Ramadan, the Muslim celebration of the Quran, is about to begin, and in Palestine, it has a special meaning. When observed faithfully, Ramadan changes both the individual and society. Several times over the last fifteen years, I have taken groups of North American students and led public delegations to visit Golan for Development, a human rights organization located in Majdal Shams in Syria’s Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. I ask the Siraj Center in Beit Sahour to arrange these meetings to introduce my groups to the Druze, their religion, and Israel’s military occupation of the Golan.
Golan for Development resists Israel’s unlawful occupation and works for freedom, equality, and social justice by offering agricultural services to Druze farmers, by providing basic health services in the five remaining Druze villages of Golan, and by establishing a kindergarten, community theater, and music center for children. Beautiful, nonviolent resistance to Israel’s brutal occupation has given the Druze of Golan a higher quality of life than would otherwise have been possible, although they still suffer under Israel’s relentless domination.
It’s midnight. There’s a knock on the door. You yell that you are coming to open it in hopes that the soldiers don’t blow it open. Moments later, dozens of soldiers invade your house. Your children wake to masked soldiers with guns pointed directly at them, yelling in a language your children don’t understand. They force your family into one room and tear your house apart without explanation. This is the reality that many families have faced across the West Bank.
Night raids are one of the most devastating acts of the Israeli military occupation in the West Bank. The violent raids occur between midnight and 5 AM, often without the families getting an explanation. According to the Women’s Center for Legal Aid and Counseling, 1,360 night raids are executed every year, the majority within 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) of a settlement or near roads that settlers frequent.
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.
But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
The dust of Holy Week turmoil has settled, but the grief of execution hasn’t.
Now there was a man named Joseph, a member of the Council, a good and upright man, who had not consented to their decision and action. He came from the Judean town of Arimathea, and he himself was waiting for the kingdom of God. Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body. Then he took it down, wrapped it in linen cloth and placed it in a tomb cut in the rock, one in which no one had yet been laid. It was Preparation Day, and the Sabbath was about to begin.
The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.
Anyone who has spent a weekend in Jerusalem knows about Jerusalem’s Sabbath rotation: Friday in the Muslim quarter, Saturday in the Jewish quarter, and Sunday in the Christian quarters. Anyone traveling over these days must be careful to coordinate the different bus or train systems and their unique sabbath observances.
Sabbath observance varies between and within faith traditions but is often a joyful time of rest, worship, and family togetherness. Each tradition remembers God’s creation of the world and subsequent rest. Muslims observe Jumu’ah prayers Friday afternoon– “Jumu’ah” sharing its root with the Arabic words for mosque, Friday, and group/ gathering.
At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).
When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.”
Someone ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said.
With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.
The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”
Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joseph, and Salome. In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there.
From dust you came, and to dust you shall return.
We began lent with this profound reminder of our mortality. You don’t have to be a Christian to believe we came from dust or dirt and can’t escape returning to our humble beginnings. Still, I feel the depth of this reminder’s meaning eluding me. Is there not more to me than the dust from which I came?
It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.
The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”
“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”
Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”
“Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”
Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.
Psalm 122: 6-9
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
“May those who love you be secure.
May there be peace within your walls
and security within your citadels.”
For the sake of my family and friends,
I will say, “Peace be within you.”
For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,
I will seek your prosperity.
As we enter Holy Week, this psalm invites us into prayerful wordplay. The Hebrew word translated as “peace” in the first line and “prosperity” in the final line is the familiar shalom, which means “complete” or “whole,” or “flourishing.” The verb here translated as “be secure” also means “rest tranquil,” from the Hebrew yishlayu—an alliteration of yerushalem, translated Jerusalem.
As we enter Holy Week, let us pray for the peace of the City of Peace. Literally.
Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard, “Jesus is making and baptizing more disciples than John” —although it was not Jesus himself but his disciples who baptized— he left Judea and started back to Galilee. But he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.
A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”
As for me, I call to God,
and the Lord saves me.
Evening, morning and noon
I cry out in distress,
and he hears my voice.
Seven times a day I praise you
for your righteous laws.
At this point in Lent, many are weary. Forty days is a long time– more than a tenth of a year. At the beginning of Lent, some may come looking for spiritual renewal or novel self-discovery. And while many find it, others are left waiting.
Observing Lent in general may feel repetitive, or perhaps sticking to one’s fast or chosen practice feels mundane. While waiting in this season, I want to reflect on how God meets us in repetition. Liturgy is one repeated practice in which God meets us, and it takes multiple forms. Catholic and Orthodox churches have beautiful, highly developed liturgies for various feasts and seasons of the Church calendar. Some Protestants use similar liturgies, and others use heavily modified ones. Evangelicals may experience the repetition of a song or experiences in worship as liturgical.
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’”
Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written,
‘Worship the Lord your God,and serve only him.’”
Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,to protect you,’
and ‘On their hands they will bear you up,so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”
Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.
Dripping wet from his baptism, Jesus begins to fast. Lent is often understood as a meditation on Jesus’ 40 days of fasting and temptation in the wilderness, as narrated above (and in Matthew 4). I always admire Jesus’ narrow commitment to his values. It’s almost as if ruling the nations, turning stones into bread, and being saved by angels are not appealing to him! I often find myself scratching my head a bit when reading this story. Jesus is the God of the powerless. But don’t we need power to do good? What is advocacy and activism for justice without the political power Jesus denied? To genuinely love those with and in whom we find Jesus? What about those of us who already lack power and privilege? Why should we give up more than what’s already been taken from us?