Bishop Emeritus Munib Younan from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land:
It is Easter 2020.
This is the commemoration of both the crucifixion and the resurrection of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This is the source of our liberation but also of our praise and joy, especially in this time of the coronavirus crisis.
This year, unlike any other year, Christians are celebrating in our homes, not in our churches or with our communities. In fact, worshiping at home is the way of the early Church just after the Pentecost. According to the Acts of the Apostles, every house was a church. The nucleus of the church at that time was the nuclear family. This year, for the safety of others and ours, we will follow this old tradition. I pray that the Risen Lord will find a place in each of our homes and will shatter our fears by blessing us: “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” (John 20:21)
I have been following instructions and staying at home, and every now and then following social media on the various comments and analyses on the coronavirus crisis. For some, this is an eschatological crisis, a sign of the end times. For some, it is part of a conspiracy theory. Some are using religious traditions to try and remove the virus from their towns and villages. Some see it as a punishment from God.
And for many, the virus is simply a source of great fear and panic.
But whenever we celebrate Holy Week, we do not do it out of fear, nor do we preach punishment. Our living, Triune God is not an angry God. The Epistle of St. John, among many other spiritual writings, teaches us “God is love.” (1 John 4:8) And again, it is written, “For God so loved the world that he sent his only Son, that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
Christians do not see God revealed in a virus or a catastrophe, but in the life, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Isaiah prophesied about our savior, “Surely he has been our iniquities and carried our diseases (including this pandemic!) yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, struck down for our iniquities, upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:4-5)
Christ has come, suffered on the cross, emptying himself, and although he did not sin, has carried our sins for us once and for all. (Philippians 2:6-11)
God in Christ loves humanity.
God wants to save us, not only from our sins, but from this pandemic and from every disease that hurts God’s beloved creation. For this reason, it is written, “I have come that they may have life, and life abundantly.” (John 10:10)
On the cross, Jesus Christ retained the dignity of every human being. For this reason, in times of fear and panic, let us put our trust in the God of love. Let us give the Risen Christ all glory and honor and praise. And let us proclaim with Paul, “We are afflicted in every way but not crushed, perplexed but not driven to despair…always carrying in the body the death of Christ, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies.” (2 Corinthians 4:8-10)
In 1993, the Lutheran World Federation held its annual council meeting in Namibia. We were asked to register to stay those days in one of the congregations. I was assigned to a village in the northern part of Namibia. The pastor asked me to address the youth gathering on Saturday evening. This youth gathering started on Saturday at 7 pm and ended on Sunday at 11 am at the Sunday service. Five hundred youth walked between 5-10 kilometers to attend this weekly gathering.
At 1am, after midnight, was my turn to give a message of hope. After I spoke, these young people asked with tears in their eyes, “Pastor, is God punishing Namibia with HIV and AIDS?
Africans have always loved God, so why us? What did we do to deserve this? What will our future be?” I really did not know how to answer these questions. I tried to bring a message of hope from the City of the Resurrection and realized maybe it wasn’t enough. It was a difficult moment for me, which really caused me to think.
But what I have seen is that God has heard the cries of those faithful young Namibians. God has lifted up in Namibia and across the world, doctors, nurses, scientists, and researchers, who helped to stop the spread of the virus, and have found medications that created a better future for all of Namibia, all of Africa, and all the world. God has brought them life, and life abundantly.
Today, as people are locked down and confused, businesses and churches are shuttered, and the future is uncertain, those young Namibians are again on my mind. And they have given me two reflections at this time:
This is a time of deep reflection and prayer for the whole world. This is a time for repentance. It is a time for us to think about how to make the God of love known to the world. We need to consider: Have we built a tower of Babel and forgotten the God of love? Have we been worshiping other gods? Perhaps weapons, power, the economy, extremism, hegemony, discrimination and lies have become our gods. Perhaps we have believed in the truth of our power instead of the power of the truth. During this very unusual Holy Week and Easter season, we have time to reflect on these things, trusting that the Holy Spirit will guide us into peace and hope. Once an interviewer asked Mother Teresa, “When you pray, what do you ask God for?” She answered, “I don’t ask for anything, but I listen.” The interviewer asked again, “And what does God say to you?” She answered, “Nothing. It is enough that I am in the presence of the living, loving God.” I think it is the same for us now. It is enough that we are reflecting and praying, it is enough that we are listening to the voice of God, and the God of love will always be with us in our homes, in our churches, and our workplaces. The Risen Christ will bring us peace in our homes, and grants us hope in a hopeless situation, bringing us life and life abundantly.
I was happy to hear the UN secretary general, Mr. Guterres, asking for a ceasefire in all conflicts between nations, so that world leaders can concentrate all efforts on working together to combat the coronavirus. I am also thankful for the joint efforts of many countries to find medicines and vaccines. I have deep respect for medical workers, who put themselves at risk to bring life to others. I also am encouraged to see companies and banks committed to maintaining the dignity of people in spite of a rising unemployment rate. I think this crisis is a vivid example of how, if world leaders work together, they can not only beat this virus but also bring peace based on justice to every human being in every country. If we join forces to control the spread of this virus—and we will succeed—then we can also eliminate poverty, cooperate on climate change, and end oppression. Indeed, we can end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through this kind of international cooperation, according to international law.
“What is the future for us?” asked those Namibian youth. And this is what many are asking today. The message of Easter tells us: The future is peace, justice, and a shared well-being for all and for our children. Because Christ is risen, the future is life, and life abundantly.
May this Holy Week and Easter season be a time for the Risen Lord to enter our homes, and our hearts, that we would experience the power of love, life, and healing, that has been given to us through the cross and the empty tomb.
Happy Easter, and may God richly bless you.
Alleluia! Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed, Alleluia!
Al-Masih kam! Hakkan kam!