“The Easter Peace That Passes All Understanding”

“The Easter Peace That Passes All Understanding”

Bishop Munib Younan’s Easter Message for 2014

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

Salaam and grace to you from Jerusalem in the name of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ. “Peace be with you,” Jesus tells Thomas after the Resurrection.

I greet you in a time of suspicion and doubt. The story of Thomas has not ended. The story of Thomas continues to be our story, our context. It is a story where people are doubting in the Resurrection of Jesus because the fact that there is so much wrong in the world seems to suggest otherwise. Perhaps we are driven to declare as Thomas did, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe” (John 20:25b).

Throughout the years Thomas has been known to Christendom as a man of suspicion or doubt. Some even call him “Doubting Thomas.” He is the man who does not believe until he sees for himself. Perhaps, however, we aren’t being honest with ourselves. Isn’t this narrative of a man who wrestles with his doubts the story of all of us? Isn’t this how we behave in our families and churches? Don’t we struggle daily with doubt and suspicion?

The Christian Church has survived for two thousand years because of the Resurrection story. Mary Magdalene’s message announcing the risen Lord has never ceased to echo through the ages. This message of “Christ is risen” resounds in the lives of people all over the world as it has for two thousand years. This message reminds us in the midst of our sin and transgressions that the power of Resurrection assures our forgiveness. This Resurrection can be heard in the preaching of the Gospel and tasted in the administration of the Sacrament of the Eucharist. Through the sacrament of baptism, we too experience the power of Resurrection as we daily die and rise with Christ.

The Church of Christ in our current context, despite its frailty, continues to be the instrument that proclaims the Gospel message of Resurrection. The Proclamation of the Living Word is creating peace in the minds and hearts of people who doubt or suspect. The Proclamation of the Gospel provides hope for those who have lost hope, those who have lost any vision of a future. The Proclamation of the Resurrection bears the message of the empty tomb to those who have lost trust in themselves, humanity, and even God. The Risen Lord continuously appears in our churches through the breaking of bread and pouring of wine to give us the peace of God beyond our human understanding (Phillippians 4:7). Like Thomas, when Jesus comes to us in the midst of our doubt and wishes us this peace, then we humbly say, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:27).

The peace of God through the Resurrection occurs every days in our hearts, our families, and churches, even if we live in difficult times—times where the noise of the world attempts to drown out the words of peace through its clamorous secularization, extremism, suspicion among nations. The Risen Lord quietly yet firmly assures us that there is peace in the communion of saints—the church. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid” (John 14:27). The message of the Risen Lord is the message of peace.

Today in the Middle East, people wrestle with doubt on a daily basis. Will the peace process come to fruition? When I walk in the streets of the Old City of Jerusalem and listen to the people, I hear so many doubts and suspicions. We have rightfully inherited the spirit of the “Doubting Thomas.” It seems at times as if nothing will succeed except violence, occupation, oppression, hatred, dehumanization, and extremism. We want a tangible sign that this is not true. We want to know that God is living. Sometimes we ask in our doubt—“My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Mark 15:34; Matthew 27:46). Why should we continue living in a such a world of injustice? Why is the mass media continually giving a boost to those who stand on the bones of victims?

Logically speaking, the spirit of “Doubting Thomas” has the world in its cynical grip. The arguments of Thomas are valid. “Show me a sign.” In a rational world, people want proof, not empty rhetoric or empty promises. The doubter looks at the powers and principalities of this world and feels hopeless. How can one overcome the power of unjust economies, the power of authority, the power of might? What happens to our faith in the Risen Lord in the face of such negative things? We must always remember what the Risen Lord has taught Thomas that even if things look hopeless, the Resurrection is more powerful than our doubt, earthly rulers, violence, injustice, and extremism. Jesus can change the tide of history in a way which we don’t expect, because the Triune God promises to make all things new (Revelation 21:5).

In the newness of God’s reign, we lay claim to the Easter promise of peace. The promise of the Risen Lord of “Peace be with you” is also valid for Palestinians and Israelis. Even if the road to peace based on justice is hard and rocky with many roadblocks and checkpoints, the promise of Resurrection Peace revives in each one of us a new hope. There is no other way, even if politicians are unwilling, than for there to be justice among the nations. I only pray that the day will come soon where Palestinians and Israelis live alongside one another in peace based on justice according to international law, each in their own state. I dream of the day when Jerusalem is a shared city between three religions and two nations. I dream of that day when there will be secure borders without walls. We look forward to having equal access to resources, religious sites, and a reciprocal democratic process. Even if doubts are there, there is no other way. Even if it looks bleak in my naiveté, I believe that the power of the Resurrection will make miracles that we did not expect.

There is hope in this hopeless situation. We will hear Jesus telling us face to face, “Peace be with you.” And we will one day reply as Thomas once did, “My Lord and my God!”

There are those who speak skeptically about the future of Christianity in the Middle East. They paint with a broad brush and make sweeping generalizations about the complex diversity of people in this land. On the contrary Middle East is comprised of many countries, each with their own narrative. Even in the turmoil of the Middle East experience with its political confusion, the Christian Church continues to have the message of Resurrection. It has a vital message because it is an integral part of the fabric of this land and its peoples. The message of Resurrection is the message of the Risen Lord; it is the message of peace. It is the message of Jerusalem.

We should be mindful that Christianity never grew in times of tranquility and prosperity. The power of the Resurrection was always most visible in the times of difficulties, challenges, affliction and discrimination. The Christian Church in the Middle East can rest safely in the assurance of this Resurrection power despite extremism, war, and the seemingly endless attempts for peace thwarted by the agendas of selfish ambition.

This power of Resurrection is the one that tells the Arab and Middle East Christians in this area—don’t whine or sigh, but instead be like Mary Magdalena—tell the other disciples that Christ is risen! Hope has risen! Freedom has risen! Peace has risen! This is the message that we cannot keep to ourselves, but we share it with all around us. We have a great message. We will not lose it even if we feel like Thomas. This message comes to us from the heart of Jerusalem and the mouth of the Risen Lord: “Peace be with you.” His peace is our good news to our city, our peoples, our Church, and to the ends of the earth. Let our hearts not be troubled nor dismayed. We will not live in doubt, for He is truly risen.

When Pope Theodoros II of the Coptic church heard reports of fifty different church buildings being torched in Egypt (because he participated with the Mufti of Egypt in declaring the second revolution last June), he did not despair or whine. Rather, he declared in a strong voice, “This will only motivate us to continue as living witnesses in our society.” When I think about his marvelous words, I see a prime example of the power of Resurrection at work—we should take this message to heart and let it motivate us as well, for Resurrection is a reality, and His peace passes all understanding.

Our call as Arab and Middle East Christians is to be instruments of peace, ministers of reconciliation, defenders of human rights, and apostles of love. I invite you to join with your brothers and sisters in the Middle East as we proclaim the truth of Christ’s peace in our hearts to the world. I ask you this Easter Sunday to pray for peace based on justice with reconciliation based on forgiveness in Palestine and Israel. I implore you for the sake of the Gospel to pray that politicians will find a peaceful solution to the conflict in Syria. I beg you to pray for Arab and Middle East Christians in this region that they may be filled with the power of hope in the Resurrection. I ask you to not forget us nor cease accompanying us in our journey, for our mission is yours and yours is ours. Our mission continues to be one of a prophetic Church, implanting the power of Resurrection Peace in the hearts of all peoples. This is the reason that even in the midst of our doubts and suspicions we hear His gentle voice saying, “Peace be with you.” And all of us with one voice will astonishingly reply, “My Lord and my God!” With this hope of the Resurrection, I send to you the Easter greetings of Jerusalem. Al-Masih Qam – Hakkan Qam! Christ has risen! He is risen indeed!

Bishop Dr. Munib Younan is bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land