taking the words of Jesus seriously

Red Letter Christians was honored to participate in a special Easter Saturday service broadcast LIVE from Bethlehem. Our friend Rev. Dr. Munther Isaac preached a powerful sermon.  Here’s the transcript and a link to watch the service.

Easter Vigil for Gaza
Bethlehem, March 30th, 2024
Rev. Dr. Munther Isaac

Easter has come upon us in Palestine in the most difficult circumstance. It has been 175 days since this genocide began. 175 days of bombardment, siege and starvation. I would have never thought that we would still be witnessing this by Easter. I thought, surely this violence would have stopped by now. I thought world leaders do have some conscience, at the end of the day! I was wrong, it seems!

Today we have entered a new phase of the war of genocide, in which Gazans are being killed by hunger, thirst and disease. They are starved to death. It is a slow death. They are hanging between heaven and earth, dying slowly, while the world is watching. They have “no form or majesty” that we should look at them… “from whom men hide their face.”

It took more than 5 months, and 32000 people killed including 13000 children for the UN security council to finally pass a cease-fire! But nothing has changed on the ground. Since when does Israel care about UN resolutions? Israel has never been held accountable, or even condemned, by western leaders. This remains the single biggest problem today.

Right now, we are pleading for aid and food to enter. We gave up on a cease-fire! Just bring food, water and medicine. Lord, have mercy.  

Friends, a genocide has been normalized. As people of faith, if we truly claim to follow a crucified savior, we can never be ok with this. We should never accept the normalization of a genocide. We should never be ok with children dying from starvation, not because of drought or famine, but because of a man-made catastrophe! Because of the Empire.  

A genocide has been normalized just as apartheid was normalized in Palestine, and before that in South Africa. Just as slavery and the caste system were normalized. It has been firmly established to us that the leaders of the superpowers, and those who benefit from this modern colonialism, do not look at us as equals. They created a narrative to normalize genocide. They have a theology for it. A genocide has been normalized. This is racism at its worst.

The very same political and church leaders who lined up in October one after the other to give the green line for this genocide, giving it the cover of “self-defense” cannot even bring themselves to condemn the obvious war crimes being committed by Israel. They are good at raising their concern. Making statements that they are “troubled” by the killing of our children. (We are sorry the killing of our children by your weapons troubled you!) They want to convince us that they care. They raise funds. They are silent during the genocide, and then show up afterwards, with charity, to say that they care. Can we really accept this? 

Many countries rushed to suspend their funding of UNRWA based on mere allegations that were not fully proven yet did nothing with regards to the clear findings of the ICJ. The amount of hypocrisy is incomprehensible. The level of racism involved for such hypocrisy is appalling.

Now some politicians claim that their patience with Israel is ending — and we say: nothing can wash the blood from your hands. The UN security council resolution was way too late. It means nothing. Some acted as if we should congratulate or thank the USA for not vetoing the resolution. I say, absolutely not. They are complicit. You cannot undo the past. In fact, the US has just sent another massive missile package to arm Israel. Are they really trying to fool us? Claiming that they care, and that they are concerned (obviously to win back some votes)? If the flow of U.S. weapons stopped right now, within 3 days, this would end. Instead, they send Israel missiles to kill us, and then send a fraction of the needed food parcels. This is beyond complicit. This is direct involvement in this genocide.

In this Easter, we turn first to the Cross

We are mourning. These are dark, dark days. In times like this, we Palestinians look at the cross, identify with the cross, and see Jesus identifying with us. The cross is an important Palestinian symbol. 

In Easter, we re-live his arrest, torture and execution at the hands of Empire — with the complicity of a religious ideology of course. In the Easter story, we find comfort and empowerment in knowing that Jesus identifies with us.

We have kept this rubble in our church since the time of Christmas, because Gaza is still under the rubble, and because our people and our children in Gaza are still being pulled from under the rubble at this very moment.

Yesterday I watched with anguish a cruel scene of a child pulled from under the rubble. He miraculously survived the bombing, and while he was being pulled out, he was saying: “Where is the water, I am thirsty.”

This reminded me of the words of Jesus on the cross, when he cried out: “I am thirsty”. He cried out “I am thirsty” in solidarity with those being massacred by famine, siege and bombardment. Jesus stands in solidarity with all the victims of wars and forced famines, caused by unjust and tyrannical regimes in our world. It is the cry of everyone oppressed by the injustice of power, and humanity’s silence and inability to put an end to tyranny and injustice.

Jesus shouted, “I am thirsty,” so they gave him vinegar to drink. They added more pain to his pain, more anguish to his anguish. Today, while Gaza screams, “I am thirsty,” they drop aid from the sky, stained with the blood of innocents. Some were killed by drowning while trying to pull the dropped aid from the sea. How cruel. Gaza is thirsty, and they give Gaza vinegar.

We searched for God in this war. We cried out to Him, and there was no answer, it seems, until we encountered the Son of God hanging on the cross, crying out: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Why did you let me be crucified? Alone? While I am innocent?

This is the cry of feeling abandoned. I am sure this is how Gazans feel today. Abandonment from the world leaders, not only Western, but also Arab and Muslim leaders abandoned us. Many in the church also watched from a distance, like Peter did when Jesus was arrested. Peter wanted to be safe; he lacked the courage… similar to many church leaders today, who say one thing behind closed doors, and another in public.

Yet it is in this cry – “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” that we experience God, that God draws near to us, and it is in this cry that we feel his embrace and warmth. This is one of the mysteries of Easter.

In this land, even God is a victim of oppression, death, the war machine, and colonialism. He suffers with the people of this land, sharing the same fate with them. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” It is a cry that has resonated for years in this land. It is the cry of every oppressed person hanging in a state of slow death. It is a cry that Jesus shared with us in his pain, torment, and crucifixion. Today we place the cross on the rubble, remembering that Jesus shared the same fate with us, as he died on the cross as a victim of the colonizers.

And it became dark. The universe became dark in grief over the absence of truth. The universe became dark, lamenting the absence of justice. The cross is the ultimate injustice. Today, the universe is saddened by the silence of decision-makers and their racism, and by the silence of many who did not speak a word of truth, out of fear, armed with the theology of neutrality and inaction, under the banner of peace and reconciliation.” There are still those who did not openly call for a cease-fire. We received a letter of “solidarity” from large churches in Europe that did not even call for a cease-fire! I told them this is an absolute insult. 

Today, the universe became dark lamenting the apathy and numbness to suffering that exist in our world, and the racism that led to normalizing and justifying a genocide. 

What many in the church lack the most today is courage. They know the truth. But they are not speaking the truth, because they fear the consequences. They fear the backlash! Many in the church want to avoid controversy. Can you imagine if Jesus walked on earth avoiding controversy! They write statements, and the way church statements dance around the issue of “ceasefire” or (God forbid) condemning Israel is indeed amazing. They write multi-page statements that basically say nothing other than unequivocally condemning October 7th!

There are some church leaders who are willing to sacrifice us for comfort, the same way they offered us as an atonement sacrifice for their own racism and anti-semitism– repenting on our land over a sin they committed in their land!

All of this while claiming to follow a crucified savior, who sacrificed everything, endured pain and rejection for the sake of those he loved!

We of course must thank those who carried our cross with us. We really appreciate the Gaza pilgrimages taking place all over the world. We thank those who came to Palestine to be in solidarity with us. We thank the doctors and nurses volunteering in Rafah. We thank those lobbying to stop weapon sales. We thank those demonstrating in the streets. We thank those who did many sit-ins and non-violent protests. We thank those who keep disturbing the comfort of world-leaders in gatherings and press-conferences and fundraisers. We hear you! This is the church of Christ! 

We salute those who resigned from government and international bodies in protest. They have courage and integrity. They understand that Gaza is indeed the moral compass of our world today.

We thank South Africa for its action in the ICJ, and Algeria for leading the efforts for a cease-fire resolution. Both by the way survivors of colonialism! It is there where the moral credibility lies!

We are carrying a heavy cross. And our Friday has lasted way too long. But we know from the experience of Jesus that this suffering is not for the glorification of suffering. We know that suffering is always a path to glory and life. It is a stop on the road to resurrection. We walk with Jesus on the road to Golgotha. We are empowered by his solidarity with us, but we look for Sunday.

In Easter, we turn to the Empty Tomb

What gave Jesus this strength? This resilience and power — to the extent that he forgave his oppressors? To the extent that he said: your will be done, and went voluntarily to the cross? I believe his resolve and determination – his resilience – came from trusting his Father’ will, and from knowing that his Father is able to raise him from the dead—and that He will ultimately do that! His faith sustained and empowered him. He was defiant in the face of Empire; he faced the cross, and even death, with confidence and steadfastness.

I must admit — it is so difficult today to hold to our faith, and to hope. We cannot see Sunday. It seems an impossibility. We are swallowed by the darkness of the tomb. Our strength has failed. We are weary. 

It is so hard to speak of the resurrection now. We are mourning. Our siblings in Gaza are literally dying from starvation. But we CANNOT lose our faith in God. This is our last resort. As such, we have to fight to keep this faith. We cannot lose our faith. We have to look at the empty tomb. We must remember the empty tomb.

Today, I preach to myself with the psalmist: “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.”

The Resurrection gives us hope. Christianity is a faith that hopes. Hope is not a denial of reality. We are not blind to our reality, and we as Palestinians realize the corruption and evil of the world — probably more than anybody else. But we must refuse to let this be the last word.

Christ is the Risen – this is the final word. Christ is Risen, and this changes everything. The empty tomb is our hope. Behind the apartheid wall, and specifically in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, there is an empty tomb that reminds us that the last word is not that of death, but of life. Not that of darkness, but of light. Not that of genocide and starvation, but of dignity and pride. 

The empty tomb reminds us that evil, injustice or tyranny cannot have the last word. If Christ had remained in his grave, Caesar and Pilate would have triumphed. Rome would have won. And the Pharisees won. The oppressors would have been victorious. But Christ is Risen. The Empire is defeated, and even better, death itself is defeated.

Because we have faith — we do not live in despair. Faith is the only thing they cannot take away from us.

When we declare on Easter Sunday “Al-Maseeh Qam” – Christ is Risen, we declare that the final word belongs to God. We declare that justice is served. Truth is vindicated. The Empire and its allies lost. Today, after two thousand years, by continuing to carry the cross, we defeat and even mock the empire and its theology. We took the symbol of Rome’s power and the means of its humiliation of others, and made it the symbol of our strength, victory, and steadfastness in the face of death, and this is because “Al-Maseeh Qam” – Christ is Risen.

The Resurrection urges us to rise and act! Because we know that the final word belongs to God, we rise and act. We build. We preach love because we know love wins. We preach peace, because peace wins. We preach life because death is defeated. Jesus stared death in the face and defeated it. And therefore, we rise and act.


Friends: I am confident that we the Palestinians will rise. Never in my life have I been prouder and more honored to be a Palestinian more than these last 175 days. I am proud of our resilience, Sumoud. I am proud of our solidarity with one another; our unity. When I say we will be ok, and that we will recover, I say it because I know my people; I know who we are. Palestine is our homeland. We are deeply rooted here. For those Palestinians exiled around the world, Palestine lives in them. Palestine is in every corner of this earth. We will never relinquish our God-given rights of living in dignity and justice. Yet I also say we will recover because I believe in a good and just God who rules the world with justice. Probably our biggest asset is the justice of our cause. Our Sumud (“steadfastness”) is anchored in our just cause and our historical rootedness in this land, but also in this just nature of God. Because he lives, we can face all things, stare the empire in the face, and defeat it.

So today, let the way of the cross be our way. Let the way of sacrificial love be our way. The crucified Jesus, who sacrificed his life for the sake of those he loved, calls us for costly solidarity, the costly solidarity of love. This is a call to action, for the church to be Jesus’ church — to follow in the footsteps of our crucified savior.

The cross is God’s solidarity with humanity in its pain and suffering, and God’s solidarity must become our solidarity. The followers of Jesus risk all to speak truth to power. This is not about making a statement. Jesus did not say: I was hungry, and you prayed for me and made a statement! Jesus said: I was a prisoner, and you came to me! We must find ways to make a difference. We must act, mobilize, pressure, lobby, hold powers and leaders accountable. As people of the resurrection, we must unsettle the Empire. Today, the land of the resurrection calls you to act, in hope and love. Together, we are committed to end this genocide. Together we are committed to work for truth and justice. We know we will prevail, because Al-Maseeh Qam. Christ is Risen. Amen.

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