During this Easter and Passover season, people from around the world will be flocking to Jerusalem. This year will be especially crowded as Easter for both church calendars in the Western and Eastern traditions falls on the same day. Palm Sunday is this week, and thousands of visitors and local Palestinian Christians will walk down from the Mount of Olives, through the valley, and up into the Old City of Jerusalem. It is a truly moving sight, with groups of people from all over the world waving palm fronds, singing songs of worship and celebrating the ministry of Jesus and his entry into Jerusalem. It is one of the most vibrant celebrations in the world marking the final week of Jesus’ physical life on earth. You can get a glimpse of the celebration at the end of our video: The Work of Musalaha.
In the Eastern Traditional churches here, people are currently fasting and praying throughout the week. The churches are full with those who don’t regularly attend church during the year. People often say that the prayers before Easter are beautiful and that they like to go to listen, to read the gospels, and especially experience the worship during the week leading up to Easter Sunday, or Pascha, as it is called in the East. On the days of Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday there is barely any place to stand in the Old City churches of Jerusalem.
These now joyous and deeply meaningful occasions for celebration appear in stark contrast to the historical and spiritual events they mark. In reality, the events in the life, death and resurrection of Christ were very lonely times. The disciples and most of the people who followed Jesus totally abandoned him when he received his cross. They rejected him by denying they even knew him. Only a few people walked alongside and helped him as he was going to be crucified, and very few were left standing at his feet during his crucifixion.
The contrast between these tragic and horrific events and what we celebrate today is striking; we can learn from the differences. Many times great events in history come in a quiet way, as in the crucifixion and resurrection. When these events took place it appeared that the power of evil had won over good. People lost hope and it was a time of desolation. It was not a celebrated, glorious event, but was in fact the total opposite of how we celebrate today.
It is the same for people who are seeking the Kingdom of God, and especially for those seeking reconciliation. For those actively working for reconciliation, life can be lonely, full of rejection, not glorious, painful and difficult. Today, most people are looking for honor, power and adoration, and desire to gain success as defined by society.
It is costly to pay the price that accompanies taking a position on moral and ethical issues, and further, to call for peace and reconciliation and not encourage hostility and isolated disengagement with others who are different from us. And yet, it is the difficult, isolating times that are often the moments of transformation and progress in our society today. In this Easter season of celebration, let us recognize the contradiction in how the events we celebrate actually occurred, and the ways we choose to celebrate them now. May this helps us to not miss the transformative moments in our own lifetime.