The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
Easter Message 2022
“We had hoped” (Luke 24:21)
Bishop Dr. Munib A. Younan
The story of the walk to Emmaus is a story of hopelessness and hope at the same time. The journey began as Cleopas and his companion were sharing their disappointment with a stranger, who was walking with them.
Not only were they sharing their disappointment, they were analyzing the political situation in Jerusalem. Jesus had been crucified, and in the Roman Empire, crucifixion was deeply political. Like many today, the two disciples had lost hope in the face of the religious and political news of the day. “We had hoped Jesus would be the one to redeem God’s people” they lamented. (vs. 31)
Perhaps the disciples were disappointed because their hopes for a charismatic leader had faded. Perhaps they were disappointed because God did not intervene to save Jesus. Or perhaps they were disappointed because the believed Jesus would be able to make a difference in a world filled with injustice. Maybe Jesus could have been the one to stand up to Rome and end the occupation! But Jesus had been crucified, and in their worldview, this meant his movement had lost all political power.
It’s not that the disciples didn’t know what happened in Jerusalem. Their telling of the events of the day show that they had heard all the details of his arrest, crucifixion, and even the news of the resurrection. They were neither faithless nor uninformed. They had invested their hopes in Jesus and teachings, but at that moment, Jesus was not the one they had hoped for.
Then the stranger who walked alongside them joined in the political analysis. He outlined for them the significance of his own death, starting from Moses and continuing through the prophets. He assured them that it was necessary that Jesus, the Messiah, should suffer, die, and be lifted up into glory. Even so, their eyes were kept from recognizing the truth, or even the identity of the one who was so near to them on the road.
It seems to me that many today are walking with the disciples on that road of disappointment and despair. Many recent events have given us reason to lament along with Cleopas and his companion, “We had hoped!”
Palestinian Christians have long hoped that world powers would hold to one standard for justice, and not apply double standards when it is convenient for them. We had hoped that war between Russia and Ukraine would never happen. We are disappointed that the sounds of bombs and gunfire are stronger than the voices for peace. Even more disappointing are the voices that are calling this another holy war, or who say these nations are “Gog and Magog” from Ezekiel, in an attempt to justify this completely unnecessary war.
This is a familiar tactic for us Palestinians. We say again: Do not use biblical prophecy to justify war, occupation, or colonialization. The biblical message is one of justice and only justice. Our world doesn’t need any holy wars—it needs a just peace.
I am reminded of the clear position of Lutheran pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1905-1945) who said that the Church is the guardian of the State. Bonhoeffer supports all efforts of Christians to stand up against violent acts of any state, whether it be war, occupation, aggression, or injustice. The Barmen Declaration of 1934 emphasized that the Word of God is and must be separate from the word of any political or civil power. Wars of aggression and the Christian message are incompatible.
From Jerusalem today you will certainly hear words of disappointment. The Israeli Palestinian conflict seems not to be a priority of world powers. We can see no path to peace based on justice on the horizon. At this moment, my fear is that we yet again entered a vicious circle of violence, hatred, and extremism. We are afraid for our future. We do not want our children and grandchildren to grow up and become accustomed to this cycle of hatred and hopelessness. In our disappointment, we are asking from the road to Emmaus: Where are the leaders? Where are the peacemakers? Where are the prophets who understand that there can indeed be peace, but that it will never be achieved by force, by violence, by terror, or by grabbing lands and property?
As a Christian, I still believe in peace, but I know it will only come by ensuring that every nation is safe, secure, and has its own national rights. For this reason, we will never stop preaching, working, and hoping for peace based on justice in this land called holy.
In the story of the walk to Emmaus, we hear that the disciples invited the stranger to the table. As they sat to eat, and as the bread was broken, they immediately recognized him as not a stranger, but their teacher. The breaking of the bread transformed their hopelessness into hope. They changed from tellers of a sad story of hopelessness and loss into tellers of a story of revived hope and life. “We have seen the Lord, and he is risen!” Their hearts were burning inside of them, as the hearts of the women who first saw the risen Lord must also have been burning. Then, instead of escaping from Jerusalem, they returned, filled with hope and joy and ready to revive the hopes of their fellow disciples.
As Christians, it is the table of the Eucharist where we meet Jesus in, with, and under the bread and wine. We come to the table with all our hurts, disappointments, shattered hopes, fears, and shortcomings and he is there to walk alongside us. Again and again our eyes are opened, and we see the truth of who this Jesus is: not a stranger, but our teacher, our healer, our friend, our Messiah. He has taught us, “In the world you will face persecution, but take courage. I have conquered the world.” (John 16:33) And again, he said, “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 14:22)
Resurrection has revived our hope in a living God. We are called not to be trumpets of hopelessness and doom but to be people of hope. Resurrections has taught us that as long as there is a Living God, there is always hope. For this reason let us encourage one another with the power of Christ that comes in the breaking of the bread, the sharing of the Gospel, and working together for a world of justice and peace.
Christ is risen!
Al Masih kam!
Christ is risen indeed!