“My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” – Mark 15:34
The account of Jesus’ passion and death is more poignant for me this year. My imagination becomes more real because I have recently been to the Holy Land. When you have grown to love someone for years, visiting the places where the person grew up and lived deepens your love and appreciation. In ways I have neither the breadth nor the depth to fathom, I am growing in love with the person of Jesus, especially with his humanity. On my last day in Jerusalem, I spent the afternoon at the place where Jesus wept, as he looked over the Holy City before entering it.
I also wept. I cried realizing that this most holy city is also the place where fighting has most consistently taken place throughout the past 2,000 years. I do not know of any such place in the world beleaguered by four Crusades, by many other wars and skirmishes. The Golden Gate or Gate of Mercy where Jesus entered the city is also the place where the Messiah will enter on the Last Judgment, according to Jewish belief. It was sealed by Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent some 500 years ago. Muslims have also built a cemetery in front of the gate to prevent the Messiah from coming. I felt deeply saddened, imagining myself as a Jew, looking at the entrance blocked by a wall of hatred. Yet, as I turned westward, I see low housing areas where many Palestinian Arabs have been forced to relocate. This systematic persecution has taken place since 1948 as the Israel government moves closer to fulfill its dream of taking over Jerusalem entirely. More tears overflowed I as imagined myself in the shoes of a Muslim. It seems as if deeply rooted animosity will never end.
I asked Jesus a similar question he lamented on the Cross: “Why have you abandoned your people? Why do you allow your holy city to be continually beset by strife?” I did not hear a response nor expected one. Later, as I walked down the hill to enter the city, I received an insight. It was as if God answered in silence: “I am here.” As I reflected on my time in Jerusalem, so many moments and experiences of deep and abiding grace flooded my mind and heart. God’s presence and power was more vibrant than the golden afternoon sun. God is in the continual fighting. Jesus stands with Jews and Muslims in the hatred.
Gradually, I realized the ramifications of this insight. God in Jesus chooses to stand with me, with us, in our inner and interpersonal conflicts. On the cross, Jesus takes on the effects of our struggles and strife (loneliness, abandonment, anguish, pain, etc.) He weeps and laments with us, stripped of the foundation of his life – the intimate relationship with God whom he calls Abba. Gradually, my tears began to be transformed into hope. I am becoming more willing to be present at places of conflicts because the one I love is present. And focus on him more than on the struggle.
It has been said that suffering involves the loss of meaning. As suffering intensifies, loss of meaning increases. Greater descent into not-understanding. Yet mysteriously, new meaning gradually dawns through abiding, compassionate (and often times hidden) presence. What if we are invited in this Holy Week to be present with those who suffer, with those who are Jesus-crucified?
Please consider learning about the decimated Church in Iraq. Read how the Church is struggling for her very survival or watch the first 16 minutes of “The Global War on Christians.”
"Lord Jesus, help me this week to be united with you in my suffering and in solidarity with those who suffer.”