Easter in Jerusalem—Reflection from a Zoom Room in Corning, NY
April 26, 2022 / By Dianne Roe
As I followed the Holy Week services this year, mostly on Zoom from a couch in my living room, I was also following news from Jerusalem and around the world as sacred holy days of Christians, Muslims, and Jews overlapped. The most important prayer service for me was the Holy Saturday one from Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem. I was especially interested to hear from the women of Sabeel who offer a perspective that makes real for me the women’s visit to the tomb that first Easter morning. Click here to watch that very meaningful service.
The Palestinian Christian women are able to make comparisons between living under occupation in Roman times and present-day Jerusalem under Israeli occupation. Cedar Duaybis and Samia Khoury were offering their Holy Saturday reflections directly from Jerusalem where they could witness events as they unfolded. The day before on what we in the West call Good Friday, Israeli Occupation Forces had attacked worshippers at Al Aqsa Mosque as they observed Ramadan. I don’t think even Samia and Cedar knew the full scope of what had happened. A few days later Sabeel Jerusalem would describe not only the injustice and brutality of attacks and restrictions inflicted on Muslim and Christian Indigenous worshipers but also the wellspring of hope that was emerging as Palestinians rose by sitting down in the courtyard of Al Aqsa. That simple act of “not budging” was making news around the world.
That wellspring of hope is actually what Sabeel Liberation Theology Center is all about. The word Sabeel means wellspring or “The Way.” It was an early word for Christianity. As Samia Khoury said in her Holy Saturday reflection, “Christianity originated from here, but it came back to us colonized.”
Sabeel is an ecumenical grassroots Liberation Theology Movement founded by Palestinian Christians under the leadership of the Rev. Dr. Naim Ateek. Samia Khoury was one of the early co-founders. Cedar Duaybis, another of the women who spoke at the Holy Saturday service, was also one of the early co-founders of Sabeel.
As I reflect on the words of the speakers at this “Easter in Jerusalem” service, and feel their relevance to my spiritual life within my United Methodist denomination, I think back to the time over 30 years ago when I was in Jerusalem, and had the privilege of sitting in on the discussion groups with Naim, Cedar, Samia, and several others as the Sabeel movement was first stirring.
It was a momentous time to be in Jerusalem. I was only there for one month February-March 1990. At the end of February, I had been with a tour group from Western NY with Bishop Forrest Stith and Reverend Bill Pegg. (It was a follow-up to the trip 40 of us from Western NY and North Central NY Annual Conferences had taken a year earlier.). I had planned my flight schedule to stay on in Jerusalem for three weeks. United Methodist GBGM (General Board of Global Ministries) had just placed Romi Del Rosario in the newly created position of UM liaison to the Holy Land. He was given an office in St. George’s Cathedral complex. I had communicated with him before my trip to find a place for me to stay. He directed me to the Palm hostel right at Damascus Gate, and walking distance from St. George’s Cathedral.
The first intifada was still going on. Even the word “intifada” had Biblical roots. It means to shake the dust off your feet. Jesus used that term when he sent off the disciples by twos. (Matthew 10:14). Naim Ateek had just published his book, Justice and only Justice: A Palestinian Theology of Liberation. A book signing was held during my time in Jerusalem. I still have my treasured copy signed by Naim on March 18, 1990.
Former President Jimmy Carter was in the Middle East to “broker peace” between Israelis and Palestinians. As it turned out President Carter had chosen to worship at St. George’s in Jerusalem while I was still there.
So indeed, my three weeks in Jerusalem in March 1990 was a memorable time. But meeting Jimmy Carter at St. George’s would not outrank the impact of those meetings with Samia and Cedar and Naim. I saw the wellspring in them that gave me a sense of what our religion is really all about.
I grew up in the “Western Church”—a church of the colonizers. Maybe we in our Western Churches can learn from Sabeel how to liberate ourselves from our colonizing past to become the “wellspring of hope” we were meant to be. Maybe that process has already begun as we move forward toward full inclusion and continue in acts of repentance to emerge as a decolonized church.
Then we can say with conviction, as our Palestinian Friends said at the end of the service, “Al Maseeh qam—Christ is risen.” He is risen indeed.