We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Romans 8:22-25
I’m frequently asked how I maintain hope in the face of such challenging realities related to my work. With policy decisions from the White House that fail to recognize the inherent worth and dignity of all of God’s children in the Middle East, to a polarized and hyper-partisan Congress, how is it possible to believe we can actually shift U.S. policy toward one that centers justice and honors the equality of all in the Middle East? All of this is exacerbated by a global pandemic and virus that will have even more devastating effects on marginalized communities. I will admit it can be quite difficult at times. I’m not a naturally optimistic person. But as CMEP’s Executive Director, Rev. Dr. Mae Elise Cannon often reminds us, “despair is the luxury of the privileged.” Who am I, as a privileged U.S. citizen, to give up, especially when so many in Israel/Palestine continue to struggle daily for a future in which all people living in the land we call Holy have full equality and rights under the law? Giving up is simply not an option.
Daily we see signs from the ground in Israel/Palestine that should make us less hopeful. Continued expansion of settlements, the threat of annexation of Palestinian lands, restrictions on movement, the mistreatment of Palestinian children in Israeli military detention. And yet, as Paul reminds us in Romans 8, we do not hope for what we see but instead for what is beyond our current vision. Through my work at Churches for Middle East Peace, I am able to see glimpses of this hope. When I am particularly drained and feeling hopeless, I remember the powerful message that greets visitors as they enter the Nassar family farm, known to many as the Tent of Nations. “We refuse to be enemies,” the sign reads, as you enter, and as long as people come without weapons, even the neighboring Israeli settlers are invited to come break bread. I am reminded of the witness of Israeli and Palestinian human rights advocates who risk so much to work toward an end to the occupation and the beginnings of a future marked by equality for all. Through their actions, they are embodying what Paul means when he says we hope for that which we cannot see. Despite being told that reconciliation will never come, they are living proof that living together in peace is indeed possible if we commit ourselves to it daily.
During the season of Lent, Christians around the world are invited to reflect on our own sin and mortality. This year, as we remember the last days of Jesus, it might seem like the whole world is groaning—fearful of the spread of the coronavirus and uncertain of how it might change our ways of life and relating to each other. In times of global unease, it is hard to remain hopeful. Yet Lent is also a time for us to remember the hope made flesh through the life and witness of Jesus. During Lent and indeed throughout the year we are called to model his acts of hospitality and his call for inclusivity and justice. When all of creation is “groaning” we must redouble our efforts to work toward a world in which all of God’s people are treated with dignity and justice.
It might be difficult sometimes to cling to hope. But as Paul reminds us “if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience,” confident that God will see it through completion.
Creator God, your creation is groaning with fear and uncertainty. We know, God, that you cause everything to work together for good. Be with us your children now. Remind us that when hope seems beyond our grasp, that through your son Jesus, we have been reconciled to each other and to you, Creator God. Instill in us the commitment to break down the bonds of oppression. To create systems in which all of God’s children can live in peace and equality. As we face new realities let us remember that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Kyle Cristofalo is CMEP’s Director of Advocacy and Government Relations.