March 26, 2002
“(We are) always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of
Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies.” (II Corinthians 4:10, NRSV)
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Grace and salaam to you from Jerusalem and from the Christians who are carrying in their bodies the death of Jesus, making visible the life of Jesus.
As a Palestinian Christian I have often wondered what St. Paul’s words mean in my life. How do I live out the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus? I have always been taught that this happens in Baptism, and I still believe this is true, as we read in Romans 6.
I have found that many of my questions are starting to be answered in a deeper way as I live together with my church and my society in the tribulation, difficulties and crises of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. We feel hopelessness in the midst of dehumanization, seeing the blood of innocent people flowing in front of us, seeing people who are terribly burned from conventional and non-conventional bombs, visiting the families of people whose loved ones have been killed, watching funeral processions taking place every day, seeing many young people who don’t care whether they live or die, meeting those who live in trauma, watching people develop psychosomatic illnesses. All of this creates hopelessness and a sense of loneliness. We are experiencing what Jesus experienced on the cross when he cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
When I read the passion history and see the relationships and actions of Pilate, Caiaphas and Herod, and read the story of Pilate, the Roman governor, and his relationship to Jesus and to Barabbas – it seems that I am seeing in our present world the same stories relived. The pull of world power and material interests are more important than the lives of human beings.
In all this the words in Hebrews 4:15 bring us comfort and encouragement: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been ‘tested’ as we are, yet without sin.”
As a human being Jesus suffered. He knows that our suffering might come in unexpected ways, such as serious illnesses, broken relationships and other losses. He also knows that our human suffering is a reflection of the unjust situation in which we live. In his suffering, Jesus was not abandoned. This is a comfort to those who suffer, knowing that Jesus fully experienced and understands our sorrow and pain. There are many ways in which human beings suffer and carry the cross. There are many questions we ask, and there are many enigmas to which we have no easy answers. God does not have a heavenly pharmacy in which just the right pills are found for every suffering person. But we who suffer do know, as Thomas a Kempis has said, that if you carry the cross, the cross will carry you. This is not a theory; it is the real thing.
I understand more and more every day what it means to live the death and resurrection of Jesus in my body. It is in carrying the cross, of living in martyria. As a church in martyria we are called to be a servant to our people, not a master. In this we follow the example of our Savior, Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for all people. When we Palestinian Christians carry the cross and feel lonely, frustrated and abandoned, we are also carrying a message to the world, to you. The message may be strange to you, it may be painful to you, but the message belongs to all of us. It calls us to give up all hatred, all dissension, all crises and to trust in God’s love and mercy.
Jesus Christ went through death to life. His resurrection on the third day gives us hope. And the more we experience the death of Jesus in our bodies the more the meaning of the resurrection will open up and become clear for us.
The resurrection of Christ assures us that, no matter what, life is stronger than death. This gives us confidence that the spiraling violence will not have the last word, nor will injustice, occupation, illness, broken relationships, or anything else which tears us down and is against God’s will for all creation. Even if we are crushed, the Resurrection gives us hope that both Palestinians and Israelis can have peace, freedom, reconciliation and security which will lead to the dignity and abundant life God intends for all people. For Palestinian Christians the Resurrection is the only hope to which we cling.
Good Friday is the time for prayer, and we ask that you include the suffering people in Palestine and Israel in your prayers. We also ask that offerings may be made to help the Palestinian Lutherans continue their mission in this land, especially now in this time of great need in our society.
We also want to thank you for being partners
in carrying the cross. In this way you assure us and we assure ourselves
that Jesus is made visible in our bodies. For this reason we want
to greet you from the Jerusalem of the Cross and say,
Al-Masih Qam – Hakkan Qam!
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!
Your brother in Christ,
+ Bishop Dr. Munib A. Younan
The Lutheran Bishop in Jerusalem