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Light and Darkness: Holy Week 2005
March 27, 2005

Holy Week has been an emotional roller-coaster. We can’t quite believe that this is our second Easter back in the U.S.  We still miss Zababdeh greatly, especially at feast times, and these past few days are no exception. Phone calls and emails are simply no substitute for being there. And yet, being back in the States has been an exciting time – relocating to Louisville, ministering for Israel/Palestine at the denominational headquarters, releasing our film series.

Zababdeh's Good Friday procession concludes at the village cemetery.
These divergent sentiments undergird the usual emotional and liturgical gear-shifting of Holy Week.  We Christians play a part in the pageantry, walking along with the ragtag band of Jesus’ followers on Palm Sunday.  We join Christ at that holy table of fellowship, sacrifice, and betrayal on Thursday.  On Friday, we stand next to Peter and deny, and gaze up from the foot of the cross with Mary and weep.  On Sunday, we stand dumbfounded at an empty tomb, then rejoice in the presence of our Risen Lord.  During Holy Week, we celebrate, we mourn, we celebrate.  It is hard to know how to feel from one minute to the next.

As we look at the situation our friends face back in Zababdeh, we have the same confusion.  How should we feel about the situation in Israel/Palestine? At Christmastime, our friends in Zababdeh shared with us their cautious feelings of hope for the possibility of peace.  They had elected a new president, and there was talk of resumed negotiations.  Three months later, those glimmers of hope persist, but deeply dark realities remain.

President Abbas and Prime Minister Sharon announced a cease-fire on February 9th.  Two weeks later, five people died in a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv. By then, eight Palestinians had also been killed. On March 17th, President Abbas brokered a cease fire with Palestinian militant groups.  Since then, no Israelis but eight more Palestinians have lost their lives to the conflict.

Israel has called a halt to its policy of demolishing homes of Palestinian militants.  Yet this accounts for only 3% of the homes the army has demolished since 1967; policies responsible for the demolition of the other 97% of homes (nearly 12,000) remain unaffected.

Legal recourse and public pressure have caused parts of the Barrier to be rerouted.  But the vast majority of its route still intrudes into Palestinian land and ghettoizes its people.

Prime Minister Sharon promises a pullout from Gaza settlements.  However, the recent Sasson report reveals that the government has been secretly funding West Bank settlement outposts and has called openly for the building of new Israeli-only settlements on seized Palestinian land.

The list goes on and on.  With every point of progress, we celebrate. But our hearts are heavy for the tragedies.  For every hope of new life, there still seems to be much reason to despair.

It’s uncomfortable, this emotional quandary.  But there’s something faithful about it.  As people of faith, we must hope, even in the midst of despair.  And as people of faith, we know suffering – our own and that of others – even in the midst of celebration.  The joy of resurrection is intertwined with the agony of the cross – the two cannot be separated.

If we try to separate them, we run the risk of compartmentalizing our faith.  The peril of following a liturgical calendar is just that: Do we repent only on Ash Wednesday, preach incarnation only at Christmas, and celebrate the Holy Spirit on Pentecost alone?  We cannot do so, for we are a people always in need of repentance, for whom God is always present, and who should always rely on the wisdom of the Spirit.  Faithful living is to live constantly in emotional tension, with resurrection and crucifixion, triumph and suffering, shaping our lives each and every day.

Fr. Touma, Zababdeh's Orthodox priest, leads the faithful in liturgy early Easter morning.
This year, however, the liturgical calendar underscores the point.  The churches of Zababdeh, which follow the Orthodox calendar for Easter, have just entered Lent as we celebrate the resurrection.  Brothers and sisters in Christ, who are very dear to us, remain in preparation and reflection while we rejoice.  How appropriate!  In a way, we are thankful for this disconnect, where the Body of Christ emphasizes different parts of our faith in different parts of the world.  It is a healthy reminder to us so that our joy will not – and cannot – forget the sorrow of the cross.  May it be no less a reminder to our Palestinian brothers and sisters that their time of darkness will not – and cannot – escape the light of the risen Christ.  Let it always be so.

Al-Masiih Qam! (Christ is Risen)
Haqan Qam! (He is Risen indeed)
Elizabeth and Marthame

P.S.  Our documentary film series, Salt of the Earth: Palestinian Christians in the Northern West Bank, is now available for order from our website.

Statistics taken from Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Palestinian Red Crescent Society, Israeli Committee Against Home Demolition, and B’Tselem.