Sitting in Tension

Faith isn’t just Good Friday and Easter Sunday; faith is awkward Saturday too. So much is sitting in that tomb with the soon-to-be resurrected Lord. It’s so dark. So damp. So scary. The silence is deafening. But there is hope in there.

A.J. Swoboda, A Glorious Dark: Finding Hope in the Tension between Belief and Experience
Rev Canon Don Binder carries the cross – Friday, 15th Apri 2022

Jerusalem is tense, on edge, waiting….

As we sit in the tension between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, waiting for what comes, Jerusalem is also waiting to see what comes. With Easter, Ramadan, and Pesach (Passover) all falling at the same time, tensions in this holy city run high.

As we sung our way through the narrow streets of the Old City on Maundy Thursday with others from the Arabic, German, Danish, deaf, and English Lutheran communities, the streets seemed relatively calm. However, as we drew near to Gethsemane to pray as the sun set, a palpable tension was being reported. Israeli media reported plans for extremist Jewish groups to ascend to Al Aqsa Mosque (Temple Mount) in order to carry out the paschal sacrifice of a young goat – they planned to carry this out on a Friday as tens of thousands of Muslim worshippers would be ascending to pray. The Chief Rabbi and other senior Rabbis set about issuing pleas and reminders that for Jews to ascend to the Temple Mount, especially to pray or carry out any religious rite, is forbidden by Jewish law (Halacha). Nevertheless, several tried and were arrested by Israeli or Islamic authorities.

Following terror attacks carried out by Muslim extremists in Israel over recent weeks, resulting in the death of a number of Israeli citizens, Israeli forces have carried out a number of arrests and killed a number of Palestinians throughout the West Bank as part of operations to remove Islamist cells in certain areas. There have, sadly predictably, also been a number of Palestinians killed by Israeli forces who were probably innocent, children, women, and men, who were in the wrong place at the wrong time or made an error of judgement. A relatively new practice of Israeli forces using live ammunition as a primary method of stopping perceived threats, rather than using less lethal means, has resulted in many unnecessary deaths. These attacks and killings, set against the background of Ramadan and echoes of the events of May 2021, raise tensions that we could be heading to the same dark place, and still we sit in darkness…

Israeli solders stand on part of the Via Dolorosa in the Old City, Jerusalem.

As we arrived at 6:15am on Good Friday to take part in the traditional Way of the Cross (Via Crucis) with the Anglican and Lutheran congregations, the tensions were all the more palpable. Soldiers and police everywhere, heavily armed as always, and groups of young Palestinian men with sharp haircuts and mobile phones in hand, gathering near the Lion’s Gate (Bab Asbat) entrance to Al Aqsa Mosque. As we began our procession of scripture, prayer, and hymns, we could hear the bangs of fireworks, stun grenades, and tear gas – we could feel and hear the tension grow as more and more Israeli forces passed us looking focussed and on edge. As we completed the procession and finished in the silence of the church with the stripped altar and wooden cross, we were acutely aware of the tensions around us, and still we are aware…

Anglican, Lutheran, and Methodist Clergy pray in front of the bare altar and wooden cross: Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, Jerusalem

As we left the church, news filtered through. There had been large clashes at Al Aqsa Mosque with hundreds injured and arrested. The tensions rose, we waited for the inevitable increase in tensions, and still we wait

We thought tensions would increase with the midday prayer when tens of thousands – sometimes hundreds of thousands – gather at Al Aqsa. Despite initial tensions with Israeli forces forbidding access, eventually access was granted and prayers were held in peace. And still the tensions remain…

We wait to see what will happen in the coming days and weeks as Pesach begins, Western Easter comes to an end, and Easter for the Eastern churches begins. Were these the tensions felt on the fateful day of the crucifixion?

We can’t know what the tensions in Jerusalem were like all those years ago, however, we can imagine. As today, soldiers on the streets, oppression and occupation all around, fearful people waiting to see what will happen next, uncertainty, darkness, and nervousness fill the air, and still we wait in tension…

We can only wait and see what happens in coming days. We can only sit in the darkness of the low time between Good Friday and the light of Easter Sunday. We can only pray that tensions will subside…and still we sit in tension.

Hymn singing as we processed through the Old City of Jerusalem towards Gethsemane, Maundy Thursday 2022.

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