Street and tree decorations stayed up in our town until mid-February, insuring that the spirit of the Feast of the Nativity continued for Christians celebrating Christmas according to the Gregorian, Coptic and Ethiopian, Byzantine, and Armenian calendars!
Eastern and Oriental, abstaining from eating animal products; and soon it will be Easter.
In between, another great event on the Christian calendar is a wonderful ecumenical highlight, celebrated perhaps more seriously, and vividly, in the Holy Land than many other places in the world. This is the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. A progressive event that moves from one church or cathedral in Jerusalem to another, day after day, it is attended by large numbers of persons of every affiliation and ethnic and linguistic identity plus visiting crowds of Christian pilgrims, in conformity with the rich liturgical traditions of the respective denominations. And for good measure, the “week” of Jerusalem services continued for nine evenings!
For Christians of the Occupied West Bank, more than half of whom live in what is called “the Christian Triangle” of the three contiguous towns of Bethlehem, Beit Jala and Beit Sahour, most have no Israeli permits to go to Jerusalem, a distance of 7 – 10 miles across military checkpoints and the infamous Separation Wall – so another very moving service was held. It was a service of Prayer for Christian Unity and for Peace with Justice for Israel and Palestine. This was held at the [Catholic] Saint Catherine’s Church of the Nativity and, for only the second time in that Church’s history, a Lutheran preached the sermon (the pastor of the Christmas Evangelical Lutheran Church of Bethlehem)! There was a huge crowd and warm mutual expressions of affection among the clergy and the people. Joyous music and very thoughtful prayers were interspersed with a sung Arabic refrain “Lord, pour out your peace upon us.” It was truly a strong sign of movement into “unity amid diversity”; a genuine expression of liberation from forms of exclusivism.
The evident longing for greater unity carried within it a deep yearning – in the minor key – for peace and justice, not only in Israel and Palestine, but in the world our home. The news all around us and coming at us through the air waves is sobering. These are some of the stories reported:
- Gaza health system collapsing: 40 percent of medicine runs out
- Israel plans deportation to Rwanda of Sudanese and Eritrean asylum seekers
- Polish senate approves a bill making it illegal to accuse the Polish nation or state of complicity in the Nazi Holocaust;
- Palestinian Authority sued over alleged CIA-backed wiretapping of top Palestinian officials
- 260 companies from around the world reported doing business linked with Israeli settlements that are built in the occupied West Bank, in violation of international law
- Israeli settlers uproot dozens of olive trees of Palestinian farmers in the Nablus district
- Israel built at least 15 waste treatment facilities in the West Bank, processing hazardous materials generated in Israeli sovereign territory, including sewage sludge, infectious medical waste, used oils and solvents, metals, used batteries, and electronic industry byproducts
- Palestinian teen aged girl imprisoned for slapping an Israeli soldier, considered a potential terrorist by a member of the Knesset (the Israeli Parliament)
It is Lent: a season for contemplation of the human condition including our own, for prayer and for fasting. The fast God finds acceptable, yea even chooses, is this: “to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, to break every yoke; to share your bread with the hungry, to bring the homeless poor into your house, and when you see the naked, to cover them…Then you shall call and the Lord will answer, and you shall cry for help, and he will say ‘Here I am.’” The way our own government is behaving in domestic and international affairs warrants much prayer, fasting, and repentance.
Then, there will be Easter: light shall break forth like the dawn; healing shall spring up quickly; ruined lives shall be rebuilt; cities and nations shall be restored – a new world, a new creation.
Some news from our own circle of engagements, for which we give thanks:
- Diyar’s “Religion & State – Middle East” program is now in its Phase IV, focusing on issues of Immigration, Gender Justice, and Religion & Culture;
- The first-ever Arabic translation of John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, published under the auspices of the Near East School of Theology was launched recently in Beirut and Cairo. Victor translated Books III & IV (45 chapters, covering approximately 950 pages) over a period close to two and a half years, working late evenings, Saturdays and using ‘vacation’ time;
- Sara edited several English-language publications of Diyar Consortium. Painstaking work, when most of the books and articles were written by scholars whose first language is not English;
- We participated in honoring Lutheran Bishop Dr. Munib Younan on the completion of 42 years of service, 20 of which as bishop, and in the installation of his successor, Rev. Ibrahim Azar, as the fourth Palestinian bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land.
We take this opportunity to wish you a blessed Lenten season and a glorious Easter, and to thank you for your support with prayers for us and those with whom we live and work, and for your contributions to the mission of the Church.
Victor and Sara Makari
Serving in Israel and Palestine
Victor and Sara Makari serve with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America with the Diyar Consortium of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land. Victor serves as Regional Consultant for the Religion and State in the Middle East Program. Sara serves as editor of publications of Diyar. Their appointment is made possible by your gifts to Disciples Mission Fund, Our Church’s Wider Mission, and your special gifts.