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Walking in the Footsteps of Jesus: An Easter Journey with Palestinian Christians

Sermon for the Second Week of Easter

The Episcopal Church has provided a unique opportunity this Easter Season to hear the voices of our brothers and sisters in Christ living in Jerusalem. Over the coming weeks, from now until Pentecost, various Episcopal clergy from the Diocese of Jerusalem are sharing their stories of life in that region and offering reflections on the Gospel readings for each Sunday during Eastertide.

The series, “Walking in the Footsteps of Jesus: An Easter Journey with Palestinian Christians” is offered through the Office of Global Partnerships and features a video each week of the clergy reading the upcoming Sunday Gospel passage both in English and in Arabic followed by their reflections based on their particular context.

“The goal of this series is to help us explore and understand the Easter Gospels through a unique voice and lens – that of Palestinian Christians,” states Archdeacon Paul Feheley, the Episcopal Church partnership officer for the Middle East,

This week, The Rev. Canon Wadie Far of St. George’s Cathedral in Jerusalem, provides insights into life there. He states: (See full video here.)

The city of Jerusalem is a sad city. The roads are blocked so people often cannot get to work, children are unable to go to school. The trust that has been built between the people of the different nationalities and backgrounds, specifically Jews and Arabs, have been falling apart. Some people who use to be friends are now skeptical about each other and that has affected people emotionally more than anything else. And, you feel that in Jerusalem – a sad city.

Usually, the streets are bustling with pilgrims with happy voices, prayers: Muslims going to the mosque to pray, Jews to their way, Christians doing the way of the cross over an old city. Now, you walk the streets and they are empty, shops are closed. A hard thing to see. People who have built their lives on tourism and pilgrimage are struggling. A sad situation.

Against this backdrop, Rev. Far reflects upon today’s Gospel passage. He was asked the following question by the host, Archdeacon Feheley, “In today’s Gospel we encounter Doubting Thomas; do you find in the people at the cathedral a sense of doubt in terms of faith of peace?”

Rev. Far responded, “I think we are living in times where we are all going through doubt, we are all going through fear, all uncertain of what is to come. Quite in a way, similar to the disciples on that day. We have lost, in the past few months, all the things we thought we would not lose not only here but all around the world. So, I do see some echoes of what we have heard in this passage and people here at the cathedral, but all around the world, the effects have been really catastrophic.

And I think just like the disciples, Jesus is coming to us today to tell us not to be afraid. Jesus is here to give us peace. Jesus reminds us that our belief, when it is based on Him, is based on our God and Savior who has conquered our last enemy. See when we are afraid of the future, we are not only afraid of the temporal things here – the outward fear that we have; but the real fear we have is our ultimate future what is going to happen next, and our ultimate fear is death.

“In Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, He opened that door to us to eternal life. He triumphed over the last enemy we would ever face and showed us there is something better to come. There is a life that is better in which we will not be afraid of anything, not of death, of illness, sickness, weakness, wars, injustice, famines…you name it. There is a life that Jesus gave us in His salvific work in which we don’t have anything to fear, our life will be in bliss with our Lord and Savior, our Creator, with a God who loved us and who loves us so much. So much that He sent His only Son, Jesus, to come down to this earth – not only to show us the way, not only a great teach but Jesus was the Lord incarnate, the only One who can pay the price for us who paid that price so that we are reconciled with God and by doing that we are given the opportunity for everlasting life.

And, if in any doubt, not so far from where I am sitting today is the tomb which I visit many times … and when we go there what we see is an empty tomb; a standing testimony that Jesus has conquered death and that life is given to us through our faith and belief in Jesus.

I like the last two verses of this passage, ‘But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing, you may have life in His name.’ I think we need to be reminded of Jesus’ life and Jesus’ miracles and teachings so that we can continue in our faith while we are facing the fears and the disasters of the world today.

As we listen to the words of Rev. Far as he reflects upon life in the Holy Land, living in conflict alongside the empty tomb, the words from the first letter of John come to life for us in a new way:

“We declare to you…what we have heard and what we have seen with our own eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of life – this life was revealed and we have seen it and testify to it and declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and His Son Jesus Christ. We are sharing these things so that our joy may be complete.”

We know from our own lives, joy is complete in the giving! When we witness the awe-inspiring beauty of nature in a sunset or profound joy in our lives, the first thing we want to do is to share it with someone because we know that the joy of that moment is more full and complete when we can share it with someone else. Joy is complete in the giving.

Our brothers and sisters in Jerusalem can help us to remember these truths about our faith:

  • It is okay to doubt, to experience fear, and worry, especially in the face of difficult situations in our lives. These emotions are not signs of lack of faith but signs of our humanity.
  • Faith is the belief that these emotions are not the final answer; that fear and doubt are territories of the heart that we travel through not TO. We move forward in faith knowing, as Rev. Far reminds us, that there is a better life beyond this world where these emotions do not dwell.
  • When we are fearful and filled with doubt, Jesus is here to bring us peace. The tomb is empty and He is here with us.

Our joy is in the Risen Christ! May the depth and breadth of this joy fill us during this Easter Season and may our joy be complete as we share the Good News of Christ with others.

Amen.

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The Rev. Elizabeth N. Phillips

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St. Philip's Episcopal Church

6457 Quantico Road
Quantico, MD 21856

Mailing Address
PO Box 92
Quantico, MD 21856

St. Philip's is a proud member of the Episcopal Diocese of Easton