image of jerusalem 2013

Jerusalem: Land of Christ’s Peace?
St Stephen & St Thomas Anglican Church

9 November   |   2003   |   Subject  Middle East & North Africa (MENA)

Introductory Comments

Let me start off by expressing my thanks to Revd Donald Reece for his kind invitation, and also extend my ecumenical greetings to HG Bishop Nathan and all of you assembled in this hallowed space of worship today.

Remembrance Sunday is a tradition that began, I believe, in 1921 as an expression of national homage devoted to the remembrance of those who gave their lives during WWI. Over the years, it has been extended to include all who have suffered and died in conflict in the service of their country and all those who mourn them. So allow me today as your guest to widen the concept of remembrance further and to include within its remit the Christians of the Holy Land - those small and indigenous Eastern and Oriental Orthodox, Catholic, Anglican and Protestant Christian communities - in Jerusalem, in Bethlehem, in the West Bank and in Gaza, who are also witnessing to their Christian faith today.

Processes & Facts

The situation on the ground in the Holy Land has been worsening dramatically. At a time when Palestinians and Israelis are being murdered on an almost daily basis, it seems that the politicians on both sides have lost their moral compass. As a result, Israelis and Palestinians alike are suffering the consequences of an Israeli occupation of Palestinian land.

Both Israeli and Palestinian societies are applying Hamourabi’s code of laws that advocates ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’! Yet, this zero-sum game does not even take into account Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violent strategy that the application of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth simply leaves the world blind and toothless!

But the reality of Palestinian misery under occupation speaks for itself! So is it any wonder then that the Rt Revd Riah Abu El-Assal, Anglican Bishop of Jerusalem, stated a couple of weeks ago, We have to do something that is seen and felt and not just heard. In an emotional appeal to the world, he also echoed the deep frustration of the Palestinian Christians in Jerusalem and elsewhere in the Holy Land when he added, What is happening in the occupied territories is worse than apartheid in South Africa. Why should people wait until the Palestinian people turn black so that they will rush to help them the way we all helped the people of South Africa?

This week, as part of the Silver Jubilee celebrations, HH Pope John-Paul II encouraged Christians to think of their sisters and brothers in the Holy Land and to cultivate ‘an intense personal and community prayer life’ that sustains them in their trying moments. And again this week, the British and Irish Church leaders wrote to the Heads of Churches in Jerusalem assuring them of their prayers for continued international support for ‘a sustainable political resolution’.

The Problem: Occupation!

Violence and terrorism are wrong! They are anti-Christian, anti-moral, anti-humanist, anti everything you care to mention! Many local Christian religious leaders and grassroots organisations have stated time and again in the past two years that nobody should condone any form of violence in the Holy Land. However, it is equally important to remember that understanding the roots of terrorism and therefore tackling them is not the same as condoning them! After all, the olive branch is not only a universal symbol of peace; it is also the national symbol for Palestine. Yet, occupation remains an obstacle toward peace, and it is a fact that terror and occupation go together and have to be dealt with together.

Where are the Christians of the Holy Land?

We Christians are often referred to as the Forgotten Faithful. And we might indeed be so in the eyes of many Christian evangelicals today who would question our very faithfulness as Christians! Be that as it may, we must still learn to look at ourselves as much as at the ‘other’ in this conflict. As St James teaches us (Jas4 :1-2), one of the efficient ways of preventing wars and making peace is by fighting against the evil within us. Therefore, we also need to examine our own lives and consciences. We must have the prophetic courage to speak out about the rights of all peoples in the Holy Land. We must join hands in order to build the edifice of genuine peace in the Holy Land where the local Palestinian Christians would enjoy equal right alongside the local Palestinian Muslims or local Israeli Jews.

A Crisis or an Opportunity?

In the Chinese lexicon, w?ij? denotes both crisis and opportunity! So will this crisis over a small but occupied parcel of land become a kairos for peace in the Holy Land? Will the koinonia of Christian believers manage to pull together across boundaries and make a difference? Will there be a true epektasis for Christians in their lives?

After all, the Living Stones (I P2 :4-5) are Christians like many others across the whole world. But those Christians have the additional onerous responsibility of being guardian witnesses of the Mother Church where the Christian story unfolded some two millennia ago! Mind you, if one reads the Ecumenical Monologues of the mystical philosopher St Gregory of Nyssa who lived at the time of the Early Church, one gets an unflattering picture of sin and debauchery in Jerusalem! St Gregory wrote, ‘If divine grace were more abundant about Jerusalem than elsewhere, sin would not be so much the fashion amongst those that live there; but as it is, there is no form of uncleanness that is not perpetrated amongst them; rascality, adultery, theft, idolatry, poisoning, quarrelling, murder, are rife.’ But despite those excesses of Jerusalem throughout the ages (and by the way, Jerusalem is not the only place with such excesses!), St Paul’s teaches us (in Col1 :24- 27& 1 Co12 ) that the only hope for the troubled world is the grace of God that should be manifest through the saints. And if it is so, then we are, in Christ, irrevocably tied together across national, ethnic and economic barriers. We are the church, and for one part of the church to be disinterested in another part of the church is a denial of Christ.

So if we do not help those Christians in the Holy Land today, and if we do not acknowledge our Christ-centred and faith-based responsibility toward our fellow sisters and brothers who are, as St James reminds us (Jas3 :9), born like us in the image and likeness of God and therefore bear the same stamp of divinity like us, what hope have we then got to help all other peoples in God’s larger economy?

As we commemorate the victims of wars and human excesses, and as we pause to think of our role in alleviating suffering, let us also remember the suffering under occupation of the Christians of the Holy Land. Jerusalem weeps today in the same way that Jesus wept over it so many long years ago (Lk19 :41). So allow me to share with you as a sign of optimism one of my favourite quotations from the Book of Psalms that provides me with instruction, inspiration, motivation and consolation. The psalmist says in (Ps122 :6 -7), ‘Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: may those who love you be secure. May there be peace within your walls and security within your citadels.’

Indeed, it is my hope today, on Remembrance Sunday2003 , that this peace will be founded on justice, dignity and co-existence as much as on reconciliation and ultimate forgiveness. That is what the Hebrew prophets Amos, Isaiah or Micah asked for repeatedly in the Old Testament, and that is what the Christians of Jerusalem pray for today.

Will the power of prayer help restore Christ’s Peace in the hearts and homes of Jerusalem? On this Remembrance Day, I invite you to remember in your prayers and thoughts those Christian communities of the Holy Land.

>+ In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, One God Forever, Amen!

© Dr Harry Hagopian   |   2003   |   9 November


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