In the Jewish and Christian tradition there is a lot of focus on Jerusalem this week with Passover and Holy Week overlapping. Some years the Muslim observance of Ramadan also coincides, adding another layer of focus on this ancient city.
I have been able to spend a little time there and have no claims as an academic or diplomat. I know what I have felt and experienced — deeply pained and conflicted. The ancient city so full of religious ritual and observances all centered around our common God but so many being practiced across chasms of distrust and centuries of tension. People flock to Jerusalem to connect to our God of love but human limitations, fears, habits, history leave a divided city so far from my understanding of God’s vision for creation.
The rawness that I have felt in Jerusalem washes over me as I walk the Christian path from Palm Sunday to Easter. We continue to relive those events of 2,000 years ago. Peace making and inclusive love being feared by those in power, trying to be silenced when it disrupts the status quo. Familiarity and dependence on violence the norm. In that painful reality we celebrate Easter — the bold proclaiming and realization that God’s love is stronger than empire fear. The people in power tried to silence Jesus. They executed him, but God wasn’t stopped, the tomb was empty and there was more to come.
The more to come is powered by God and lived out in the lives, words, actions, commitments of those who dare to trust in love and practice nonviolence. In the midst of the pain for all that is still broken I recall the people who have lived hope into the hurt. I had the chance to meet one of those people last year in the West Bank. Hani Abu Hikal is a Hebron native whose family has lived on the hillside for hundreds of years. In the past decades an Israeli settlement has been built and runs up to the house next to his. Hani can no longer bring his car to his house — the roads that get there have been made Israeli only. He parks it in a parking lot where he has had three cars burned.
Hani was an angry youth when the Israeli policies divided the Hebron. When he was 17 he went to jail for 20 months because, by his admission, he threw rocks and Molotov cocktails at Israelis. He got out in time for his high school exams but after some altercations ended up in jail again and again. In jail he reconsidered his purpose and decided that violence wasn’t the way. When he came out of jail Hani decided to switch from rocks to a video camera. He gathered friends around him and they documented abuses. He became a nonviolent resister. When his young daughter was attacked by a settler child on her way to school, Hani turned to Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) for help and a school accompaniment program for CPT began. Hani continues to promote nonviolent techniques among Hebron activists and a group called “One World for Justice.” Hani reminded us that this is Canaan, a land of promise.
There are Jewish, Christian and Muslim folks who do the same bold and transformative work as Hani is doing. Some are famous. Many more live out love and seek to make peace in less publicly recognized ways. Maybe you are one of those people. Maybe you can become one of those people. Working toward the day when our focus us on Jerusalem leads us to celebrate how much God’s love is alive, renewing, transforming, setting a foundation for peace in our world, in our time through the people God creates and empowers.
The Rev. Joan MacPherson is pastor of Main Street Methodist Church, UCC in Amesbury.