Jesus Was No Stranger to Persistent Hope

Hope-Slider

The following is an Easter meditation from Churches for Middle East Peace, an organization that promotes interfaith initiatives for peace in the Holy Land.  

“But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.’ Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles.”
Luke 24: 1-10

Early in the morning, a group of women, including Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and others, walked to the tomb where Jesus had been buried. I imagine them walking in silence, some of them with tears running down their cheeks, others in a daze. Their eyes are still adjusting to the morning light. One of them is carrying the spices they had prepared the night before, to prepare Jesus’ body for burial. As they approach the tomb, they see the stone rolled away. This, in and of itself, would be cause for alarm. Who had been there before them? They cautiously walk into the tomb and find it empty. What happens next would cause anyone to be terrified. Two men in dazzling clothes (AKA angels) stood beside them and began to speak to them. These heavenly beings remind the women what Jesus had told them about how he would rise again on the third day. Immediately after their conversation, the women return to the eleven disciples and tell them everything that had happened. Hallelujah! What terrific news!

Jesus was no stranger to persistent hope. Jesus taught these women, and his disciples, what it meant to persistently hope. To have hope is more than a wish. It involves knowledge of something true, that hasn’t happened yet. It’s not a premonition, or some special kind of revelation. It’s the hope we carry with us even when circumstances seem dire. It’s the hope that propels us forward in the face of uncertainty and fear. This is the kind of hope exhibited by the women that morning. It seemed as though everything was lost. Their Lord had been crucified. What would happen to them, his followers? Still, they faithfully went to the tomb to honor him by preparing his body for burial. Although none of them expected to find the tomb empty, I imagine them replaying Jesus’ words on the walk to the tomb. What did Jesus mean when he said he would rise again on the third day? Maybe it was this wondering which propelled them to go to the tomb that morning.

Palestinian and Israeli women are often the most overlooked, yet effective peacemakers.

FULL ARTICLE FROM  CHURCHES FOR MIDDLE EAST PEACE 

Facing ISIS, Middle Eastern Evangelicals Exchange Strategies

48939Fawzi Khalil recalls what he saw on a recent visit to Dohuk, Iraq. Refugees slept on streets and under bridges, fleeing the wrath of ISIS.

“It is very hard to coordinate with Muslims,” said the Egyptian pastor back at his Cairo church. “Everyone here is against everyone else.”

Khalil is the director of relief ministries at Kasr el-Dobara, the largest Protestant church in the Middle East. Since the fall of Mosul and the eviction of its historic Christian community, the Egyptian megachurch has distributed over 2,500 mattresses to both Iraqi Muslims and Christians. More than $300,000 has been raised—primarily from Egyptian Christians—to provide 2,200 families with medicine, a portable stove, and an emergency food package. The church sends a delegation to Iraq every two weeks.

“God is allowing ISIS to expose Islam,” said Khalil’s fellow pastor, Atef Samy. “They are its true face, showing what Islam is like whenever it comes to power.”

But the savagery of ISIS, which has overwhelmed Kurdistan with more than850,000 refugees, has prompted other Middle Eastern Christians to embrace their Muslim neighbors. This theme was heard often from members of the Fellowship of Middle Eastern Evangelical Churches (FMEEC), who met in Cairo last month for a conference on the dwindling Christian presence in the region.

“We must be a voice for Islam,” said Munib Younan, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land. “We must not allow the West to see ISIS, the Muslim Brotherhood, or others like them as the face of Islam.”

Others were more reflective of the diversity among both Muslims and non-Muslims.

FULL ARTICLE FROM CHRISTIANITY TODAY 

Mideast conflict affects all Muslims and Jews: Marmur

At times such as these it’s impossible for Muslims and Jews living outside the Middle East not to be affected by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in their relationship to each other. Those living far from the scene often hold even more extreme views than those in the region. Others believe that they can make peace there by acting here.

Shai Har-El, businessman, scholar and rabbi is among the latter. His book, Where Islam and Judaism Join Together, argues contrary to received wisdom that religion doesn’t fuel the conflict but is potentially “a catalyst for action in the battle for peace in the Middle East.” With this in mind he founded the Middle East Peace Network in 1990 and has since also helped to establish the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Chicago.

In a recent interview Dr. Har-El, who was born in Israel and holds degrees from the universities of Tel Aviv and Chicago, outlined his plan that notwithstanding its political agenda would harness the religious forces that make for unity and tolerance in the service of a lasting peace between Palestinians and Israelis. But despite his seemingly good intentions, his efforts don’t appear to have had much of an impact.

His utopian desire to temper politics with religion isn’t unique. For example, theLevantine Cultural Center in Los Angeles, which was launched more than a decade after the Middle East Peace Network, seems to have a similar agenda. In addition to its religious base it promotes intercultural activities and political discussions that include criticism of Israel and Zionism. As a result, Jewish mainstream organizations have kept their distance and it’s not clear to what extent Islamic groups have embraced it. Again, the effort may be praiseworthy but the results seem meagre.

The proposed House of Prayer and Learning in Berlin aims to be very different. Instead of seeking to solve the conflict in the Middle East, its stated purpose is to establish good relations between Jews and Muslims locally. While respecting religious differences, it stresses the fundamental similarities between the monotheistic faiths. The dialogue it promotes seeks to mirror the multiculturalism of the German capital.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE TORONTO STAR

Christians in Middle East: U.S. attack on Syria would be detrimental

Syrian-Christians-wait-for-the-crisis-to-end-0G1F9KOJ-x-largeNEW YORK (RNS) As the Obama administration considers a strike in response to recent chemical attacks, the head of a global evangelical group said Wednesday (Sept. 4) that Christians in the Middle East oppose military intervention in Syria.

“There is major consensus amongst the Christian leaders in this region that any military intervention would have a detrimental effect … on Christians in Syria,” wrote Geoff Tunnicliffe, secretary general/CEO of World Evangelical Alliance, in a letter to the State Department, the White House and the United Nation’s Security Council.

Tunnicliffe was attending a meeting of Christian leaders in neighboring Jordan that included California megachurch pastor Rick Warren, “Touched by an Angel” actress Roma Downey and her “Survivor” creator husband Mark Burnett.

The group, convened by Jordan’s King Abdullah II, met with about 70 Middle Eastern Christians to discuss the challenges facing Arab Christians.

“I couldn’t find a Christian leader at the conference who supported military intervention,” Tunnicliffe said in an interview. “The question is, how do you protect Christians if there’s a regime change?”

Tunnicliffe said two Syrian pastors told him independently that Christians have received threats from those who say a regime change would mean a takeover by Islamists who would force Christians out of the country.

Christian representatives from Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan were present at the gathering, as well as a few Muslim clerics and academics. In his address, King Abdullah IIurged interfaith harmony.

FULL ARTICLE FROM RELIGION NEWS SERVICE