Persistent Hope: The Holy Fire of Palestinian and Arab Christians

A Holy Saturday Devotional by Rev. Dr. Mae Elise Cannon

Holy Saturday remains my favorite holiday in Jerusalem. After the evening of Good Friday and the darkness of Christ’s crucifixion, Christians around the world celebrate in the coming of Easter Sunday that darkness is not the end of the story. For light will overcome the darkness.

This year Western Christians (Catholics, Anglicans, and Protestants) celebrate Easter one week apart from our Eastern Orthodox Christian brothers and sisters. But the spirit of which we celebrate is the light of Christ prevailing over the darkness of the world. This celebration is symbolized most profoundly in the ritual of Holy Fire and Holy Saturday before Easter Sunday in the sacred city of Jerusalem.

Many of the young men and women who were marching today wore clothing with the Jerusalem cross – also known as the Crusaders Cross. The four smaller crosses are supposed to be a symbol of the four Gospels and representative of the four different directions (North, South, East, West) that the Gospel went forth from Jerusalem.

I am told in years past that thousands of local Christian communities with international pilgrims from around the world would gather in the Old City of Jerusalem for worship and celebration. Processional with dozens of different bands and Boy Scout troops (with boys and girls) would lead the way in preparation for Easter. Holy Saturday is particularly special because it is the only day of the year when the sacred light or ‘Holy Fire’ – the fire that lights the tomb of Christ in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre – comes out into the world. The fire from the tomb is spread from candle to candle all over the church and throughout the streets of the Old City – a symbol of the way Christ’s light is spread into the world.

When I’ve had the privilege of witnessing this tradition in years past, I am always inspired by the fortitude and steadfastness of Palestinian and Arab Christians. Often entering the sacred city of Jerusalem has security obstacles and checkpoints that discriminate against Palestinian residents. Many of these residents of Jerusalem have family ties to the sacred city that go back for generations, if not millennia. On this Holy Saturday, I am reminded and inspired of the fortitude of Palestinian Christians. They remain steadfast. As the Holy Fire spreads throughout the city of Jerusalem, we remain firm in our persistent hope that injustice will not reign forever. There is hope on the horizon. This is our prayer for the holy city of Jerusalem, for Palestinian Christians, and for the people of Israel and Palestine.

O God, Creator of heaven and earth:

Grant that, as the crucified body of your dear Son was laid in the tomb and rested on this holy Sabbath, so we may await with him the coming of the third day, and rise with him to newness of life; who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

A lectionary prayer for Holy Saturday.