Holy of Holy of Holies
Tell the daughter of Zion,
Look, your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
Matthew 21:5 (quoting Zechariah 9.9)
When I was in Jerusalem in January, there was frequent mention that the holy seasons of Ramadan, Passover, and Easter would happen concurrently this year. According to our calendar, the 2023 dates of these holy days are:
Ramadan: March 22-April 21
Passover: April 5-13
Easter (Western): April 9
Easter (Orthodox): April 16.
Easter, of course, is the defining day of the Christian faith: the day when Jesus Christ was raised from the tomb, proving God’s power of life over death, love over hatred, redemption over sin. The events of Holy Week, leading up to Easter, happened during the Passover festival, as Jesus and his followers were observant Jews. Passover remembers God’s protection of the Hebrews when the angel of death is sent to kill all the firstborn sons of Egypt, the tenth and last plague which compelled the Pharaoh to release the Hebrew slaves. Ramadan commemorates Muhammad receiving the Quran, the holy text of Islam. There are similarities between Ramadan and Lent, especially the practices of prayer, Scripture, fasting, and charity.
All three holidays are among the most important in their respective faith traditions, and all three call believers to a time of deep gratitude for the grace of God, and commitment to compassion and obedience to Scripture, much of which is shared by all three Abrahamic faiths. And yet, when people would talk about these three most holy seasons coinciding, they did so with worry in their hearts, and memories of violence in their heads. I ask for prayers that the violence that has already erupted in Israel and Palestine would be turned into bold actions of peacemaking and reconciliation—or at least that people be protected through this time of anxiety.
I’m sure that I am not the only person to see the sad irony that the peoples who consider themselves chosen by God, all descendants of God’s special blessing and calling of Abraham and Sarah, cannot seem to live together. I often think that God’s reign on earth will occur only when these three faiths— all related, all believing in the saving, grace-filled, merciful will of God—come to follow God’s way of peace. And yet, the relationships between us are more frequently marked by domination, revenge, and brutality, as we attempt to assert our righteousness and religious superiority.
I cannot speak for Jews or Muslims, but I do confess that Christians have inflicted the most pain around the world over the centuries, including against Jews and Muslims. Much of this pain came when Western imperialism used Christianity to justify the conquering of lands of non-Christian people, or to seek vengeance on Jews especially. Even today, white Christian nationalists attack synagogues and mosques, and spread hate-filled rhetoric about Jews secretly controlling the world, and Muslims (usually Arabic) being barbaric and violent. When I think of people who claim to be spreading this violent hatred in the name of Jesus Christ, when usually they are acting out of greed, vengeance, and/or racism, I believe they are violating God’s commandment that we not take the Lord’s name in vain.
As we follow Jesus’ footsteps through this Holy Week, may we remember that our savior Jesus Christ entered Jerusalem on a donkey, riding not with triumph but humility. It is the cheering and fickle crowds who first praise and then condemn Jesus, but the saving power of Jesus came not from might, or wealth, or celebrity, but from obedience to God’s will, and the willingness to sacrifice himself for the sake of sinners like you and me. Even in John’s revelation of Christ’s ultimate triumph, all the throngs of faithful, the armies, the divine and fantastical creatures, all worshiped the Lamb,
for you were slaughtered and by your blood you ransomed for God saints from every tribe and language and people and nation; you have made them to be a kingdom and priests serving our God, and they will reign on earth. Revelation 5:9b-10
If we are to witness to the saving power of the risen Christ, if we are to live with the triumph of God’s will, we cannot do this through might, or vengeance, or violence, or striving to prove our superiority— we are called to follow Jesus Christ, the One who humbled himself and gave his mortal life for the sake of the unworthy, the people he loves—us. As we consider the life-giving love of Christ, as we are filled with gratitude and faith in God’s power of life over death, may we offer ourselves to Christ’s mission of grace, even for the least of us. And may we know and share the eternal joy of our Lord, emanating through our lives into the world around us.
With Resurrection hope,