I spent much of Lent back in the UK, on a period of extended leave for some much needed rest and reflection. And so, arriving back just in time for the Fifth Sunday of Lent, I have felt out of sync with the liturgical year. Holy Week has caught me by surprise.
But then as I think back over the years, it often has.
There are no signs of the approach of Easter here in Tiberias. No chocolate eggs. No hot cross buns. No chance of skipping over the days to leap straight into the unremitting joy of the Easter season.
Instead, around me I can hear neighbours hoovering their homes at all hours removing all trace of leavened bread and the clinks of everyday crockery and cutlery being changed out for the special Pesach sets. Long queues snake through the supermarket aisles as families prepare for the upcoming holiday.
I experienced the warm hospitality of a Maundy Thursday service at the Anglican church in Nazareth this evening (short video below) and tomorrow, I’ll experience the warm hospitality of Jewish friends at their Pesach seder. And then the strange, eerie quiet of Holy Saturday.
Holy Week feels like a time of unraveling. Somewhere between the Palm Sunday celebrations and the sombreness of Maundy Thursday, everything seems to fall apart. Faith slips into doubt. Friendship turns to betrayal. Presence becomes absence.
What in my days of study felt like an abstract theological connection between Passover and Easter, here is lived experience, especially in the years when the two fall so closely together.
It’s undoubtedly rich, but not without risk, not if we take the messages of the holy days seriously.
Because in this land, a shadow looms over these two great festivals of liberation.
While the Jewish people celebrate the Exodus and freedom from oppression and Christian pilgrims from all over the world gather in Jerusalem to celebrate the resurrection and the triumph of love over death, checkpoints between the West Bank and Israel will be closed to Palestinians for nine days, further restricting their movements.
This year Land Day also falls on Good Friday and the Eve of Pesach. Land Day commemorates protests held on 30 March 1976 in response to the Israeli Government’s decision to confiscate land belonging to Arab citizens of Israel in the Galilee region. Six Arab citizens were killed and and about a hundred were wounded in confrontations with the Israeli army and police. This year, a 45-day march/demonstration is being planned in Gaza, marking the period between Land Day and 15 May, 70 years after Israel declared independence, or the day of the Nakba (catastrophe) for Palestinians (also the start of Ramadan this year). Organisers hope that violence won’t result, but the IDF is deploying extra troops to the region to ensure the border isn’t breached.
At this time of year, there are opinion pieces in several of the newspapers here asking how a Pesach seder might address the reality of the situation in a place where a military occupation of the Palestinian Territories denies true liberation for all the people of the land.
And at this time of year, especially this year as tensions rise, those of us who are Christians must ask ourselves how our gospel story of the resurrection speaks to our context and challenges us to act in response. What does Christ’s command mean to us today: ‘Love one another as I have loved you’?
Observant readers of this blog will notice that I have changed its name. When I was back in the UK, I spent an afternoon at a friend’s farmhouse by the fire reading the poetry of Denise Levertov and discovered her poem ‘Making Peace‘, from which I got the new title:
the absence of war.’
I was particularly moved by this stanza:
long pauses . . .
The way the sentences of our lives are so often structured leads to the unraveling I spoke of earlier. But this holiest of weeks is a time when, if we allow, if we accept the risk, God will guide us through the questions, through the fear, even through the silence of death to a sentence restructured by a love that cannot be conquered. What might that look like in each of our lives?
As a partial response from my context, though a message that is both particular and universal, I will end with a reflection sent by the YWCA of Palestine earlier this week:
The YWCA of Palestine invites you this Easter, while it is still dark, to go with Mary, with us, all women, to the place of pain and suffering and even death and find that the stone of oppression and occupation has been removed. The tomb is empty. It is filled with Holy Fire. Her task, as the first witness to the Resurrection, was to tell others. …
The YWCA of Palestine invites you this Easter to help us remove all the stones, the barriers, or the obstacles that keep us entrapped or entombed or that keep us from living full and productive lives with justice and peace. Then join us in our collective task of telling others that it is indeed not impossible for equality, dignity and freedom to exist. Join us while it is still dark knowing that it is darkest before the dawn and the light is coming.