A Palestinian Christian Reflection on the Meaning of Easter

Bethlehem: Rev. Dr. Munther Isaac’s Good Friday Sermon for 2024

May/Jun 2024

Editor’s Note: Due to limited space, the following passage consists of excerpts from Rev. Issac’s sermon. The full transcript is available at https://www.indcatholicnews.com/news/49458. Although Muslims don’t believe that Jesus (‘alayhi as salaam) was crucified and resurrected — Islam rejects the Christian dogma of Original Sin — Islamic Horizons’ staff nevertheless believes that his powerful words deserve our attention and respect. Rev. Dr. Munther Isaac currently pastors the Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church in Bethlehem and the Lutheran Church in Beit Sahour.

Today [March 30] we commemorate the arrest, trial, and torture of Jesus and his execution on the cross… What a cruel scene of steel, and even more ugly. “He has no image and no beauty, so we look at him… We cover our faces from him.” There is torture, slow death, and pain.…

The Friday of pains has come upon us, and our land is in pain and sorrow and is ravaged by death, displacement, and destruction. Our people in Gaza are suspended between the earth and the sky, dying a slow death. They ridicule and curse them [the Palestinians] and put it all in front of the world. Today we cover our faces from the scenes of death in Gaza. About the shapes of children. About bodies found in the streets. No picture of them, so look at them.

We have kept this rubble in our church since birth, because Gaza is still under rubble, because our people in Gaza and our children are still … under rubble. Who would have thought that Easter would come and Gaza would still be destroyed in such a horrible way? Today we entered a new phase of the extermination war, in which we are killed by hunger, thirst, and disease. I was very hurt today [by] the cruel scene of a child under the rubble, who miraculously survived the bombing … [asking,] “Where is the water? I am thirsty.”

On the cross Jesus cried: “I am thirsty,” in solidarity with those who are being perished by famine and siege… with all the victims of the wars and famines, caused by the oppressive and authoritarian regimes in our world. …

And while Jesus was hanging on the cross, they ridiculed him, cursed him and challenged him to come down from the cross, [just] as they mock [us] today … as they tear Gaza [apart] neighborhood after neighborhood, house after house, and child after child…

The universe is saddened today by the silence of decision makers and their racism, [by] the absence of those who say the word of truth, fearing for themselves and their interests, armed with the blood of neutrality and silence, under the name of peace and reconciliation. The universe is grieving for those who called for fire to come down from heaven and destroy a people and cities, so that “the chosen ones [can] defend themselves,” as we understand it!

… Yes, today there are those who inherit and mourn with us, in the streets and international courts. There are those who stand in solidarity with Gaza. The warlords must respond! May their conscience wake up!

We [are] looking for God in this war. We always cry out to Him, and He doesn’t answer, while we see the Son of God hanging on the cross shouting, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why did you let me be crucified? Am I being tortured? And am I not guilty?”

[On] this earth, even God is a victim of cowardice, death, [the] machine[s] of war and colonization. He suffers with the people of this land, and shares with them the same fate. “My God, my God, why did You leave me?” It is a cry that has been echoed for hundreds of years on this earth. It is a cry renewed in the words of our [Druze and nationalist] poet Samih Al-Qasim (d.2014), in his influential poem “I am sorry”]:

I Am Sorry 

To Allah I raise my eyes 

I raise my heart and suffice me 

O Lord 

I am sad

 and the orphan exhausted me 

The fire destroyed my plants and my fields 

I cried 

and I turned my face

to the light of your throne

O Lord … People came to me 

paths were blocked in front of me 

 pleaded, I prayed with my supplication

and water springs were opened…

I’m so naughty 

and my robe is worn out 

the cold of the blues is cruel

and the freedom of abandonment is so disgusting

I’m so sad

and the soldier kicks me out of the door of my house

and I wish my life with my death …

O my God, there is no god but You

My pasture was stagnant with the poisonous grass

My sheep died on my arm

And my well they poured rocks on it

And a fig I damaged it

And an olive they swept it 

And a palm tree they swept it away

And a lemon they slaughtered it

And a mint they dried it

As a punishment …

My father’s country has become a cemetery

The houses of the believers are buried

The gardens of the believers are deserted

Their schools are denied

And their sorrows are a rainy darkness

My God

 My God and there is no other god but You… My Lord, my torment is long and harsh and unfortunate

And you are forgiving, merciful and fair

My Lord, my Lord, I am sorry

I am sorry, my Lord, my Lord I am sorry.

… It is the cry of Gaza’s people today. Gaza is thirsty for water, food, life, and justice.

Yes, Jesus on the cross today amidst the ruins of Gaza. Suffering with the despised. Jesus on the cross with the abandoned around the world, victim of racism and authoritarian regimes. Jesus is crucified today unjustly … amongst the rubble.

[What is] all this for? [On] the cross, God united with [humanity] in its pain, not out of love or glorification in pain, but to redeem us from pain and to rise with Him in His resurrection. Christ was crucified and on his way to resurrection. He faced death believing that his Heavenly Father is able to raise him from death, and thus brings salvation to all [humanity]. Here is his true power. His faith in his Father’s will, and His ability to raise him from death.

And it‘s all for the sake of love. [On] the cross love was manifested — He loved us to the end and gave himself up for those he loved. Jesus accepted the cross because he wanted our redemption and salvation. He accepted the cross because he loves us. Accept death voluntarily, not hatred. So which kind of love is this?

Jesus suffered for us and died for us, [so] let us live with him. Jesus cried [in] pain with us that we may be comforted in the resurrection. Jesus experienced loneliness and pain, [so] let us experience God’s love and presence in our lives. He abandoned himself from glory and accepted pain and death, to sit with him in the presence of the Father. Pain wasn’t meant for pain. The cross is a station on the way to resurrection. It is a means, not an end, to see love and to live.

This is how we understand the verse: “If a kernel of wheat does not fall on the ground and die, it remains alone. But if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24). Christ’s death and pain opened our way to the Father… Eternity… Where there is no death, no sorrow, no sickness, no pain.

… I repeat: Gaza will rise and rise from its rubble. And her children’s blood will not go in vain. Here is the endurance of our people, and here we look at Christ, the endurance with us and in us. Who is stronger: Rome, or the one whom Rome executed on the cross and cried [out,] “Forgive them”? Herod and Pilate, or [the one] who faced them with his faith, determination, steadfastness and power of his creed? Caiaphas [the Jewish high priest] and the Pharisees, or the one they blasphemed … ?

Today and a thousand years later, by carrying the cross we are defeated and ridiculed by the empire and its gods. … Let’s face our reality with the faith of the resurrection, and [realize] that sorrow and death in Christ are only our way to [Easter’s] Sunday dawn, where there is no oppression, no occupation, no racism, no war, no hunger, no thirst, no disease, no cancer, no tears, no poverty, no oppression… [On] the cross, love conquered death. Amen.


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