A new day

Sixth Sunday after Epiphany (February 13, 2011)
Common Lectionary Readings:
Deut. 30:15-20; Ps. 119:1-8; I Cor. 3:1-9; Matt. 5:21-37

In the end, the people’s voice was too strong and their message too clear for even a powerful dictator to ignore. At 6 p.m. local time on Friday, Feb. 11, Egypt’s state TV announced that Hosni Mubarak was stepping down after 30 years as president, and that the army would temporarily take control of the country. Millions of Egyptians celebrated in the streets, as large crowds gathered in solidarity across the region and around the world.

Egyptians celebrate after learning that President Mubarak had resigned (Reuters photo)

Less than 24 hours earlier, hundreds of thousands of Egyptians gathered Thursday evening at Cairo’s Tahrir Square (Liberation Square), anticipating that President Mubarak would announce his resignation. But Mubarak angered the crowds with his late-night televised address, insisting that he intended to stay in office until September.

On Friday, millions of Egyptians spilled onto the streets after Friday prayers and surrounded key government buildings in Cairo and Alexandria. Finally, President Mubarak accepted the reality that already had become obvious to the rest of the world.

For nearly three weeks, a broad spectrum of Egyptians has been united in their call that Mubarak must go. In a country known for Christian-Muslim tensions, the media broadcasted extraordinary images of Christians standing guard in Tahrir Square while Muslims prayed and Muslims doing the same while Christians prayed. The call “Mubarak must go” galvanized young and old alike.

Demonstrators pray in Tahrir Square (AFP photo on Al Jazeera website)

What is next? Will Egyptians now be able to galvanize around a common vision for the future of their country? Or will various groups each promote their own agenda, fracturing the country and creating chaos or gridlock? Will the military cede control to a civilian government? Will nations like the United States – who for decades supported Mubarak’s heavy-handed rule and only in recent weeks began to voice serious concerns for the Egyptian people – now give space for the people of Egypt to develop their own form of democracy? How will Israel respond if the new Egyptian government does not support the 32-year-old peace treaty between Israel and Egypt?

And what about the region? Some analysts believe that similar people movements could topple leaders in other countries – Yemen, Syria and Algeria, for example. While the Iranian government has expressed strong support for the demonstrations in Egypt – suggesting that they were inspired by the Islamic revolution in Iran 30 years ago – it has also taken steps to restrict demonstrations in Iran on Monday, Feb. 14.

Jordan's youthful Queen Rania and King Abdullah (AFP photo)

On the street, Jordan still feels calm and the King’s position seems secure. The biggest rally of the week was to celebrate Mubarak’s resignation. Still, tribal leaders – traditionally supportive of the monarchy — took the unusual step this week of criticizing Queen Rania’s active role in public life. Queen Rania is Palestinian.

The Common Lectionary readings this week are about mature faith.

In the Old Testament Reading, Moses tells the people that mature faith makes wise decisions – choosing life over death by loving God, walking in God’s ways and observing God’s commandments (Deut. 30:15-20).

The psalmist writes that mature faith seeks God whole-heartedly and walks in God’s ways (Ps. 119:2-3).

In the Epistle reading, Paul chides the Corinthians for their immaturity – expressed through their jealousy and quarreling (I Cor. 3:3). He urges them not to argue over which human leader they follow, but to see themselves as belonging to God (v.9)

In the Gospel reading, Jesus reminds his followers that mature faith moves beyond keeping the law. Rather, it seeks reconciliation for damaged relationships (Matt. 5:21-26), fidelity within marriage (vv. 27-32), and truthfulness in speech (vv. 33-37).

The hard work in Egypt is now just beginning. The next 48-hours are especially critical as the people begin to make choices about the future of their country. Our prayer is that Egyptians will make life-giving choices that contribute to justice and peace for ordinary people. And that the United States and other nations will respect the choices of the people and give time and space for a mature democracy to emerge.

It is an uncertain time, but it is a hopeful time. A new day has dawned.

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