Prayers4Peace: Good Friday of Lent 2024

A Cloud of Witnesses, Good Friday of Lent 2024
Written by Rev. Sari Ateek

Reading: Hebrews 12: 1-2

“Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses… let us run with perseverance”  
Hebrews 12:1

Witnesses. This word found in our devotional text from Hebrews is a translation from the Greek “martyrion”– from which we get the word “martyr.” Rarely do we consider the connection between bearing witness and this level of sacrifice, and yet hidden behind the veil of translation is a most profound concept in our Holy Scriptures.  

Seeking to validate the struggle and cost of faith, the author of Hebrews tells us that we are not alone in this struggle but that we are, in fact, surrounded by what she calls a “great cloud of witnesses” – referring to our spiritual ancestors who responded – each in their own unique way – to the courageous call of faith in their own time and context. The point of her message is that we are not alone because others (past, present, and future) are standing alongside us, bearing witness to the genuineness of the human struggle of faith and life.

There is always something deeply spiritual about human solidarity.  Even when we find ourselves wrestling with the silence of God in the midst of adversity, somehow, we manage to find traces of God’s presence through those around us who bear witness to the genuineness of the human struggle. When our pain feels truly seen by others, in some mysterious way our souls feel seen by God. The opposite is also true, that when human struggle is coupled with the silence of humanity, that silence can be deafening.  When people feel unseen and unheard in their pain and cries for mercy, it leads to the darkest corners of existential abandonment.  

In this sense, to truly bear witness to another’s struggle is precisely the willingness to journey with them in mind, spirit, and sometimes even in body. It is to help carry the burden of their reality so that they do not need to carry it alone. It is the refusal to simply “move on” with our lives until the other is also liberated to move on with theirs.  This is the difference between merely “witnessing” and the profound nature of “bearing witness.” 

Over the last few months, most of us witnessed the unimaginable crisis unfold in the Gaza Strip. Today I pray for both you and me: that we may possess the courage to transition from the safe sidelines of mere witnessing, to the daring and incarnational path of bearing witness to the depth of suffering endured by the Palestinian People.  Know that this path does not lead to comfort, but pain. This path will demand much of you. It is a sacrificial path that seeks to enter fully into the struggle rather than observe it from a distance. It is a path that welcomes complexity rather than simplicity– refusing to reduce the characters to mere villains and saints.  It is a path that leads first to heartbreak and anger; then to action and the pursuit of justice; then to glimmers of hope and healing; and perhaps one day to peace and reconciliation.     

About the author: The Rev. Sari Ateek is the Palestinian-American rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church Norwood Parish in Chevy Chase, Maryland. Born in Haifa and raised in Jerusalem, and the son of an Episcopal priest, Ateek brings a unique perspective and experience to his ministry and advocacy. He earned his Master of Divinity from Fuller Theological Seminary and his Doctorate in Ministry from Virginia Theological Seminary. St. John’s Episcopal Church Norwood Parish is a church partner of CMEP.

Please note any views or opinions contained in this devotional series are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP).

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