopeless situations.  We have more than one stone to roll away, and so we ask:  WHO WILL ROLL AWAY THESE STONES?

The Iraqi war is one of those stones and it is huge and heavy.  It is creating a big divide between the cultures.  Some say, “This is a religious mission to liberate Iraq.”  Others say, “It is a religious task to fight against the invaders.”  It seems that some like to read the war as a fight among religions.  What will happen with Christian-Muslim relations that we have built for a long time?  No wonder we are filled with hopelessness.  Just when we thought we had succeeded in bringing mutual understanding among cultures and civilizations, we see the huge stone in front of us.  WHO WILL ROLL AWAY THIS STONE?

We as Palestinians have suffered for a long time under military occupation.  Now and then we have had a glimmer of hope but soon realized we are still living under occupation.  We feel like our Lord, who also suffered injustice at the hands of world powers.  We feel now as if there is more suffering, more death, more destruction than before.  We do not see that our situation will be healed soon.  What can I say to people whose houses have been demolished in the Gaza Strip and in Ramallah and Tulkarm and Jenin?  What can I say to a mother who has lost one of her children?  What can I say to a man who has lost his job and cannot provide food for his hungry family?  What can I say to parents who are maltreated at checkpoints as they try to go to work?  What can I say to people who have to live with a newly built fence that is eight meters high and must stay behind that fence?  What can I say when I see that hatred is deepening due to all these circumstances, and the spiral of violence is increasing?  We Palestinians cry out with the Marys and Salome, WHO WILL ROLL AWAY THIS MASSIVE STONE?

As I watch the Israeli society and how people live in fear, I see that their fear drives them to impose harder and harder security measures upon Palestinians.  When I see the fear of Israelis and their reactions to it, I sometimes ask in my naivety, “Why can’t they be serious in ending the occupation by themselves and thereby live in security with their Palestinian neighbors?”  But sadly, it seems their fear is also deepening and this causes even more insecurity.  This is the reason the Israelis also wonder and ask, WHO WILL ROLL THIS STONE AWAY?

It is God who rolls every one of our stones away.  It is God who gives us the beautiful truth that new life and hope await us in Christ our Risen Savior.  This is our hope.  It is in God and not in world leaders or power and coercion.

Today, Easter Sunday, from Jerusalem, the city of the Resurrection of Christ, we declare to the world that our only hope is in the Resurrection of our Lord.  We absolutely refuse to succumb to hopelessness but will only look to our sure hope in the Living Lord.

Our God is working among us as certainly as he was working among his disciples in this land of resurrection.  God’s ways are often surprising to us because God works in weakness and vulnerability.  In 2 Corinthians 9 we hear this word from the Lord:  “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  Just when we think everything is hopeless, it is exactly there that God is doing God’s work most powerfully.  When the two Marys and Salome came to the tomb they were shocked and broken because they expected to see a closed tomb.  And even if some people came to help roll the big stone away, they expected to see Jesus’ dead body.  But no!  What they saw was the result of God’s power, working in a totally unexpected way!

God has never abandoned us.  Even with all the stones in place – even when we are feeling hopeless, it is God’s hand and God’s plan that are working for us.  And it is God who empowers us to be witnesses of that truth to the world.  We are commissioned and empowered to roll away the stones of fear, hopelessness, sadness, depression, injustice, occupation and violence.  God calls us to be channels of hope to support one another and to challenge the world:  Stop the war!  Stop the hatred!  Stop the bloodshed!  God’s love on the cross and in Christ’s resurrection will continue to be seen and will never end.  We are commissioned to give this love and hope to the world.  We Palestinian Christians are commissioned to be a Church of hope and life, to give hope in a hopeless situation, to teach love in a world where it is absent, to teach faith and trust in the Lord even when we sometimes feel abandoned by God.  And so the indigenous Church in Palestine will continue to be a Church of reconciliation and a Church of resurrection.

Perhaps we have felt ourselves sinking into hatred, anger and bitterness in the midst of all the harassment, pain, suffering and loss.  We know how easily this can happen.  We are human beings who are experiencing incredible losses and pain.  Today our Risen Christ is able to work in you to change hatred into love, animosity into neighborliness, bitterness into trust.  How can this happen?  It happens when we confess our hatred and bitterness to God, when we confess that we cannot roll the stone away by ourselves.  It is exactly then that God is working in us, working to roll the heavy stone away and to replace it with the joy of Easter, with the love of God.

As Palestinian Christians we need at this time of difficulty and hopelessness to remain as bridge builders even though the atmosphere and the odds make it seem impossible.  We need to continue our insistence on dialogue among religions and continue to build more understanding among the cultures and civilizations.  We need to teach the world to respect others and accept the otherness of the other.  At the same time we need to be brokers of building a just peace in the Middle East where Palestinians and Israelis can live in their viable states, side by side, peacefully, justly and equitably.  This vision for peace must never end, and Jerusalem, the city of the Resurrection, must be the mother of the two nations and three religions.  This vision also extends to other countries in the Middle East, that they may also have their sovereignty on their land, to have their self-determination, and their opportunities to build their own civil societies.

The Palestinian Christian Church proclaims a message which is very different from the world’s message.  We cling to Christ and to the very real hope of his presence among us and the future hope of seeing all the stones rolled away.  God’s love poured out upon us is like a flood of grace.  Every day we are swimming in that grace, thoroughly soaked in the love of God in Christ.  That is how we are able to continue day by day in the midst of what the world would call a hopeless situation.

The good news of Jesus’ resurrection is just too good to keep to ourselves.  God’s Holy Spirit empowers us to shout forth the wonderful news – Christ is Risen!  We will not permit war or occupation to divide us.  We will not permit human tragedies or spiral violence that creates hatred to take away our hope and joy in the Resurrection.

As the Lutheran hymn reminds us:

“Our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
No merit of my own I claim, but wholly lean on Jesus’ Name.
His oath, his covenant, his blood, sustain me in the raging flood.  When all supports are washed away, He then is all my hope and stay. On Christ the Solid Rock I stand, All other ground is sinking sand.”

Because we have a living hope in the Risen Savior, we continue our resurrection work as witnesses to Christ, as channels of hope and as instruments of peace and love.   

                   CHRIST IS RISEN!   HE IS RISEN INDEED!

The Evangelical Lutheran Church  (ELCJ)