From death to life

Fifth Sunday in Lent (April 10, 2011)
Common Lectionary Readings:
Ezek. 37:1-14; Ps. 130; Rom. 8:6-11; John 11:1-45

This week a 12-member learning tour group from MCC Ontario is visiting Palestine/Israel. The delegation is keeping a blog of its impressions.

MCC Ontario tour leader, Rick Cober-Bauman, with MCC SALT worker, Sara Brubacher, who is based in Jerusalem

The goals of MCC-hosted learning tours are to:
• Gain a better understanding of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and current realities “on the ground.”
• Meet with Palestinian and Jewish organizations that are working for peace and justice.
• Explore ancient historical sites and walk in the footsteps of Jesus.
• Consider the role of the Church today.
• Return to Canada and the United States with a commitment to engage in education and advocacy regarding Israeli-Palestinian issues.

Tour members Kendra Ellis Whitfield and Eunice Valenzuela-Lazo, overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem

It has been a full week. The Canadian delegation listened to the stories of a number of Christian Palestinians. Alex Awad, a pastor and professor at Bethlehem Bible College, gave a lecture on Christian Zionism and suggested an alternative reading of the Bible that would allow for Jews and Palestinians to share the land. Another Christian leader urged the group to remind Westerners that there are Christians in Palestine and that they are striving for peace, justice and integrity of creation. He said many Western Christians come to the Holy Land without ever visiting local Christians. “Come and see,” he invited, “the sites and the people.”

Here, the separation barrier divides a settlement in East Jerusalem from a Palestinian refugee camp

The group also met Col. Danny Tirza, the architect of the separation barrier — a 450-mile-long network of fences with electronic sensors and 30-foot-high concrete walls, which separates the West Bank and Israel. Tirza said the barrier is needed to protect Israelis, but that he hopes the barrier will someday come down.

Aryel Tsion, a settler in the small West Bank community of Susiya told the group that God has given the land to the Jews. He does not favor a Palestinian state because that would restrict Jews from living on parts of the land. He cited the Israeli evacuation of Gaza as proof that land for peace is not God’s strategy.

A painting on a wall in Bethlehem depicts a new day when children will search soldiers

In the South Hebron Hills community of at-Tuwani, a Palestinian man told the group that his commitment to nonviolent resistance began at his mother’s urging after she was attacked by Israeli settlers. But he acknowledged that giving up the right to revenge is not easy. “Peace is a tree that must be watered every day,” he said.

The group also visited Yad Vashem, the Jewish Holocaust memorial; toured Canada Park, which is built over three demolished Palestinian villages; walked through a major Israeli checkpoint; witnessed the ruins of a 12-family Palestinian housing complex demolished by the Israeli military; and met a variety of MCC partners who are working at sustainable agricultural and peacebuilding projects.

Finally, the group visited a number of holy sites – the place of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem; his boyhood home of Nazareth; Capernaum, the home base for much of his public ministry; and the place of his crucifixion, burial and resurrection in Jerusalem.

In the region this week, the Egyptian army attacked protesters who were calling for former President Mubarak to be tried for corruption. At least one person was killed.

An Egyptian woman protests in Cairo (EPA photo)

In Gaza, Israeli airstrikes have killed at least 18 persons as cross-border fighting between Israel and Hamas spiked to its worst point in two years.

As part of the Friday protests in Jordan, a man set himself on fire outside the Prime Minister’s office, apparently seeking to imitate the vegetable vendor in Tunisia whose similar act helped ignite the protests that have swept the region. The Jordanian man is in critical condition with third degree burns on much of his body.

In Syria at least 23 persons were killed in ongoing clashes between protesters and police in the small town of Deraa.

As we approach the Easter season, the Common Lectionary readings this week focus on the theme of death to life.

In the Old Testament reading the prophet Ezekiel sees a valley filled with dry bones. The situation seems hopeless. But God instructs Ezekiel to speak to the bones. When he does, the bones come to life and stand up on their feet. God promises the Jewish exiles that, in a similar way, “I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them.” (Ezek. 37:12)

The psalmist also speaks from a place of despair: “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.” (Ps. 130:1) In spite of the gravity of his situation, the psalmist affirms that, with God, there is forgiveness (v.4), unfailing love (v.7b) and full redemption (v.7c).

In the Epistle reading Paul promises that, while we are dead because of sin, the One “who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who lives in you.” (Rom. 8:11)

In the Gospel reading, Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead and proclaims, “I am the resurrection and the life.” (John 11:25)

A rainbow over the Old City of Jerusalem offers a sign of hope

We heard many stories this week of suffering and death. The news in the region offered more of the same. Indeed it seems that death is all around us. Yet this is our faith: God is crafting hope from despair; God is resurrecting life from death.

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