Monday, April 25, 2011

al-Masih Qam!
by Fred & Gloria Strickert

al-Masih Qam!  Hakanna Qam!
Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!

An Easter Sunrise Sermon from the Mount of Olives.
                      (with thanks to photographer Ryan Rodrick Beiler, Mennonite Central Committee)

Can you hear it? Can you hear the laughter? Off in the distance? Laughter.
  • Laughter of a man no longer afraid of death.
  • Laughter because resurrection and life rule the day.
  • Laughter that drowns out all the sorrow of a lighted landscape of separation walls, and settlements, and soldiers at checkpoints.
  • Laughter that overcomes the suffering and destruction when humans seek intimidation and power.
  • Laughter that can only be seen as a gift from God.

Lights of settlements east of Jerusalem, of
the settlement highway, of its Jerusalem checkpoint guarded by soldiers, and of the separation wall.

Can you hear it? There off in the distance? The laughter.

I love coming to this spot for Easter Sunrise Service because of the breathtaking view of the Jordan Valley, the Judean Hills, and the Dead Sea off in the distance; for the peaceful setting amidst the trees and with the birds singing; and for the anticipation of the sun rising up to greet the dawn.


Yet more than that, this place is special for Easter because just down the hillside there to the south and across the wall is the village of al-Lazariyeh, known in the Gospels as Bethany. A village that had its share of laughter. A village that played so prominently in the stories leading up to Jesus’ suffering and death. The village of Mary, Martha and their brother Lazarus.

Imagine the gentle laughter when Jesus sat there with Mary and Martha talking theology while Mary kneaded the dough for her special taboun bread to go with her hummus and tabouleh.

Imagine the cheers at the banquet Lazarus threw for his good friend when Jesus held a cup of wine to toast Lazarus’ good health and long life.

Imagine the broad smiles when just a few days before his death, Mary broke open that bottle of perfume to anoint Jesus. . . 

Redeemer youth Maundy Thursday drama
. . . proclaiming Jesus as her Messiah & Lord.                                                                      Redeemer Maundy Thursday procession through streets of old city to Gethsemane.
Yet life was not all laughter in that village. Sometimes for them there was pain when God seemed so distant and deaf to prayers, like when ole Lazarus had died, and when it seemed that Jesus would never show up to call forth Lazarus from the tomb, when Jesus himself had tears streaming down his face. 
 Or on that Thursday Passover evening, when Jesus was arrested in Gethsemane, perhaps during an intended short stopover before heading back to Bethany to spend the night. 
And the worry that must have been felt in that household, not unlike the worry in a Palestinian family when a teenage son, or even the father, is taken in for questioning, or when a bomb goes off in Jerusalem and family members wait anxiously for their loved ones to come safely knocking on the door.

And then on Easter morning—so very much like today—Mary and Martha perhaps joining the women on their trek to the tomb, but Lazarus resting calmly in Bethany—resting calmly, without worry, without fear.  For Lazarus had seen death, and now experienced life.  “How could a Jesus who called me forth from the grave, find himself conquered and vanquished by the power of death? 

As sure as the sun rises in the morning,” he probably thought to himself, “God will reach down from heaven to bring about a new creation, to reverse all the wrongs and injustices, to wipe away the tears and give hope, and he will do it with my friend Jesus, the crucified one!”  And so on that first Easter morning just imagine the scene when the women had returned from the tomb, the arrival in Bethany, and the announcement “Christ is risen!” and the loud roar of laughter coming up from Lazarus’ house, laughter that was the “I told you so,” laughter that greeted the rising sun.

A number of years ago (1925), the American playwrite, Eugene O’Neill, wrote a play called, “Lazarus Laughs,” where he played with ideas surrounding the difference made to Lazarus by his return to life, and that of Jesus. He could imagine one dominant word. Laughter.

Lazarus being unwrapped from the grave clothes, gentle laughter. Lazarus patting the earth that he always took for granted and smelling the new blossomed flowers, laughter. Lazarus hugging family & friends, often neglected, laughter. In the play, Lazarus’ neighbors observe that he is no longer anxious, no longer irritated about the little mishaps or material concerns. Rather he sang a lot.  He laughed a lot.

Palm Sunday Walk

It’s not just his friends who notice. So do the occupying Roman authorities. Lazarus no longer cowers when they threaten him with a sword, & when they order him around, instead of grumbling, he laughs. The Roman authorities were quick to sense that this one who had lost his fear of death was a threat to the kind of control that they liked to maintain. The key to control, the soldiers say, is intimidation and fear. That’s why the cruelest of all the emperors, Caligula, said “Crosses and corpses are so educational. Let them see the blood, they’ll cower in fear, & then we can rule them.”

Friday--The Way of the Cross

So in O’Neill’s play, Lazarus is arrested, but he laughs before the authorities. He’s eventually taken to Rome to where the emperor threatens him, “Stop this infernal laughter, or I’ll put you to death.” But Lazarus responds, “There is no death, only life.” And he continues to laugh.
What is fascinating is how O’Neill presents the joy of laughter as the opposite of fear.

Each of the four Gospels has a different take on the encounter of the women at the Tomb on that first Easter. Matthew presents us with one of those fascinating combination of words and makes us stop the story, reflect, and try to figure out its meaning. The women “left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy.”

It is quite clear that this scene is dominated by fear. As many of you may have experienced--Fear of arriving in a strange place, so early in the morning under the cover of darkness, fear of encountering the soldiers, fear of standing in the presence of an angel of God. And ironically it’s the soldiers who cower in fear and become like dead men. But the first word from the angel’s mouth silences that fear, “Do not be afraid!” And again from Jesus, “Do not be afraid.” Fear subsides when two things follow. 1) The announcement “He is not here, for he has been raised. – the knowledge that death does not have the final word, that it is rendered powerless; 2) that life has meaning and purpose, that we are called for a reason, for proclamation and service, “Go and tell.”

And so they leave the tomb “with fear and great joy.” An interesting combination. Fear doesn’t disappear suddenly and completely. It hangs around and tries to take back its control. But it would seem the great joy is in the process of swallowing up the fear. Joy has the last word.

The residuals of fear and intimidation remain, but they no longer need win out.

• I think of the laughter that came from Tahrir Square in Cairo a few months ago and that continues to echo across the Middle East. The interview of one of leaders: “When did we know we would succeed in this revolution of freedom? When we were no longer afraid to die. So we laugh.”

• I think of my dear friend and colleague George who every work day makes the hour to 2 hours trek from his Beit Sahour home through the cattle stalls at checkpoint 300—sometimes without a hitch, but sometimes with long delays, and sometimes with intimidation and humiliation. My age and with a pacemaker and yet still making the journey to serve the church. How do you do it? His answer: We laugh a lot. We make jokes, but we laugh and refuse to be intimidated.

• I think also of the children in our Lutheran schools, filled with laughter, filled with joy, filled with hope, in a situation that to us seems so devoid of hope.

The joyous laughter of the Resurrection drowns out the sound of fear and death. Do not be afraid, proclaims the angel at the tomb. He is not here. He is risen! Go and tell the disciples, Go forth into a world where fear and death no longer have the final word.

Go forth with great joy. Go forth and listen for the laughter.

al-Masih Qam! Hakanna Qam!

Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!

by Fred & Gloria Strickert