Lenten Reflection: A Time of Healing and Hope by Rev. David Johnson
The devotions and traditions of Lent present opportunities for reflection on the meaning of Christ’s sacrifice for us. It is a time for somber contemplation and repentance as we focus on the need for God’s grace and seek to respond anew to God’s presence in our lives and in the world. For advocates of Middle East peacemaking, the situation in the Holy Land today exudes danger and despair, even as the scene on the world’s diplomatic stage signal some positive forward movement.
Churches for Middle East Peace is pleased to present a Lenten reflection authored by Rev. Dr. David L. Johnson, a member of CMEP’s Leadership Council. The reflection is offered on the heels of Ash Wednesday and in anticipation of the start of Eastern Orthodox Lent on Monday, March 2. Rev. Johnson encourages us during this Lenten season to continue to offer our prayers “fervently and frequently” for peace between Israel and the Palestinians while recognizing our role as “peacemakers and advocates of reconciliation, the very tools of our own spirituality under renewal in this season.”
About the Author: Rev. Dr. David L. Johnson, a member of CMEP’s Leadership Council, is a retired Lutheran pastor with a long history of involvement in church and ecumenical efforts, especially related to the Middle East. Rev. Johnson served as a parish pastor for an international and ecumenical congregation in Cairo, Egypt and for nine years he served the Lutheran World Federation as its Representative and Field Director in Jerusalem and the West Bank, overseeing medical, educational and social services for Palestinians, including the Augusta Victoria Hospital on the Mount of Olives. Most recently, from April through October of 2008, Rev. Johnson served as the Acting Regional Director in the Middle East for the American Friends Service Committee (Quakers), residing in Amman, Jordan and traveling extensively in the region. Rev. Johnson received the Bachelor of Arts degree from Gustavus Adolphus College, St. Peter, Minnesota and the Master of Divinity degree from the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago. He was also awarded an Honorary Doctor of Divinity degree from the Gurukul School of Theology and Church Administration in Chennai, India for work among the marginalized.
Lent: A Time for Healing and Hope
By Rev. Dr. David L. Johnson (Ret.)
We are now in the season of Lent, a time in our church year for intensifying and growing the practice of our Christian spirituality, for honing our skills in doing those things of the Spirit. Lent is a heart-rending season, the essence of which is evident in the words of the prophet Joel as recorded in the Hebrew Scriptures:
“Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your hearts, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing.” (Joel 2:12-13).
We begin this season on our knees in a posture of repentance and self-sacrifice, seeking to cleanse our hearts and minds and, for the faithful, anticipating the grace of spiritual renewal. As we enter the season of Lent, we in the Christian tradition use these words of Joel to call our attention to the demand and discipline required of us to more honestly express our faith. We are invited to practice what we preach, to restore integrity to the best of our good intentions, to be honest with ourselves and to others, and to be renewed in our confidence that our spirituality be appropriately and effectively expressed. We do this not just for our own sake, but for the sake of the world; not just as an act of our own will and for the sake of our own growth in the Spirit, but on the strength of the promise of God’s renewing grace through Jesus Christ.
Like many of you, I have fervently and frequently offered prayers to God for peace in the Middle East, beginning in Jerusalem, believing that the heart of God is deeply disturbed by the unending conflict and violence that comes to nothing but persists in plaguing the two peoples of the Holy Land. It matters that we continue to offer those prayers, though our prayers do not excuse us from our responsibilities as peacemakers and advocates of reconciliation, the very tools of our own spirituality under renewal in this season.
It is not up to God alone to work out the complexities and nuances in the search for peace in the 20th and 21st century Middle East, nor is prayer the only way for us to practice our Christian spirituality. Practicing our spirituality engages us in serving as advocates for equality among all God’s children in the Middle East; ensuring that human dignity is realized for all; and that justice as the essential benchmark of fairness and ultimately the most compelling way to peace is achieved.
A couple of months ago, conversing with Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb in the peace and quiet of his office at Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem, he offered his assessment both of circumstances on the ground but also gave a powerful testimony to his faith: He said, “I am pessimistic, but I remain hopeful.” Using a quotation of Martin Luther that echoes the words of Francis of Assisi of an even earlier century, he said, “Even if I knew the world were to end tomorrow, I would plant an olive tree today.”
That word of hope is the ultimate witness to the faith that is in us, and it is dying to be expressed as well as lived out by disciples of hope who know in their hearts that it is our gift as friends and followers of Christ. Pray for peace, yes! Do those things that contribute to justice, diligently and faithfully. Watch for indicators of equality and dignity breaking out between the two suffering peoples in Israel and Palestine. Measure those signs in a continuing role as peace-makers and reconcilers, celebrating every indication of growth. Encourage those who work for peace, those in the land and those outside.
These works are not the tools of politics, but the fruits of a spirituality that are nurtured during this season. They lead to visions of reconciliation that make for peace, and they grow out of the ashes of repentance, coupled with a deep desire for experiencing the mutuality of forgiveness.
Let us pray. Lord Jesus Christ, as the One who suffered that we might know peace, let us not grow weary in our efforts that contribute to the journey for peace in the Holy Land. Bring healing and hope to those who live in fear and with suffering, whether it be the horrors of war or the insecurity of threats to their lives. Renew the faith and courage of those who contribute to the sustaining of hope in our own native homeland, that the peace that passes all understanding might be the common property of us all. Amen.
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Formed in 1984, Churches for Middle East Peace is a Washington-based program of the Alliance of Baptists, American Friends Service Committee, Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese of America, Armenian Orthodox Church, Catholic Conference of Major Superiors of Men’s Institutes, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Church of the Brethren, Church World Service, Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Franciscan Friars OFM (English Speaking Conference, JPIC Council), Friends Committee on National Legislation, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, Maryknoll Missioners, Mennonite Central Committee, Moravian Church in America, National Council of Churches, Presbyterian Church (USA), Reformed Church in America, Unitarian Universalist Association, United Church of Christ, and the United Methodist Church (GBCS & GBGM).