Death swallowed forever

Easter Sunday (April 8, 2012)
Common Lectionary Readings:
Is. 25:6-9; Ps. 118:1-2, 14-24; I Cor. 15:1-11; John 20:1-18

Here in the Middle East it is both Palm Sunday and Easter weekend, depending on whether one is from an Eastern Orthodox or a Western church tradition. (The Eastern Orthodox will celebrate Easter, April 15.) Those following the Western calendar, such as the Latin Catholic and Evangelical Lutheran churches, released copies of  Holy Thursday and Easter homilies this week.

Sadly, heavy fighting continued in Syria this week, even though the Syrian government has agreed to a U.N.-Arab peace plan brokered by former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan.

Syrian refugees arrive in northern Lebanon (Reuters photo by Afif Diab)

Syrian refugees continue to flee by the thousands to Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. By some reports there are now more than 130,000 Syrians in Jordan. Some 6,529 refugees have registered with UNHCR as of March 30. The large majority has chosen not to register for fear of being tracked by the Syrian government.

According to UNHCR figures:

  • 85.5% of those registered come from the cities of Homs, Dara, Damascus and Hama;
  • 50% of those registered are between the ages of 18 and 59;
  • 85% of the refugees in Jordan are in Amman, Irbid or Mafraq;
  • The security situation inside Syria and political opinion are the main reasons for flight;
  • Significant numbers of single males report that avoiding military service is the reason they left Syria.

Syrian children at Islahiye refugee camp in Turkey (Reuters photo by Osman Orsal)

In Jordan, MCC is providing more than $65,000 for local purchase of milk powder and diapers and is shipping 5,830 school kits, 6,900 hygiene kits, 7,350 blankets and 1,229 relief kits that will be distributed by Caritas Jordan to Syrian refugees and vulnerable people in the host community.

The Common Lectionary readings this Easter week highlight the transformation from death to life.

The prophet Isaiah describes a day when God will “destroy . . . the shroud that is cast over all peoples . . . swallow up death forever . . . wipe away the tears from all faces” and take away “the disgrace of his people.” (Is. 25:7-8).

The psalmist declares, “I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the Lord.” (Ps. 118:17)

Paul writes that Christ “died for our sins . . . was buried . . . was raised on the third day” and then appeared to the disciples and to hundreds (I Cor. 15:3-7).

In the Gospel reading, Mary Magdalene goes to Jesus’ tomb on the first Easter morning and finds it empty. She begins to weep. Jesus appears and says to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” (John 20:15) At first Mary does not recognize Jesus, supposing him to be the gardener. But when he continues to speak with her, Mary’s tears of sadness quickly turn to tears of joy.

The Lord is risen! He is risen indeed!

Latin Catholic Patriarch Fouad Twal commemorates Holy Thursday in Jerusalem

But with death all around us, how can one say that death has been swallowed forever? In fact, it has been an unusually violent year in the region. After years of absorbing Palestinian, Iraqi, Somali, Sudanese, Egyptian and Libyan refugees, Jordan is now receiving thousands fleeing the violence in neighboring Syria. Their stories of fear and suffering are sobering.

Indeed, suffering is unabated. “Every day we are confronted by the absence of freedom of movement and peace, frustrations, suffering, and even martyrdom,” lamented Fouad Twal, Latin Catholic Patriarch of Jerusalem, in his Holy Thursday homily. “These living conditions wound us in our innermost soul. We hunger and thirst so much for justice and peace, we dream of leading a simple normal life.”

Still, with the resurrection of Jesus, the system of violence and domination has been exposed as impotent – ultimately unable to stand against God’s resurrection power. To be sure, the powers of death have won and continue to win temporary victories – Jesus was killed, the powerful persist in perpetrating injustice, violent conflicts continue to snuff out many lives. The horror of these tragedies is not diminished.

But the meaning of Easter is that God is transforming and will continue to transform these most painful human realities — turning weeping to laughter, famine to feast, disgrace to honor, destruction to salvation and death to life.

Summer Snowflakes bloom at the JMU Arboretum in Harrisonburg, Va. (photo by Holden Byler at

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