Category: Prayers

Bethlehem Lives into its Heritage

Submitted by a CMEP Partner

What images come to mind when you hear the words “little town of Bethlehem”? Idyllic, holy scenes of Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus alongside friendly barnyard animals? For a North American living in Bethlehem, this cozy scene feels like a childhood dream. The reality of Bethlehem today disrupts such heart-warming visions with disturbing sights. For those who manage to get off the tourist track and visit the real Bethlehem, the image grows dim with three refugee camps, lack of access to natural resources and no freedom of movement for the city’s residents due in part to the separation barrier, constructed in 2002. And yet, like anywhere else, the people here feel a deep connection to and pride in their hometown.

The people of Bethlehem claim a hometown heritage stretching back thousands of years, documented in the Christian Bible and celebrated around the world by people who sing of its significance as the place where God arrived in human form on earth. For today’s Bethlehemites, geo-political realities of the past few centuries have added a heritage of pain that reaches back beyond the earliest memories of the city’s elders. Understandably, a narrative of pain and hopelessness consumes many.

Amidst the scarred collective memory, however, there are people with a vision of living into the pride of Bethlehem by celebrating its history and claiming the potential that awaits it. The Bethlehem-based organization Holy Land Trust has now marked five years of making this vision a reality, if only for a few days each year, with their annual Bet Lahem Live festival. The event is founded on, “creativity, faith, culture, and social justice,” fostering, “Bethlehem identity, both locally and internationally… [and] challenges local and international communities to take action to envision an ideal future for Bethlehem, as well as for the people of the larger Palestinian community.” The four day event focuses on Bethlehem’s special heritage through a, “multi-cultural platform for the arts.”

Due to the current occupation and accompanying economic challenges, society here is continually shaped in ways it otherwise would not be. Everything molds and forms around the edges and boundaries of the conflict, as the occupation reaches into the deepest places of everyday life. It is evident that the people and the place itself are unable to live into the full potential that life outside of occupation offers. Initiatives that engender strong community cooperation and collaboration amongst civil society actors are intrinsic to healthy community formation.

Bet Lahem Live seeks to reimagine Star Street, a once flourishing commercial avenue, to enable Bethlehemites to see their own potential and that of their community spaces. Star Street is already a UNESCO World Heritage site, recognized as the Pilgrimage Route leading to the birthplace of Jesus at the Church of the Nativity, a site holy to Christians, as well as Muslims who revere Jesus as a prophet. And just down the hill from Star Street is the area where Jews believe the Biblical story of Ruth and Boaz took place. This serves as a strategic location for the international community to learn about the current realities facing Palestinians, and for Palestinians to encounter solidarity with those from around the world who also count Bethlehem as a meaningful part of their spiritual and religious heritage.

Holy Land Trust Executive Director, Sami Awad, believes this initiative of faith and art that calls for justice is critical to strengthening the community for the future.

We want to empower the people on Star Street to have a strong voice in advocating for themselves. We want to celebrate what Bethlehem can become after occupation ends; we do not need to continue being victims. We should celebrate life even in the midst of death.

With each olive grove and dunam of land that is confiscated as a result of occupation, historic and religious space becomes all the more sacred. When a society values its heritage, community-building can flourish, which is critical for conflicted societies and necessary for the people of Bethlehem to engage in amidst their daily oppression. Ultimately, Awad believes that the community should recognize and observe Bethlehem as the city of peace that it is for so many around the world. The Bet Lahem Live festival is an initiative in which historic space is valued, with the aim of elevating Palestinian cultural identity within the people themselves, and to help them see a place in their midst symbolizing all that they have to be proud of.

Dear God,
Thank you for your presence in the midst of conflict. Where you revealed yourself to humanity 2,000 years ago, you are still present with the community of believers. We pray that you would empower the Christians of Bethlehem to creatively live into the Kingdom of God, and to persist in hope against the elusiveness of peace. Let us look to the future not with a hollow optimism in humanity’s self improvement, but with the fullness of hope that is rooted in the redemptive work of Christ.
Amen

Tent of Nations: People Building Bridges

The organic farm on which the Tent of Nations project runs is known as ‘Daher’s Vineyard’. Owned by the Nassar family, this land stretches 100 acres and is situated 9km southwest of Bethlehem. Since 1991, the family has been fighting a legal battle to keep hold of the land since it was classified as ‘Israeli State Land’ and thus threatened with confiscation. The struggle is ongoing. However, with a commitment to peaceful resistance and through the solidarity of those who have visited the land, much has been achieved. Tent of Nations continues to work to protect and develop the farm as a place where people can meet, learn, work together, and inspire one another.

Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) supports Tent of Nations’ mission to build bridges between people. Painted on a stone as you enter in several languages, their motto states “We refuse to be enemies.” In a land where walls are built and lines are drawn and redrawn… we believe their work is transformational. Tent of Nations offers a voice that is critical to the discussion for peace and justice in the Middle East.
This short interview with Daoud Nassar gives a good picture of what Tent of Nations (TON) is all about.

Dear God,
We lift up to you Daoud Nasser, the Nassar Family Farm, and peacebuilding ministry of Tent of Nations. We pray for the ongoing legal battle that the Nasser family may maintain their land. May their ministry continue to build bridges across cultures, across conflict, across countries and transform the hearts and minds of those who visit. May the Nasser Family Farm experience fruitful harvests this year, supporting their ongoing work and affirming their commitment to cultivate the land. We pray Daoud’s upcoming speaking tour in the US will serve as an encouragement to his ministry as well as an encouragement to all who hear his story to engage in peacebuilding efforts locally, in Israel, Palestine, and beyond. May peace prevail.
Amen.

CMEP is hosting conversations with Daoud Nassar in cities across the U.S. This is a great opportunity to hear directly about his experience and the work of Tent of Nations. For more information and specific locations please visit our website:
http://cmep.org/events/p2p/

Story and prayer by Becky Gonzalez

Herod’s Gate

Mosaic in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem

The sun kissed the tips of cathedral crosses. It was just after 5 a.m. Shadows shortened as we walked the narrow streets towards the gates of the Old City. Our local Palestinian guide shouldered our large, wooden cross. Fellow U.S. travelers held solemn prayers that carried the promise of a full day dawning in Jerusalem.
This was the Sunday that twenty-eight of us had crossed the Atlantic to experience. We yearned for the geographical reality and spiritual grace in the Land of the Bible. This was the early light that guided our steps as we would pray through the Way of the Cross where Jesus Christ was forced to his own crucifixion during Roman times.
We continued silently moving single file past unopened shops. Once in a while, looming iron gates connected imposing, modern rock walls as we approached Herod’s gate that would allow us into the Old City. Both sides of the street blocked us out, yet gave us glimpses of random ruins peaking above the soil beyond these walls. Some places had been excavated sixteen feet below to expose Herod’s roads and walls in Jesus’ time. These old rock walls and roads were coffins holding onto the past. Even coffins eroded like shifting sands. Where were those roads heading? What were these walls blocking in or out? What’s in our nature that still wants to build a wall? We kept walking as I reviewed in my mind each sorrowful Station of the Cross: Jesus was judged. He received His Cross. He fell for the first time. Jesus met His mother. Simon of Cyrene helped Him carry the Cross. Veronica wiped Jesus’ brow. He fell for the second time. He talked to the weeping women. He fell for the third time. He was stripped of his garments. Jesus was crucified. He died on the Cross. Jesus’ body was taken down from the Cross. Jesus’ body was placed in the Tomb. In a way, I felt humanity had walked this mystical path for centuries by carrying burdens in our cracked feet and ailing hearts. We were all citizens of Jerusalem, yet were caught together in a net of dire conflict and contradictory justice. Today we would physically move as one body through the painful stages that led to ultimate healing and Jesus’ resurrection. We were searching for the outward, visible signs that pointed to Christ’s inward, spiritual grace.

Our guide stopped us at the last intersection before we crossed the street to the Old City Gate. An Israeli barricade of metal panels walled us off. Five young Israeli police, armed with assault rifles, questioned our guide in Hebrew. I heard one familiar word, Iyad, our guide’s name, and felt the tenseness as time passed without movement. Why wouldn’t we be allowed in? These Stations of the Cross were for the entire world to experience in peace. Had we reached prematurely Jesus’ first Station of being judged falsely? Iyad turned to us and said, “They will not let me in. You can go in as tourists along with people who have a business inside the Old City, but I cannot because I am Palestinian.” We stood in shock and silence. “Can I have a priest come up here with me to explain to the Israelis that it’s been my business for over 30 years to lead people to worship?” One of our five Episcopal priests went forward to speak in English on Iyad’s behalf. We were at a standstill. Then Iyad looked back at us and continued, “Friends, this is the first time this has happened. These guards have turned me away from my own city. They are preventing me from conducting my business in Jerusalem.” The priest explained to the guards that he’d previously brought six different church groups from all over the U.S. and always had Iyad as his guide because he was a key partner in explaining Christ’s message. An Israeli police woman in her early twenties said in English, knowing Iyad understood, “Tell your guide we don’t speak English.” She added that he could not enter because they didn’t know who he was, but tourists were welcome. How did the guards know who foreigners were, but not a Palestinian who entered the Old City and drove the streets of Jerusalem daily? Iyad turned to us again. “You may go in, but I cannot.” Silence ensued. Then, as a group we replied, “We will not go in. We stand together with you, Iyad.”

We left in silence following Iyad as he lifted the large, wooden cross that dug a little deeper into his shoulder. We were yoked with his pain, his quiet dignity and calm assurance though a prisoner in his own land. Jesus’ image of taking up the Cross flashed through my mind: the second Station. “We can go back to St. George’s Cathedral and pray together each Station of the Cross.” Icons of each stage surrounded the inner walls of the church. As we proceeded through the painful way of Christ, each of us read aloud the pertinent scripture and a powerful prayer. Our movement together, largely in silence, was palpable. We were one body in the blood of Christ. In this moment, Iyad’s life struggle became real to me. We had been embraced in the home of a Palestinian who, today, had just been denied the simplest natural justice of conducting his daily business in Jerusalem. This actually happened constantly to the Palestinians through the Israeli control of water, highway limits, or any other economic source for growth. I grasped the eternal conflict that raged throughout the centuries in this harsh holy land and, more importantly, the recent Israel/Palestine conflict since 1967. Palestinians deserved the same identity, dignity, security, and land as those of the Jews. Jews deserved the recognition of the Holocaust and the diaspora. Both needed to steadfastly seek a balance of power and reconciliation without domination. I was now caught in this conflict where Jesus was crucified. The only reprieve was that in this same place He rose from the grave. Gate keepers could no longer hold ground nor could lands remain divided. Jesus brought grace and peace. This was our assurance as we lifted our hearts to Christ.

Dear God,

We pray for Palestinian Christians who are prohibited access to Jerusalem. Give them the strength to be bearers of your love even as they face discrimination and hardship. We look forward to the day when the city of Jerusalem will be known not for division, violence, and walls but for radical reconciliation, forgiveness, and justice. Until that day let us be persistent in desire and action towards equality for all those living in the land between the river and the sea. May all efforts be rooted in the work of Jesus, whose death and resurrection reconciled us to God and enable us to reconcile with each other even in the face of the worst grievances. May it be on earth as in Heaven.

Amen

 

Story by:
Carol Folbre, Ph.D.
St. John’s Episcopal Church
New Braunfels, Texas, U.S.A.

Prayer by:
Michael Santulli
Intern, Churches for Middle East Peace

 

Prayer for Churches in Jerusalem

Above: Jaffa Gate, Jerusalem

Joint Statement from the Patriarchs and Heads of Churches
in Jerusalem
“Learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed…” Isaiah 1.17

 

In July 2017, we, the heads of the Churches in Jerusalem, were compelled to issue a public statement of concern regarding breaches of the Status Quo that governs the Holy Sites and ensures the rights and privileges of the Churches. This Status Quo is universally recognised by both religious authorities and governments, and has always been upheld by the civil authorities of our region.

We now find ourselves united once again in condemning recent further encroachment on the Status Quo. In such matters as this, the Heads of the Churches are resolute and united in our opposition to any action by any authority or group that undermines those laws, agreements, and regulations that have ordered our life for centuries.

There have been further actions that are a clear breach of the Status Quo. The judgement in the “Jaffa Gate” case against the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, which we regard as unjust, as well as a proposed bill in the Knesset which is politically motivated that would restrict the rights of the Churches over our own property, are further assaults on the rights that the Status Quo has always guaranteed.

We see in these actions a systematic attempt to undermine the integrity of the Holy City of Jerusalem and the Holy Land, and to weaken the Christian presence. We affirm in the clearest possible terms that a vital, vibrant Christian community is an essential element in the make-up of our diverse society, and threats to the Christian community can only increase the troubling tensions that have emerged in these turbulent times.

Such attempts to undermine the Christian community of Jerusalem and the Holy Land do not affect one Church only; they affect us all, and they affect Christians and all people of good will around the world. We have always been faithful to our mission to ensure that Jerusalem and the Holy Sites are open to all, without distinction or discrimination, and we are unanimous in our support of the actions, including a High Court appeal, against the judgement in the “Jaffa Gate” case and in our opposition to any proposed law that would restrict the rights of the Churches over our properties.

We therefore, as those to whom Divine Providence has entrusted the care of both the Holy Sites and the pastoral oversight of the living, indigenous Christian communities of the Holy Land, call upon our fellow Church leaders and faithful around the world, as well as the heads of governments, and all people of good will, to support us in order to ensure that no further attempts are made from any quarter to change the historical Status Quo and its provisions and spirit.

We cannot stress strongly enough the very serious situation that this recent systematic assault on the Status Quo has had on the integrity of Jerusalem and on the well-being of the Christian communities of the Holy Land, as well as on the stability of our society.

We, the Heads of the Churches in Jerusalem, stand resolutely together in working for reconciliation and for a just and lasting peace in our region, and we ask God’s blessings on all the peoples of our beloved Holy Land.

The Patriarchs and Heads of Churches in Jerusalem

+Patriarch Theophilos III, Greek Orthodox Patriarchate
+Patriarch Nourhan Manougian, Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Patriarchate +Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Apostolic Administrator, Latin Patriarchate +Fr. Francesco Patton, ofm, Custos of the Holy Land
+Archbishop Anba Antonious, Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate, Jerusalem +Archbishop Swerios Malki Murad, Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate
+Archbishop Aba Embakob, Ethiopian Orthodox Patriarchate
+Archbishop Joseph-Jules Zerey, Greek-Melkite-Catholic Patriarchate +Archbishop Mosa El-Hage, Maronite Patriarchal Exarchate
+Archbishop Suheil Dawani, Episcopal Church of Jerusalem and the Middle East +Bishop Munib Younan, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land +Bishop Pierre Malki, Syrian Catholic Patriarchal Exarchate
+Msgr. Georges Dankaye’, Armenian Catholic Patriarchal Exarchate

(September 2017)

Dear God,

We thank you for the work of your Spirit in the city of Jerusalem, from the time of the disciples until today. We know that amid strife and conflict you are still moving. We pray for the church leaders and Christians in the Holy Land, and especially in Jerusalem. Give them peace and perseverance in the face of trials and give them hope in the face of conflict. At a time when Christian presence in the Middle East dwindles, we pray that you would strengthen and encourage those who remain. Help us who are distant from conflict to continue in prayer and to pursue justice with our brothers and sisters in Jerusalem and beyond. Let us all be united in the task of bearing witness to your love.

In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.

 

Photo and prayer by Michael Santulli

 

Michael Santulli is a research intern at Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP).
CMEP is very thankful for the writers who contribute Spiritual Resources. However, CMEP does not necessarily agree with all the positions of our writers, and they do not speak on CMEP’s behalf.

Pentecost Sunday: Thy Kingdom Come

Thy Kingdom Come

By Elli Atchison and Molly Lorden

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Matthew 5: 1-10

Jesus was no stranger to the Kingdom of God.  He began his earthly ministry proclaiming his purpose to bring good news to the poor, recovery of sight to the blind, freedom for the oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor (Luke 4:17-18). He lived his earthly life doing all of these things. After he departed to heaven he sent the same Spirit that anointed him to us, on the day of Pentecost. Today, Christians around the world celebrate the sending of the Spirit, because it is through the Spirit that we follow Jesus in proclaiming the Kingdom of God on earth.

The Dead Sea, which, in fact, contains life. Things are not always as they seem. Photo: Kyle Anderson Photography

Jesus did not come to immediately bring an end to sadness and suffering or poverty and injustice. He did not come to overthrow a government or to end political occupations. He came to show us a better way to live, amidst the many tribulations that plague our world. He came that we might have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10). Jesus came to proclaim the Kingdom of God on earth, and to invite us to live by its rules here and now.

The revolutionary ideas of Jesus’ Kingdom did not make sense to the people of Jesus’ day, and they often don’t make sense to us now. This Kingdom goes against the ways of the world. It lifts up those that the world puts down: the meek, the poor, the mourners, the hungry and thirsty, the pure of heart, and the peacemakers (Matt. 5:1-12).

Throughout the course of our Lenten devotional series, we learned about life under occupation, Palestinians in Gaza, Palestinian Christians, Israeli and Palestinian children, pilgrims and peacemakers. Each of these individuals and groups represent those who are blessed in this upside-down Kingdom.

How are we, as Christians, called to be co-workers with Christ in proclaiming the Kingdom of God on earth? We must begin by calling attention to injustice.

This month marks the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Six Day War and the beginning of the  occupation of the Palestinian territories. Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) believes the conflict and occupation have been going on for #50YearsTooLong. The Six Day War is celebrated in Israel as a time of national triumph and the first time in decades Jews were able to worship at their holiest site at the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem. However, for Palestinians, 1967 marked further displacement and the beginning of the military control of the West Bank and Gaza. This weekend, church leaders and laypeople gather in Washington D.C. to learn about the injustices of the occupation, and to advocate for a shift in American policies toward positions that are more sensitive to the needs of all of the people living in the Holy Land. This is one of the ways we join with God in proclaiming the Kingdom on earth. As followers of Christ, we are called to apply these upside down Kingdom values to our own lives and to our broken world. And, we do so with the help and guidance of the Holy Spirit, sent to us at Pentecost.

Dear God,

Thank you for coming into our world to proclaim your Kingdom. Thank you for sending your Spirit so that we may also proclaim your wonderful Kingdom. We pray for all those in the Holy Land who are the meek, the poor, the hungry and thirsty, the mourners, the persecuted, and the peacemakers. We ask you to bless them. We boldly pray the prayer that Jesus taught us, saying,

Our Father who art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name,
Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
For Thine is the Kingdom and the power and the glory,
Forever and ever.

In your holy name we pray, amen.

For more in this series, visit our website.

 

Elli Atchison is the Ambassador of Donor Engagement at Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP). Molly Lorden is the Church Engagement & Millennial Voices for Peace Intern at CMEP, and is also currently studying toward a Master of Divinity at Princeton Theological Seminary.

CMEP is very thankful for the writers who contribute Spiritual Resources. However, CMEP does not necessarily agree with all the positions of our writers, and they do not speak on CMEP’s behalf.

Easter Sunday: Jesus Was No Stranger to Persistent Hope

Jesus Was No Stranger to Persistent Hope

Written by Molly Lorden

Sea of Galilee. Photo: Kyle Anderson Photography

“But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men 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.’ Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles.”
Luke 24: 1-10

Early in the morning, a group of women, including Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and others, walked to the tomb where Jesus had been buried. I imagine them walking in silence, some of them with tears running down their cheeks, others in a daze. Their eyes are still adjusting to the morning light. One of them is carrying the spices they had prepared the night before, to prepare Jesus’ body for burial. As they approach the tomb, they see the stone rolled away. This, in and of itself, would be cause for alarm. Who had been there before them? They cautiously walk into the tomb and find it empty. What happens next would cause anyone to be terrified. Two men in dazzling clothes (AKA angels) stood beside them and began to speak to them. These heavenly beings remind the women what Jesus had told them about how he would rise again on the third day. Immediately after their conversation, the women return to the eleven disciples and tell them everything that had happened. Hallelujah! What terrific news!

Jesus was no stranger to persistent hope. Jesus taught these women, and his disciples, what it meant to persistently hope. To have hope is more than a wish. It involves knowledge of something true, that hasn’t happened yet. It’s not a premonition, or some special kind of revelation. It’s the hope we carry with us even when circumstances seem dire. It’s the hope that propels us forward in the face of uncertainty and fear. This is the kind of hope exhibited by the women that morning. It seemed as though everything was lost. Their Lord had been crucified. What would happen to them, his followers? Still, they faithfully went to the tomb to honor him by preparing his body for burial. Although none of them expected to find the tomb empty, I imagine them replaying Jesus’ words on the walk to the tomb. What did Jesus mean when he said he would rise again on the third day? Maybe it was this wondering which propelled them to go to the tomb that morning.

Palestinian and Israeli women are often the most overlooked, yet effective peacemakers. Women Wage Peace, an Israeli organization of women united across all traditional dividing lines—political, religious, ethnic, social, and geographic—was founded in the midst of deep despair and cynicism following the 2014 Gaza war. The goal of these women is to reach an honorable and bilaterally acceptable political agreement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with a target date of 2018. They hope to do this by growing in diversity, pressuring the Israeli government to more proactively pursue peace, and increasing the number of women involved in the negotiations. These women persistently hope for an end to the conflict in their communities. When circumstances were grim, they took steps to change their communities.

In an article by Jennifer Lipman for The Jewish Chronicle, she writes,

Rather than endorsing a specific peace deal, they say trust-building must come first, between women across Israeli society and between Israelis and Palestinians. As [Huda] Abu Arqoub explains, that means changing the understanding of security “to a mutual need of everyone living in the conflict zone.” For too long, she says, security has been “a political position manipulated by fear and by views of the Other being the enemy,” with Israelis believing that Palestinian youth are being raised on hate. But when Israeli women meet Palestinian women like her, in situations engineered by Women Wage Peace, the conversation switches to mutual need. “This changes the whole concept of the Other.”

Women are powerful agents for change.

Jerusalem. Photo: Kyle Anderson Photography

How are we, as Christians, called to persistently hope alongside these women who are actively seeking peace for their communities? First, we cling to the hope that this conflict will come to an end. We may not know when or how, but we trust that it will, and we take steps alongside those working for peace to make it so. We also recognize the unique abilities of women as powerful agents of change in their communities. We must not only support their efforts, but listen to their stories, and learn from them. And, propelling us forward, we remember our Lord, who fulfilled our hopes and rose again on the third day, even when all circumstances seemed dire and impossible. He is risen! Hallelujah!

Dear God,

Be with women in the Holy Land who are persistently hoping for an end to the conflict. Guide them as they work together to bring peace to their communities. Help us to learn from them, and to stand alongside them in persistent hope. Thank you for keeping true to your promise and rising again on the third day, fulfilling our hope.

In your holy name we pray, amen.

For more in this series, visit our website.

Molly Lorden is the Church Engagement & Millennial Voices for Peace Intern at Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP), and is currently studying toward a Master of Divinity at Princeton Theological Seminary.

CMEP is very thankful for the writers who contribute Spiritual Resources. However, CMEP does not necessarily agree with all the positions of our writers, and they do not speak on CMEP’s behalf.

Good Friday: Jesus Was No Stranger to Persecution and Pain

Jesus Was No Stranger to Persecution and Pain

Written by Elli Atchison and Molly Lorden

“It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, while the sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.’ Having said this, he breathed his last. When the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God and said, ‘Certainly this man was innocent.’”
Luke 23: 44-47

Jesus was no stranger to persecution and pain. Though he was unjustly accused and tried in court, “Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge” (Matt. 27:12). He faced an angry mob who chanted for his death, even though the ruling governor found him to be innocent. He was handed over to Roman soldiers who brutally flogged his flesh, beat his body, and mocked his holy name. Finally, Jesus endured the shame of a criminal’s death by hanging on a cross. (Matt. 27:12-44)

Throughout this evil tribulation he never once defended himself. He could have called on his Father to send more than twelve legions of angels to defend him (Matt. 26:53). But he did not. He did not raise his hand or even his voice in self defense. His meekness was the truest sign of strength that the world will ever know.

Checkpoint in Hebron. Photo: Kyle Anderson Photography

It is difficult to find a place where the conflict is more palpable, than in the city of Hebron, in the West Bank. A Jewish settlement was established within the city almost 50 years ago. The settlers are a small minority of Hebron’s population, but their presence is strongly felt and heavily protected. At any given time, there may be hundreds of soldiers patrolling the streets and manning checkpoints within the city. The Palestinian people’s movements are closely watched and restricted. There are separate streets, like Al-Shuhada in the heart of the Old City, that Palestinians are not allowed use. And despite the powerful military presence in Hebron, Jewish settlers are actually permitted to openly carry large weapons as they move freely throughout the city.

Palestinians resent this Israeli presence within the city. Hebron has historic significance for Jews and Palestinians alike because it is the burial place of the patriarch Abraham. Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, Palestinian Arabs and Jews lived side-by-side in Hebron or Al-Khalil, a city named “friend.” In the decades during and following the British mandate, the Arab and Jewish populations of Hebron experienced much turmoil. Although some of the greatest divisions between their communities came with the establishment of the radical settlement of Kiryat Arba. Following the division of the city in the Oslo Accords, the Palestinian economy in Hebron has been crippled. Men have a hard time finding jobs that allow them to support their large families. It is not uncommon for boys to drop out of school and work in the streets. They sell trinkets to tourists, trying to help provide for their families.

The experience of a Palestinian teen in Hebron might go something like this. The young man was once falsely accused of throwing rocks at a settler. Many of his friends do throw stones, but of this infraction, he was innocent. In the middle of the night, soldiers broke into his home and arrested him while he was asleep in his bed. For days he was detained and questioned, with physical force and mental mistreatment, until he finally confessed to a crime that he did not commit.  His confession was that of a frightened boy who just wanted to go home.

This experience has hardened the teenager’s heart. He carries anger and resentment for all the settlers and soldiers he sees. He is now happy to participate in riots and proudly throws stones. The sting of tear gas in his eyes is nothing new and does not deter him.  The teen knows well that these acts are dangerous. But he says, with a man’s bravado, that death does not scare him because “this is not a life.”

How do we, as Christians, respond to the kind of injustices many teens in Hebron, and the occupied Palestinian territories, experience? First, we must listen quietly to their stories. As we listen, we remember Jesus who was also persecuted. We remember how he responded to persecution. He did not defend himself, but turned his cheek. We do not presume to tell these teens how to react to the persecution in their lives. However, by listening to their stories, we offer an alternative to violence. We offer a safe space to process and to express their anger. And, we work alongside them for peace in their communities. And, we remind ourselves that there aren’t two sides to the conflict; instead, there are those who advocate for peace and justice, and those who don’t. There is great brokenness and beauty on each side.

Dear God,

We pray for Palestinian and Israeli teens who are challenged to choose the path to peace every day. Violence is easy, peaceful resistance takes far greater strength. You tell us that those who choose meekness will be blessed and they will inherit the earth. (Matt. 5:5) Teach us what it means to embrace your ways of nonviolence, and to stand alongside those who experience persecution in the Holy Land.

In your holy name we pray, Amen.

For more in this series, visit our website.

Please respond with your own prayers in the comments section.

 

Elli Atchison is the Ambassador of Donor Engagement at Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP). Molly Lorden is the Church Engagement & Millennial Voices for Peace Intern at CMEP, and is also currently studying toward a Master of Divinity at Princeton Theological Seminary.

CMEP is very thankful for the writers who contribute Spiritual Resources. However, CMEP does not necessarily agree with all the positions of our writers, and they do not speak on CMEP’s behalf.

Maundy Thursday: Jesus Was No Stranger to Humble Service

Jesus Was No Stranger to Humble Service

Written by Molly Lorden

“Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.”
John 13:1-5

Jesus was no stranger to humble service. Throughout the Gospels, we see Jesus continually putting aside his privilege to care for others out of humility. When tempted by Satan in the wilderness, he put aside his ability to be rescued by angels, and to turn rocks into food (Luke 4:1-13). Immediately after this, he returned to Galilee to begin his earthly ministry, proclaiming the good news to the least of these, and healing the sick. Once again, he shows us what it means to humbly serve. Knowing who he is, and what was to happen, his response was to serve his disciples, even the one who would deny him only hours later. He humbled himself to the status of the lowest servant in the house, washing the grime and muck from a day of walking off of the disciples’ feet.

I love the detail used in this passage. John takes the time to tell us how methodically Jesus went about serving his disciples. Step-by-step: he got up, took off his outer robe, tied a towel around himself, poured water into a basin, and then began to wash. While this may seem like an obvious progression, we need to be careful not to miss the importance of these details. Jesus saw something that needed to be done, and did it. He did not ask someone else to do it. He didn’t ask if it was alright. He simply started serving. When he was done, he commanded his disciples to do the same for others.

House of Grace, Haifa. Photo: Kyle Anderson Photography

Many Jewish, Muslim, and Christian leaders humbly serve their communities daily in the Holy Land. These religious leaders see needs in their communities, and take steps to fill them. Kamil Shehade filled the need in his community by beginning the House of Grace in Haifa. As a Christian, Kamil began this home for ex-prisoners who were having difficulty readjusting to society after being released from prison. Kamil and his wife, Agnes, simply began inviting released prisoners into their humble home where they provided a warm, informal, and supportive environment. They encouraged their guests to reevaluate their lives and start living up to their potential. These simple acts led to the establishment of the House of Grace, the first rehabilitation hostel for released prisoners in Israel. Kamil has since passed away, and his son Jamal now runs the House of Grace, carrying on this important work.

How are we, as Christians, called to set aside our privilege and humbly serve? After washing the disciples feet, Jesus said, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them” (John 13: 12-20). Tonight, Christians around the world will wash one another’s feet. They do this in remembrance of the Last Supper, and as a way of following this command of Jesus. Foot washing is a beautiful ceremony observed by so many on Maundy Thursday. We are called to live in this posture of service the same way every day. In our day-to-day lives, where are needs we can help meet? How can we support those humbly serving in the Holy Land? Our answers may vary, but Jesus’ command is the same.

Dear God,

Help us to see the needs of those around us. As we encounter need in our communities, teach us to set aside our privilege and humbly serve. Strengthen the Muslim, Jewish, and Christian leaders in the Holy Land who are humbly serving their communities. Guide us as we support the work they are doing.

In your holy name we pray, Amen.

For more in this series, visit our website.

Molly Lorden is the Church Engagement & Millennial Voices for Peace Intern at Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP), and is currently studying toward a Master of Divinity at Princeton Theological Seminary.

CMEP is very thankful for the writers who contribute Spiritual Resources. However, CMEP does not necessarily agree with all the positions of our writers, and they do not speak on CMEP’s behalf.

Sixth Sunday of Lent: Jesus Was No Stranger to Being Misunderstood

Jesus Was No Stranger to Being Misunderstood

Written by Molly Lorden

“The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,
‘Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!’
When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, ‘Who is this?’ The crowds were saying, ‘This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.’”
Matthew 21: 6-11

Christian pilgrims carry palm branches during the traditional Palm Sunday procession on the Mount of Olives overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem. PHOTO: CNS/Debbie Hill

Today, Christians all over the world celebrate Palm Sunday. One week before Easter, we mark the day of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. He entered the city riding on a donkey, as the crowds laid palm branches and cloaks on the road before him and shouted praises. Amidst the commotion, people wondered who he was. Some responded that he was a prophet. Traditionally, Jesus is known as the great prophet, priest and king. While Jesus was a prophet, this is certainly not an all-encompassing understanding of his identity. In this same scene in the gospel of Luke, Jesus is proclaimed as king. Yet, even this is not an adequate depiction. He is so much more.

Jesus was no stranger to being misunderstood. As prophet, Jesus proclaims the good news of grace and salvation to all people. As priest, Jesus carries out the final atoning work for the sins of the world. And, as king, Jesus reigns eternally as our mediator in heaven, seated at the right hand of God. Throughout his earthly life Jesus was clear about these things. He invited his disciples to follow him, teaching them through parables, sermons, and miracles. He even predicted his death three times to his disciples before entering Jerusalem. While the crowds praised him in the streets, shouting “Hosanna!” and calling him blessed, they had little sense of what was yet to come.

On Palm Sunday, Christians from all over the world process from the Mount of Olives, and ascend the holy hill to the Old City of Jerusalem, ending at St. Anne’s Church. Carrying palm branches and praising God in many languages, they follow the path that Jesus would have taken as he entered the city. The crowds are made up of pilgrims, religious communities, and local Christians, including the Franciscans, the Latin, Greek-Catholic, Syrian-Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Coptic Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox, and Syrian Orthodox Patriarchates. Also involved in the various processions are the Pontifical Institute, the Latin Parish, the Episcopal and Lutheran churches, and the Church of Sweden. Throughout the day, various masses are held by these groups and many others, including the Armenian-Catholic Patriarchal Exarchate, the Austrian Hospice, the Maronite Patriarchal Exarchate, the Russian Orthodox Ecclesial Mission, the Romanian Orthodox Patriarchate, and the Church of Scotland. It is no overstatement to say that Palm Sunday in Jerusalem is quite the celebration!

Imagine yourself in the middle of the crowd of one of these processions, walking this path. Maybe it is your first time to Jerusalem, and you have come with the hope of understanding Jesus more. As you walk, you hear a cacophony of voices, in all languages, singing and shouting praises to God. You hear palm branches rustling in the wind, and your view of what lies before you is partially blocked by them. The smell of delicious food drifts towards you through open windows and street vendors. As you slowly make your way forward, you see details in the architecture of the city, marking the different eras and communities who have lived there throughout history. You begin to ponder the city’s history, wondering what it was like when Jesus walked these streets. You look out over the landscape of the hills and wonder if Jesus also did the same. You think about Jesus riding into the city on a donkey, and imagine how he might have felt. You wonder if you have misunderstood Jesus, just as the crowds did that day. This is the experience of a pilgrim in the Holy Land. It is an experience of continually wondering who Jesus is, and what that means for your life.

Jesus, knowing that he had been misunderstood, reminded the disciples who he was just days later. They were gathered together having dinner when Jesus took bread, gave thanks to God, broke it and passed it around saying, “Take, eat, this is my body.” He also took a glass of wine, gave thanks, and passed it around the table saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Matt. 26:26-29). Jesus used an ordinary dinner with friends to communicate a profound message of grace and hope, a message they would need to cling to in the coming days.

Whether or not we ever travel to the Holy Land, we are all pilgrims on this journey of knowing God more fully. We practice communion in a variety of ways, all actively remembering these actions of Jesus. We continually seek to know God in different ways -through reading Scripture, praying, spending time in fellowship, and visiting the Holy Land. We do all these things while knowing that we see in a mirror, dimly, but in heaven we will see face to face. Now, we know only in part, but then we will know fully, just as we have been fully known (1 Corinthians 13:12).

Dear God,

This morning, we join the crowds shouting “Hosanna,” and praise you for who you truly are. We know that we often misunderstand you, so we ask you to continually reveal yourself to us. Thank you for the gift of communion, in which you remind us to remember you for who you were and still are. Thank you for being our great prophet, priest and king.

In your holy name we pray, Amen.

Join us by responding with your prayers in the comments section.

For more in this series, visit our website.

Fifth Sunday of Lent: Jesus Was No Stranger to the Least of These

Jesus Was No Stranger to the Least of These

Written by Molly Lorden

“People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.’ And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.” (Mark 10:13-16)

We are now in the fifth week of the Lenten season, one week before Palm Sunday. Many of you have given up something: maybe chocolate, Facebook, or meat. The spiritual practice of fasting creates space in our lives to intentionally focus on God, to repent, and to pray. Some of you have taken on something, rather than fasting, during this season. Maybe you are volunteering, or doing acts of charity. Regardless of how you are observing Lent, you may be longing for its end — waiting for the joy that comes with Easter Sunday.  In these seasons of waiting and anticipation, it is important to consider where our priorities lie.

Jesus was no stranger to the least of these. He spent three years with his disciples, ministering to people, healing the sick, spending time in fellowship with sinners, and preaching the good news. Now, in these last two weeks before his death and resurrection, he shows us where his priorities lie. Jesus knew what awaited him in Jerusalem, even predicting his death to his disciples (Matt. 20, Mark 10, Luke 18). No doubt, he felt the weight of what was to come. Yet, as his darkest hour approached, he did not spend his time worrying, but rather he elevated the least of these. Jesus carved out time to bless children, proclaiming the kingdom of God belongs to them (Mark 10:13-16).

Photo: Elli Atchison

Many people on all sides of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict feel as though they are in an endless period of waiting for a peace. Sometimes, it seems there is no end in sight. Often, children are the ones who experience the greatest burdens of conflict. Deborah Ellis, Canadian activist and author, compiled a book of interviews with Israeli and Palestinian children titled, Three Wishes: Palestinian and Israeli Children Speak. It showcases the emotions of fear, confusion, anger, and hope felt by children on all sides of the conflict, as they long for an end. Gul, an Israeli boy, states, “All I know about this war is that it’s about this country, this land. The Palestinians want it, and we want it, so we’re fighting over it. I don’t know how it will end, or if it ever will.” Maryam, a Palestinian girl, expresses a similar longing for an end to the conflict, “I have only one wish. I would like to go to heaven. Maybe in heaven there is happiness, after we die. Maybe then.”
Expressed in these statements are emotions felt by many Palestinian and Israeli children. Each of them has been taught something about who they are, why they are in conflict, and what it will take for the conflict to end. Each of them longs for the peace and joy its end would bring. For these children, normal life consists of bomb threats, the fear of losing parents, and the threat of being put in detention centers. Yanal, a young Palestinian refugee interviewed for Ellis’ book, reminds us, “Being religious, whether you are Muslim or Christian or Jewish, or whatever you are, means that you should help people, and make the world better, and not just think of yourself. We have these things in common, at least in our religions.”

So, how can we learn from Jesus’ example and elevate these children who truly are “the least of these?” First, we create space for them in our lives. Jesus was indignant and brought the children close, despite the disciples’ attempt to keep them from him. Then, we speak words of value and identity into their lives. Jesus elevated these children by speaking words of affirmation over them, even stating that others should become like them if they want to enter his kingdom. For us, this may mean advocating on the behalf of these children to our government, supporting organizations that love them well, or even taking a trip to the land to see their faces and hear their stories firsthand. Regardless of what each of us is specifically called to and able to do, we are all called to actively wait alongside these precious children for peace to come.

Dear God,

Be with the children in the Holy Land who experience daily confusion, pain, anger, frustration and hope, as they wait for an end to this conflict. Comfort them, hold them close, and bless them. Teach us what it means to actively support these children. As we near the end of the Lenten season and we wait for the joy of Easter morning, let us continue to be active in pursuing justice and mercy.

In your holy name we pray, Amen.

Join us by responding with your prayers in the comments section.

For more in this series, visit our website.

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