Ash Wednesday…

Forty days and forty nights

you were fasting in the wild;

forty days and forty nights

tempted and yet undefined.

              Singing the Faith 236 v1

“As servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labours, sleepless nights, hunger by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; in honour and dishonour, in ill repute and good repute.”

2 Corinthians 6:4-8a

lent-pics-ash-wednesday-john-howard

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The Key, a  Palestinian symbol of steadfastness, located at the entrance to the Aida Refugee camp in Bethlehem. Many families still have the keys to the homes they lost in 1948.  Picture taken by Rev. John Howard.

 

 

As we begin Lent 2017 we find ourselves in a very different world to the world of Lent 2016.  Election and referenda results have made the world a lot less predictable. Issues which seem to have been taken as accepted ideas such as International Humanitarian Law, Climate Change and even Human Rights, are openly challenged again.  For Palestinians the world is a much more threatening place, with no peace process, a hostile White House and an even more confident Israeli administration making everyday life more and more difficult in the West Bank.

The writer of 2 Corinthians recognizes the challenges of life.  He and those he is writing to have been through it all for the sake of spreading the Gospel, “afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments… and sleepless nights.”  His words resonate with the experience of the Christian community in Palestine.  They too have been through “afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments… sleepless nights.”  Yet almost all of the Christian community adhere to their faith in the ways of non-violence to challenge the occupation and bring about a more just situation here.  In Palestine it is often known by the Arabic word “Sumoud” which can be translated as “Steadfastness,” or “Endurance,” but speaks of the active commitment of the people to stay where they are in the homes and on the land that they own and that their families have farmed for centuries.

Christians in this part of the world are a witness for those of us who come from very different places.  Often we need greater steadfastness, greater endurance – we can too easily give up on causes that we hold dear when it seems that results are slow in coming.  Lent is a time for self-examination, to face the temptations and to mature spiritually as we address those things within us that undermine the faithfulness of our spiritual lives.

This Lent may we learn more of “Sumoud,” and apply it in our spiritual lives.

Prayer

Lord Jesus Christ, Luke’s Gospel tells of how you set your face resolutely towards Jerusalem though you knew what would be waiting for you there. Teach us that same steadfastness, that we might be willing to tackle the difficult issues where justice and peace are hard to find.  This Lent tech us   “Sumoud.”  Amen.

 

Devotion written by Rev. John Howard, Methodist Liaison in Palestine and Israel, from the Methodist Church in Britain.

 

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Ash Wednesday reflection

Lord, Who Throughout These Forty Days

Lord, who throughout these forty days
for us didst fast and pray,
teach us with thee to mourn our sins
and close by thee to stay.

Untied Methodist Hymn 269, v.1  words by Claudia F. Hernaman in 1873

Psalm 51:2-4

“Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.  For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.  Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment.”

rain

 

During the summer months, it does not rain in Israel/Palestine.  Not a day, not a drop.  It isn’t until winter that the sky opens up and water pours forth to give life to the crops and grasses.

Though we are now well into the rainy season in Jerusalem, I still recall what the first rain of the season was like:  how surprising it was to feel the first drops falling from the sky, the excitement that came with the sensation of cooling rain on skin, and the resultant cleansing of the entire city as the sprinkling turned into a downpour which washed away the built-up layers of dust and dirt from streets and buildings all around.

Ash Wednesday marks the start of the Lenten season, a time of reflection and repentance. A time to stop and look at all the dust that has collected, a time to see how dirty our own hearts and souls are after a hot summer of no rain.  We pause to look inside our gutters that are clogged with long held onto grudges – we bend down to see how the sidewalk is coated with our acts of selfishness and pride.  Lent is the time where we sit in the midst of our flaws and our weaknesses and our mistakes, and recognize that we, alone, are powerless to change things.

Rather, we look forward to the hope that Easter brings:  the hope of a first rain that will come as a downpour and wash all of our sins and dirt away; the hope that reminds us that we can never be so covered in dust that the love of God can’t make us clean again.

Dear God, be with us as we enter this season of Lent.  Open our eyes to see the dirt that is on our skin, and open our ears to hear the coming sounds of your rainfall.  Amen.

Devotion written by Rev. Jessica Lowe, GBGM Individual Volunteer in the Methodist Liaison Office in Jerusalem.  She is a commissioned Elder of the Louisiana Conference.

Photograph of rain taken by Anthony Redpath/Corbis

Photograph of palm ashes provided by Rev. Robert Duran