Easter in Palestine/Israel

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Personal Message from Janet Lahr Lewis, sent on 29 March 2013

"Wishing you all a "Happy Easter" may be slightly premature since it is only Thursday and Easter is still a few days away, but this is the Holy Land, and the excitement in anticipation of Easter is already rising here. As one local friend put it, "We already know what's going to happen, so why wait?" Tonight there will be big family "barbecues" where lamb is cooked over a grill in celebration of the Last Supper. Tomorrow will be Al Juma al Mukadas, Holy Friday or Sad Friday. Pilgrims from around the world will begin walking the Via Dolorosa, the Way of the Cross, at around 6:30 in the morning. Many other religious rites and traditions will be manifested in remembrance of Christ's last days on earth. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher will be packed full of people paying homage and visiting the site of Christ's burial.

The important thing is not the where or when, but that he is not there! He is Risen!
To be honest, in the past I have always tried to avoid Jerusalem during Holy Week where I find that too many internationals crowding the streets and demonstrating their religious fervor to be very distracting. I don't need to walk the Via Dolorosa yet again in order to remember what happened at each station. I don't need to be jammed into the hot and smoky basilica with thousands of other people to remember that Christ died for my sins. I need only to remember that he is not in that tomb anymore. I prefer to spend the time worshipping with the smaller local congregations in one of the towns or villages in the Galilee where Jesus spent his life, where he learned from the elders in the community, where he taught his revolutionary message that we are all chosen by God, where he continues to live among the people, where I can feel his presence, not the crush of international pilgrims.

This year I will be hosting some visitors during Holy Week, so escaping to the Galilee will not be an option for me. Instead it will be a good reminder for me of the blessing that I have in being able to live and work in a place where so many only dream of visiting. I can forgive the sometimes outrageous outpouring of religious enthusiasm. I can even forgive the pushing and shoving as people press to get close enough to rub their hands on the "holy stones," most of which were imported from Italy. I will even attend the Sunrise Service on Easter Sunday and watch the sun come up from behind the mountains in Jordan as I do every morning when I eat breakfast on the balcony of my apartment. And I will give thanks, as I do every day, that because Jesus is no longer in the tomb, he is beside me now and always. I don't need to have a special day of the year set aside to be reminded of that or to celebrate that. I celebrate that every day when I see the sun rise.

One does not need to be in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher on Easter Sunday to celebrate the resurrection. One does not even need to do it on one special day. In fact, a common question here is "When do you celebrate Easter?" since we have two Easter Sundays, one for the Eastern or Oriental churches and one for Western or Occidental churches depending on which calendar is used. To me, the day does not matter. Where and when we celebrate the Risen Lord should be something that is on-going. It is an event that carries a message that should not be limited to one day of the year or a particular place on earth. All around the world people will be celebrating that Jesus rose from the grave and has conquered death. But will these same people remember to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to help the oppressed lift their heads with dignity and freedom? You don't need to be in the Holy Land or "walk where Jesus walked" to do that. You don't need to light candles in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher to know God's grace. You need only to love your neighbor as Jesus loves you, as God loves you. He is present now and always. Perhaps it would be better to remember that every day is an Easter day. A celebration is a fine way to remember that Christ is risen. But as we celebrate and remember his resurrection, let us also remember his message and do the work he expects us to do the other days of the year.

Christ is Risen. He is Risen indeed. Al Messiah Kam! Hakan Kam!

Janet Lahr Lewis
Methodist Liaison in Palestine and Israel

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