This year, the Paschal celebrations in the Land of the Resurrection assumed a special – almost surreal – nature! This is not because they suddenly became more factual for the indigenous Christians. As far as I can gauge it, their faith practice has remained quite steadfast – some living it, some merely professing it, whilst some others not truly touched by it! Rather, what made the Easter celebrations stand out is that all the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant Churches celebrated the salvific miracle of the empty tomb on the same Sunday.
He is risen, he is not here: behold the place where they laid him (Mk 16:6)
This year, the Paschal celebrations in the Land of the Resurrection assumed a special – almost surreal – nature! This is not because they suddenly became more factual for the indigenous Christians. As far as I can gauge it, their faith practice has remained quite steadfast – some living it, some merely professing it, whilst some others not truly touched by it! Rather, what made the Easter celebrations stand out is that all the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant Churches celebrated the salvific miracle of the empty tomb on the same Sunday. In a land that straddles the serious and the risible with one breath, this common date was perhaps a visible manifestation of the oneness of Christ that we all profess in our creeds.
He is Risen! Hallelujah! The glory of Easter in the Holy Land was also echoed in the different Easter Messages. HB Michel Sabbah, Latin-rite Roman Catholic Patriarch of Jerusalem reminded his parishioners that ‘Christ’s commandment is indeed to love and to see in every human being the face of God and to love him as God himself loves him.’ In another moving message, HG Bishop Mounib Younan of the Lutheran Church affirmed that the culture of the Resurrection is stronger than the culture of death. And HG Bishop Riah Abu El-Assal of the Anglican Church proclaimed Easter in Jerusalem and wrote, ‘We travel the land, we cross checkpoints and border stations, we climb up walls, we weep with those who weep, and rejoice with those who rejoice, sharing hope and bringing life to those who are dying to live.’ Indeed, as those who will have seen Mel Gibson’s powerful film ‘The Passion of The Christ’ might well have concluded, the main thrust of the Passion Story is that Jesus suffered, bled to death freely and then rose on the third day in order to redeem our sins and give us abundant life.
Reflecting the sad realities of the Holy Land, though, Patriarch Sabbah’s message had a strong political reality check attached to it too. His Easter Message added, ‘It is high time for the leaders to come back to reason and to reconsider what they have done in order to avoid for themselves and for their people the sin of more bloodshed, and the permanence of insecurity. Let them enter the true path of security that consists in peaceful hearts and friendly relations. The hostile hearts of today will become friendly with a secure protection when freedom and land will be given back to them. The walls built today will fall only when the barriers in the hearts will fall; then security will flourish without walls or any power of destruction.’
Walls, insecurity, barriers, power of destruction: those are only some of the harsh words that are reflected on the ground today in the Holy Land. They should challenge those Christians – who content themselves with chocolate bunnies, coloured eggs, cholesterol-high foods and copious drinks – to think consciously of the austere reality of such desolation or desperation.
Last week, I was privileged to assist actively in the four-day Holy Week celebrations in Poland and Italy. One thing that struck me once more in those two ostensibly Christian [and pre-dominantly Catholic] countries was the amount of indulgent ignorance about the plight of Israelis and Palestinians. Far too many Poles and Italians today, perhaps aided and abetted by their political leadership, think that Palestinians are hell-bent on blowing themselves up and trying to kill and maim as many Israelis as possible. For them, Israel is clearly the victim and Palestinians are the aggressors. They have forgotten about an invasive occupation by Israel of Palestinian lands that has lasted for 37 long years. Instead, they view the current conflict as one tied solely with terrorism rather than also with occupation or the thirsty spirit of a people seeking its freedom.
No wonder then that Patriarch Sabbah talks openly about the ravages of an occupation that has become nothing short of colonisation and the subjugation of a people! No wonder also that HH Pope John-Paul II reminded the international community on 2 April 2004 of its responsibility to exert pressure to re-kindle the Palestinian-Israeli dialogue in order to halt ‘the infernal cycle of violence’ and ‘the terrible conflict that continues to crush the Holy Land.’ Or when Fausto Bertinotti, secretary-general of the Rifondazione Comunista, admitted last week that Europe had simply shut its ears to the conflict.
On a day when Christians celebrate the victory of life over death, of light over darkness, and of truth over untruth, the interest of world peace lies in retrieving the keys of the conflict. Israelis and Palestinians should learn to live side-by-side as co-equal and sovereign neighbours who enjoy peace with security. This means that the reprehensible and random killing of innocent men, women and children through suicide bombings is inadmissible. By the same token, it is inadmissible to squelch arrogantly another occupied people by killing its people, expropriating its land, dispossessing and disenfranchising its population, closing off its points of exit and entry, caging its people into walls and de-humanising them further.
As someone who abhors violence in all its structural, psychological and physical forms, it would sadden me immeasurably to open this file in my laptop again on Easter 2005 only to realise that I am still talking unchangingly about the same Resurrection and the same conflict! Are we doomed to self-justifying silence?
(c) hbv-H @ 13 April 2004