Holy Fire Light Saturday 2017

“O Sacred Head, Now Wounded” words by Bryn and Sally Haworth Vs. 1

O sacred Head, now wounded, with grief and shame weighed down, now scornfully surrounded with thorns, thine only crown:  how pale thou art with anguish, with sore abuse and scorn!  How does that visage languish which once was bright as morn!

Psalm 31:9-16

Be merciful to me, Lord, for I am in distress; my eyes grow weak with sorrow, my soul and body with grief.  My life is consumed by anguish and my years by groaning; my strength fails because of my affliction, and my bones grow weak.  Because of all my enemies, I am the utter contempt of my neighbors and an object of dread to my closest friends— those who see me on the street flee from me.  I am forgotten as though I were dead; I have become like broken pottery.   For I hear many whispering, “Terror on every side!” They conspire against me  and plot to take my life.  But I trust in you, Lord; I say, “You are my God.”  My times are in your hands; deliver me from the hands of my enemies, from those who pursue me.  Let your face shine on your servant; save me in your unfailing love.

Holy fire saturdayIt is Saturday afternoon. Crowds are waiting, eyes are anticipating, hearts are eager to receive the light or “the Holy Fire” as it has been traditionally called. We are in a place none other than the Holy Sepulcher Church in Jerusalem. You can barely find space for one’s feet to step in. In fact, people seem to be on top of one another, priests, clergy men, believers, locals, pilgrims, tourists and anyone else you can think of. This is no small event: the light is soon going to emerge from the tomb of Jesus.

Traditionally, this is what is thought to happen every year; a miracle takes place, Holy fire comes forth from the tomb in remembrance of the resurrection of Jesus. Many people hold strong opinions about this happening; they firmly believe in their heart of hearts that a miracle occurs every year and the light and fire come out of nowhere as divine proof and reminder that the Lord is risen. Others are more skeptical and allege it is just due to a mischievous human hand!

Now, nothing is impossible for God.  God who said, “Let there be light,” where there was only darkness at the very beginning, is the same God who “gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not,” (Romans 4: 17) can still speak anything into existence, even a fire out of the tomb.  However, this debate is not the point. The point is, whether we have truly experienced this Light in our lives.

What happens to this Holy Fire after it escapes from the tomb and the Holy Sepulcher church?  Well, the light is then carried to Bethlehem and other neighboring towns.  Christians emerge from their homes to “receive the light”; with scouts, parades, colorful balloons, people in fancy dress, and there is singing and dancing everywhere.  It is a festive atmosphere of joy.  Yet, watching these people, I wonder:  “Why are they happy?  Do they realize what this light signifies?”  Do we, as Palestinian Christians in this region, really know what it means to experience and witness the light of the risen Lord in our lives?

Then I think about Saul of Tarsus.  He truly experienced the transforming Light of Christ on the way to Damascus.  The result was a completely changed life, vision and mission.  Paul turned from a persecutor of the Nazarenes, to a Jesus- hero: an apostle to the nations.  Anyone who has seen, experienced, and watched the Light should not settle for less!

This Saturday that proceeds Easter Sunday, is known as “Sabt Innour– the Saturday of Light.”  In a place where darkness seems determined to penetrate, the Light of Christ is the only thing that can shatter any darkness: “The people walking in darkness have seen a Great Light, on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” (Isaiah 9:2)  Jesus said we are “the Light of the world!”

MACEDONIA-RELIGION-ORTHODOX-EASTERHow are we are reflecting the Light of Christ in our lives?  Are there still dark areas where we have not allowed the Light to shine?  It is easy to experience the euphoria of an event and forget the essence of what we ought to be. Instead, let us examine ourselves, not only through this period of Easter but every day, so that we may be true carriers of the Light God wants to shine into each person’s life.

I grew up listening to and singing, “Shine Jesus shine, fill this land with the Father’s glory, Blaze Spirit blaze, set our hearts on fire.”

Let us pray, Lord, we ask you for your light to fill our hearts beginning in Jerusalem to Bethlehem and around the world today!  We lift up the land that first witnessed the light and pray it will truly “blaze” for your Glory. With the psalmist we add our voice, Lord, “let your face shine on your servants, save us in your unfailing love.”  Amen.

Devotion written by Grace al-Zoughbi Arteen teacher at Bethlehem Bible College.

Photo credit: both pictures are google stock photographs.













Good Friday 2017

“Were You There” words are an African American Spiritual

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?  Were you there when they crucified my Lord?  Oh!  Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.  Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

Were you there when they nailed him to the tree? Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?  Oh!  Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.  Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?

Were you there when they pierced him in the side? Were you there when they pierced him in the side?  Oh!  Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.  Were you there when they pierced him in the side?

Were you there when the sun refused to shine? Were you there when the sun refused to shine?  Oh!  Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.  Were you there when the sun refused to shine?

Were you there when they laid him in the tomb? Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?  Oh!  Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.  Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?

Philippians 2:5-11

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross.   Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. 

It is that little word “even” in verse 8 which catches my attention as I read this passage again.  For death, like life, brings its own raft of injustices.  Death itself may be the great leveller, but death has many faces.  To sit at the bedside of a woman in her nineties who anticipates with faith and joy her union with Jesus and her departure from the struggles of a long life is as different an experience as can be imagined from grieving the sudden, violent death of a young man through suicide.  In both instances there will be tears and loss, but in one there will also be peace, hope and light, in the other a wild, dark rawness.  The length (or shortness) of life, the manner of death, the preparedness of those around – all these factors profoundly affect how we experience loss and grief.

Jill Baker Good Friday picture 2017The death of Jesus was too soon, too violent, too sudden for his friends and followers – they were plunged into a wilderness of confusion and fear.  Today, Good Friday, we enter into that experience with the disciples as we become a church in the wilderness, a church in grief, a church which recognises and has to encounter pain, violence, loss, injustice.

In that encounter we are awed by what the cross demonstrates.  The God in whom we trust is not a bystander to the pain, violence, loss and injustice of the world today.  God understands the tears and despair of all who suffer today, and in a particular way stands in solidarity with all who suffer injustice.  For God in Christ did not die a “good death” but the kind of death which can speak into the most appalling situations of human tragedy and cruelty for all time, “even death on a cross”.

We should not shrink from this day.  The cross is repugnant, yet, strangely, as Christians we find ourselves irresistibly drawn to it.  “Were you there?” we sing; with the clear implication that we need to be there.  If we claim to follow the way of Christ we must follow him to the cross and learn from this symbol of violence, hatred and bigotry, for it is also the ultimate symbol of humility, healing and extreme love.

At the cross we acknowledge our own powerlessness, to change the course of history… to prevent the death of Christ… to solve the problems of today… but still we linger.  We gaze at the crucified Christ and offer ourselves in humility and wonder to the God who “therefore” demonstrated the power of powerlessness.

Let us Pray, Yes, we were there, Lord, yes, we were there; we know the grief which takes our courage away.  Yes, we are here, Lord, yes we are here where self-pity and apathy are dispelled by your endless love.  Yes, we will go from here, Lord, yes we will go from here to those who cry out for justice, for healing, for peace.  In your name and by your grace alone, we will go.  Amen. 

Devotion written by Jill Baker who will serve as Vice-President of the Methodist Church in Britain beginning June 2017.

Photo credit: a cross stands in the Judean wilderness.  Taken by Jill Baker.


“He Lives”

I serve a risen Savior, he’s in the world today; I know that he is living, whatever foes may say.  I see his hand of mercy, I hear his voice of cheer, and just the time I need him, he’s always near.

He Lives, he lives, Christ Jesus lives today!  He walks with me and talks with me along life’s narrow way.  He lives, he lives, salvation to impart!  You ask me how I know he lives?  He lives within my heart.

United Methodist Hymn # 310 words by Alfred H. Ackley

Acts. 10:34-43

“Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.  You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all.  You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached— how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.

 “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross,  but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen.  He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.  He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead.  All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Palestinian Christians in the Holy Land have been faithful witnesses of the death and resurrection of Christ since the day of Pentecost!  Peter, in today’s reading, could have been speaking to the ancestors of these Christians.  Though many forces have collaborated to snuff out their witness, they remain a precious “gem” that has persevered until today.  This Easter, many in the Palestinian Christian community will commemorate the age-old tradition of the Holy Saturday of Light as they receive the symbolic “holy fire” emitted from the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem and transmit it to local and area churches via candlelight and processional celebrations in preparation for their Easter Sunday celebrations.  Others will celebrate Easter sunrise services from the top of the Mount of Olives or at the Garden Tomb.  Regardless of their faith traditions, they are steadfast in hope as they believe, proclaim and live the miracle of the resurrection.

Today’s Palestinian Christians, along with their Muslim neighbors, are facing tough times.  Repeatedly misrepresented and discriminated against on the local, international and world scene, they struggle to keep the faith amidst the political challenges of walls, barriers, checkpoints, land confiscations, house demolitions, indiscriminate killings, arrests and imprisonment.  They have been under particular duress in the past five months as they witness the numerous and disproportionate killings and injuries of friends and loved ones.

IMG_1670Please pray for the Palestinian Christian community as they speak out against the injustices of a fierce and illegal occupation and as they seek spiritual as well as political resurrection. Pray likewise for Israelis who suffer from the side-effects of the occupation.  This Easter, let us affirm that we indeed serve a risen Savior and let us rise up to be the resurrected body of Christ promoting acts of mercy, compassion, fairness, reconciliation and cheer for all of God’s children here and abroad who are suffering from discrimination and injustice.

Dear Jesus,

As we look forward to celebrating Easter Sunday and your triumphal victory over death and the grave, we look and we see a land crying out for lack of justice.  We see Palestinian and Israeli blood being spilled, while the world looks away on the other side.  Lord may we be the first responders to proclaim and bring the good news of salvation, peace and justice to your people through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Devotion written by Rev. Alex and Brenda Awad, GBGM missionaries at Bethlehem Bible College and the East Jerusalem Baptist Church for the past 26 years. They are currently itinerating in the USA.


 Olive wood representation of the Wall project of the YWCA of Jerusalem, photograph by Rev. Kristen L. Brown.

Women at the empty tomb of the resurrected Jesus Christ, tapestry made by members of Nichols Hills UMC in Oklahoma, photograph taken by Rev. Trevor W. Smith.

Holy Week: Holy Saturday

“Jesu, Jesu”

Jesu, Jesu, fill us with your love, show us how to serve the neighbors we have from you.

These are the ones we should serve, these are the ones we should love; all these are neighbors to us and you.

United Methodist Hymn # 432 words by Tom Colvin

Psalm 33:20 – “We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield.

Isaiah 12:2 – “Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid.

Easter Saturday.  One of the in-between times that we have in our lives.  We often talk about events by using “from – to” but our lives are really more about “from – through – to.”  We live mainly in the “through” times.  Easter Saturday is one of those times.

The women in Luke’s Gospel (Ch. 12) have just come “from” the crucifixion experience.  Their world has been turned upside-down; they don’t know what lies ahead.  They come to the grave-site expecting to find Jesus’ body, bringing with them the spices that were used after a death.  They were not expecting a resurrection; they had not understood Jesus when he told them that in 3 days he would be raised.  They did not live in hope.  They were just going about their customary caring for a loved one who had died.

rainbow in JerusalemThere is a strong statement in the Palestine Kairos Document:  “In the absence of hope, we cry out our cry of hope.”  Like the women, the people of this land see very little that gives them hope.  They are living in an in-between time, from dispossession, through occupation to… what?  The answer we hope for is peace, liberation, justice, equality, freedom.  But at the moment, we wait in hope, in the absence of hope, in a hope that looks to God, a God who is faithful and who calls us to “trust and not be afraid.”

Lord, Help us to keep our eyes focused on you when we experience the difficult in-between times of life.  When we get discouraged and feel that hope is lost, remind us to put our trust in you.  Amen.

-Tina Whitehead, United Methodist Volunteer in Palestine and Israel


The wooden wall, a project of the YWCA of Jerusalem, photograph taken by Rev. Kristen L. Brown

Rainbow over Jerusalem, photograph taken by Tina Whitehead

Holy Week: Holy Friday

“Jesu, Jesu”

Jesu, Jesu, fill us with your love, show us how to serve the neighbors we have from you.  Loving puts us on our knees, serving as though we are slaves, this is the way we should live with you.

United Methodist Hymn # 432 words by Tom Colvin

John 18:1-19:42

“Since it was the day of Preparation, the Jews did not want the bodies left on the cross during the sabbath, especially because that sabbath was a day of great solemnity.  So they asked Pilate to have the legs of the crucified men broken and the bodies removed.”  John 19:31

20150819_093344As we reflect on the reality of Jesus’ death, we are humbled.  After spending time in the Holy Land, we have learned that this day is referred to as Sad Friday by the local Christian people.

Not long ago, I joined a group of Christians from Bethlehem who had gathered in a field where too many olive trees were being uprooted.  As we prayed, “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us…” an olive tree was uprooted from the earth.  With tears in my heart, I prayed.

“Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful.  And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”  Hebrews 10:23-25

IMG_739420160115_122942We remember that God is present in times of despair.  A few trees remain in this field, though stripped of limbs and branches, new growth is happening.  A reflection of “Sammud” steadfastness of hope is witnessed in the people of this land.  While in our life we may despair, we know that earthly death does not have the final word.


Lord, fill us with your love as we seek to faithfully serve our neighbors, both near and far away.  Help us to remain steadfast in our love, hope and faith.  Amen.

Devotion written by Rev. Kristen L. Brown, GBGM Methodist Liaison in Palestine and Israel from 2011 to the present, and by Julie Hartbarger Blacksher, a member of Pathways UMC in Springfield, Missouri.


The wooden wall, a project of the YWCA of Jerusalem, second picture taken in a valley near Bethlehem as a tree was uprooted, third picture one of the olive trees which remained, at least for a short while, fourth picture a drawing of an olive tree,  photographs taken by Rev. Kristen L. Brown

Drawing of the olive tree by Julie Hartbarger Blacksher.

Holy Week: Maundy Thursday

“Jesu, Jesu”

Jesu, Jesu, fill us with your love, show us how to serve the neighbors we have from you.  Kneels at the feet of his friends, silently washes their feet, Master who acts as a slave to them.

United Methodist Hymn # 432 words by Tom Colvin

John 13: 31-35

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  John 13:34-35

IMG_7509 (2)During Holy Week many Christians hold special services to remember the events known as “The Last Supper” when Jesus sat down to share a meal with his friends and disciples before the beginning of Passover.  In the local culture when one entered a home it was a sign of hospitality to provide water with which to wash one’s feet, or in more privileged homes, to provide a servant to wash the feet of a visitor.  This is not simply a gesture toward cleanliness, but symbolizes that the guest is no longer considered a stranger and that the host has no ill-intent for the guest.  In other words, one is now a welcome member in the household and can feel safe and secure.  In addition, the sharing of a meal was more than just the act of eating food. It was another way of providing hospitality and welcoming someone as a member of the family.

footwashingAs people participate in special services where a symbolic foot-washing takes place, and we remember the words that Jesus spoke to his disciples as he broke the bread and passed the cup of wine with them, we sometimes forget the most important message of that evening long ago.  We forget the reason we refer to this day as “Maundy” Thursday.  More important than the foot-washing, even more important than the bread and cup, this was the moment when Jesus pronounced his new commandment or mandate, “mandatum” in Latin, “maundé” in French.  Jesus commanded us to, “love one another just as I have loved you.”



Gracious and loving God, we thank you for this opportunity to remember your 11th commandment.  Help us to remember this new commandment in all that we do, in all that we say, throughout all our days.  Amen

love one another

Devotion written by Janet Lahr Lewis, Advocacy Coordinator for the Middle East, GBGM, and Peace with Justice Program Associate, GBCS.  She formerly served as a GBGM missionary in 2001 in two positions and then as the Methodist Liaison in Palestine and Israel from 2006 to 2014.


The wooden wall, a project of the YWCA of Jerusalem,  and two feet in the Jericho spirngs, photographs taken by Rev. Kristen L. Brown

The “foot washing” relief and “Love One Another” are images shared on the internet.


Palm Sunday

From Olivet they followed
mid an exultant crowd,
the victory palm branch waving,
and chanting clear and loud.
The Lord of earth and heaven
rode on in lowly state,
nor scorned that little children
should on his bidding wait.

Hosanna Loud Hosanna, United Methodist Hymnal 278, vs. 2

 37 When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen: 38 “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”[a]“Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” 39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”  40 “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”  Luke 19:28-40

20150329_155527The Palm Sunday narrative sets the stage for the rest of this holy week. The setting is Jerusalem and the characters are introduced – Jesus, the Disciples, the crowd, the religious and political authorities. The key to all dramatic stories is tension and certainly, paradox and tension are integral to the scene on Palm Sunday and the whole Passion narrative.

20150329_150352Moments of tensions and paradox illuminated the Gospel throughout my time in service in Bethlehem and Jerusalem. Indeed, tension remains central to Palm Sunday in Jerusalem every year. The very reality of life in Israel and Palestine creates tensions between oppression and celebration. While some of my Bethlehem neighbors and colleagues receive a permit to travel to Jerusalem for Holy Week, they still must pass through a checkpoint. Moreover, many people do not receive permits and are unable to join the sacred parade marking Christ’s Entry in Jerusalem. The injustice of the checkpoint and permit systems collides with the celebration of the day.  Yet, this is the space where life is lived, amidst the tension between the holy and the unholy.20150329_161526

 Lord God, as we enter this Holy Week, prepare our hearts and minds for the tension and drama of Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection. Open our eyes to the profound truth present in the paradoxes of this week in our ancient worship and in our contemporary world. Through Jesus Christ the Lord of heaven and earth.   Amen.

Devotion written by Grace Killian, Global Ministries Young Adult Fellow who served in Bethlehem 2013 to 2015


Olive wood wall is a project of the Jerusalem YWCA.  Palm Sunday walk in Jerusalem 2015 are represented in the three other photographs, all pictures taken by Rev. Kristen L. Brown


Holy Saturday

“As evening approached, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Jesus.

Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body, and Pilate ordered that it be given to him.

Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth,

and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away.

Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting there opposite the tomb.

The next day, the one after Preparation Day, the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate.

“Sir,” they said, “we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise again.’

So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first.”

“Take a guard,” Pilate answered. “Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how.”

So they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting the guard.” Matthew 27:57-66

“When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

“It is well, with my soul,
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.”
“It is well with my Soul” vs. 1, by Horatio G. Spafford

 The sight of Coptic Christians being led to their slaughter by ISIS terrorists caused shock waves throughout the Christian communities of the Middle East and North Africa. Christians in the Holy Land are asking the question: “Are we next in line?” The persecution of Christians around the world today is becoming as appalling as what befell early Christians during the worst periods of the Roman Empire.

This lent season, Arab Christians will certainly understand what the Bible meant when it said about Jesus that he was “led like a sheep for the slaughter”. On Good Friday and Holy Saturday Arab Christians will be able to vividly identify with the sufferings of Jesus as they mourn their martyrs in Syria, Iraq and in Egypt who were killed only because of their faith in Christ. The wives and mothers of the slain Coptic young men will surely identify with the mother of Jesus and the other women who saw the agony of Christ as he gave his life on the cross.

The good news is that Good Friday and Holy Saturday give way to Resurrection Sunday. It is my prayer that the fresh blood of Arab Christian Martyrs will generate a spiritual awakening in the Middle East that will bring spiritual energy throughout the Christian communities, that will overflow with the power of love, forgiveness and reconciliation and cause the light of Christ to shine with divine salvation and blessings on all the inhabitants of the Arab countries and Islamic world.

Lord, give comfort for those who mourn loved ones who are killed because they confess faith in you. Lord, be with those who languish in ISIS prisons and act to bring them release. Come and touch our hearts and forgive us our tendency to respond with hate and to lust for revenge. Great and mighty God, bless the people of the Middle East and North Africa with your peace. Amen. 

– Rev. Alex Awad, GBGM Missionary in Palestine and Israel

Good Friday

Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified.

So the soldiers took charge of Jesus. 17 Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). 18 There they crucified him, and with him two others—one on each side and Jesus in the middle.

19 Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: Jesus of Nazareth, the king of the Jews. 20 Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek. 21 The chief priests of the Jews protested to Pilate, “Do not write ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that this man claimed to be king of the Jews.”

22 Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.”

23 When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom.

24 “Let’s not tear it,” they said to one another. “Let’s decide by lot who will get it.”

This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled that said,

“They divided my clothes among them
and cast lots for my garment.”[b]

So this is what the soldiers did.

25 Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” 27 and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.” John 19:16-27

“Were the whole realm of nature mine
That were a present far too small
Love so amazing, so divine
Demands my soul, my life, my all.”
“When I survey the Wondrous Cross” vs. 4, by Isaac Watts

Standing at the foot of the cross is a difficult place to be.  We want to avert our eyes, to look away from the agony of Jesus, to move quickly past Good Friday and bask in the resurrection 3 days later.  “We are a resurrection people,” we cry out.  But today’s scripture readings demand our attention.

One of the popular experiences for pilgrims who come to Jerusalem is walking the Via Dolorosa, the Way of the Cross, the traditional route that Jesus took as he carried the cross to Calvary. For Palestinian Christians, this is more than just a symbolic journey; it represents for them the cross that they must carry as they experience the daily reality of oppression and occupation. But they also see in the suffering that Jesus endured a source of hope and strength, an invitation to respond as he responded, in gentleness, non-violence and love.

It seems like everywhere we look these days, we see suffering.  Wars, natural disasters, poverty, disease.  The list goes on and on.  It would be so much more comfortable to avert our eyes, to avoid the suffering, to insulate ourselves in our comfortable worlds and see only Easter morning. But, in his suffering, Jesus reached out to and identified with suffering humanity.  He calls us to do the same.

There is a quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s work, the Cost of Discipleship, “When Christ calls, he bids us come and die.” A difficult quote for sure, but Bonhoeffer is trying to convey the seriousness of a decision to follow Jesus, a decision that takes us to the cross.  Jesus’ life was lived in perfect obedience to the will of God.  But as we saw at Gethsemane, even Jesus struggled with that obedience.  “Let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not my will but Thine” (Mark 14:36).  Jesus was very much aware that letting go of his own will would lead him to Calvary.

Lord, as we meditate on your suffering, give us eyes to see the suffering that is present in the world around us, not just in far way news stories, but also as experienced by our own friends, families and communities.  Give us strength and courage to respond in lo and compassion, never forgetting the great love that suffered for us on the cross. Amen.

 -Tina Whitehead, United Methodist Volunteer in Palestine and Israel

Maundy Thursday

After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. 14 So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. 16 Very truly, I tell you, servants[d] are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. 17 If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them. 18 I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But it is to fulfill the scripture, ‘The one who ate my bread[e] has lifted his heel against me.’ 19 I tell you this now, before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe that I am he.[f] 20 Very truly, I tell you, whoever receives one whom I send receives me; and whoever receives me receives him who sent me.” John 12:13-20

“Go to dark Gethsemane,
ye that feel the tempter’s power;
your Redeemer’s conflict see,
watch with him one bitter hour.
Turn not from his griefs away;
learn of Jesus Christ to pray.

  “See him at the judgment hall,
beaten, bound, reviled, arraigned;
O the wormwood and the gall!
O the pangs his soul sustained!
Shun not suffering, shame, or loss;
learn of Christ to bear the cross.”
Go to Dark Gethsemane, vs. 1, 2, by James Montgomery

I often try to imagine this night with all the intensity, emotions, and thoughts that must have been running through everyone’s mind. I have sat in the darkness of the Tenebrae service of my home church year after year wondering the same thing. As the night and its unfolding grew darker and darker, what was it like? Now, I have a better understanding of what the scene might have looked like, between the Garden and the Gates of Jerusalem. My imagination is ignited, picturing these events more clearly.

With so much packed into one day, it is easy to forget all that happened on that Thursday night, especially given the different Gospel accounts – the Last Supper, the washing of feet, Christ’s desperate prayers in the garden while the disciples slept, the arrest, the trial. I wonder, later in the night, if the disciples remembered the events at the supper. Did they think on Christ washing their feet at all? Did it strike them as strange? Did they wrestle with the meaning of his words in the context of everything else that had happened?

As Christians, we live our lives in that space and time between the Garden and Jerusalem, between darkness, despair and redemption, the Kingdom of God. Living here has not only enabled me to picture the events of that night, but living amongst the oppressed has also led me to feel the darkness of that evening much more deeply than I had before. In this liminal space, we are also called to live out the invitation presented by Christ’s actions and words as he washed the disciples’ feet. Christ makes his invitation clear – “to wash one another’s feet.” This invitation is one of service and cleansing. It is through lives of services to others that we may cleanse our world of greed and injustice.

O Lord, be with us as we enter these holy days. Remind us daily to live a life of service to others that cleanses our world of injustice. As we remember and accept your invitation, be with us when that journey leads us through darkness and despair.  Amen.

-Grace Killian, GBGM Global Mission Fellow to Palestine and Israel