As we are approaching the most important holidays in our context here in Jerusalem, namely Passover for Jews, Easter for Christians and Ramadan for Muslims, we are questioning how we will celebrate these important occasions. The coronavirus outbreak is affecting us all regardless of our ethnic and religious background. This is especially challenging since all three holidays are celebrated in a communal manner and over shared meals. Coming together as families and friends is an integral part of the holidays. This is particularly true for us Christians living in Jerusalem as the Church of the Resurrection (Church of the Holy Sepulchre) is closed; only the third time in the Church’s history.
It is also hard for many of us on a personal note. Many of our elderly parents are confined in their homes and are unable to go out. They are completely isolated with no human interaction. They are truly experiencing loneliness. My mother for example, is suffering from this in particular as she prides herself in taking care of and feeding the family and all the grandchildren. In addition, my father-in-law is all alone and lacks in any human interaction, making him feel lonely. This is very hard on him as he is used to be very active and social.
What makes this virus distinctive is that unlike other events in our recent history, it severely damages our social interaction. It is in our human nature to want and need face to face gatherings, talking to each other, having physical touch and eating together. The other day I was watching a movie about a prison, and one of the cruellest and harsh methods to punish prisoners was to put them in solitary confinement. Preventing them from any social interaction whatsoever. From testimonies of real prisoners, they preferred physical punishment than solitary confinement as the pain was excruciating.
This has led me to think about how Passover talks about freedom from captivity and Easter talks about freedom from sin. We too may identify with some of the elements in these stories as we face the coronavirus. In particularly, when I was thinking about Jesus and his decision to take on flesh and be obedient to death as described in the Epistle to the Philippians chapter 2, I thought about how we often emphasis the humility of Christ in such verses. This is of course important, but what we also learn from these versus is that he was separated from the Father. He became isolated and separate from the Father by taking the likeness of a servant. This is ultimately expressed in Jesus’s cry to the Father, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (Matthew 27:46). This is profound and talks deep into our situation today. In our separation from each other and isolation we must remember to be obedient to the cross in the same way Jesus was in his separation from the Father. Moreover, in his separation from the Father, he lives in solidarity with us humans. In other words, the crucifixion reminds us to be both obedient and in solidarity with each other as Jesus was.
In this message we are comforted by an intimacy that transcends any situation and is based on love and casts out all fear. In celebrating Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection we are also celebrating the fact that God has demonstrated his solidarity and intimacy with humanity. More than that, we are celebrating that we entered into a new relationship between humans and God and between one another. May we understand this miracle of reconciliation more fully in these difficult times.
Musalaha Executive Director — Salim J. Munayer