Having the chance to make my way to Jerusalem in 2004 was one of the most transforming moments of my life.
To enter the Church of the Holy Sepulchre;
To kneel and kiss the Anointing Stone where Christ's body was laid...
It was one of the holiest, most personally meaningful acts of my life.
Hours later, I was in Bethlehem, where I was staying, watching the Battle of Fallujah rage on the BBC...
A whole city on fire...
The camera paused on the face of a young US marine sitting hunched against a wall being asked by the reporter how it was going.
'It's going great', he deadpanned, not looking up.
'We've got the enemy right where we want him.
‘He's coming straight to us. And we're killing him.'
I was watching war, the real thing, raging through a city and destroying everything in its path.
I was watching war ripping huge chucks out of the psyche of that young marine.
Within hours, I experienced the deeply holy and the totally atrocious.
I experienced the Middle East.
From my earliest childhood, I was raised in a Christian home, immersed in Christian tradition, teaching, and liturgy.
But if you ask me when I became a Christian, I think now I’d say in 2004, aged 37, in Jerusalem, in Bethlehem, in Hebron, in Nazareth,
I became a Christian not only in the churches, but at the checkpoints, in the Israeli occupation, at the separation barriers choking the life out of the West Bank…
I became a Christian in the meetings with Christian, Muslim, Jewish, and secular peacemakers, who had not one ounce of enmity for each other… There was no time for it… the struggle for peace in the face of a well-funded, well-oiled war machine, religious fanaticism, and political demagoguery, made all other issues and disagreements seem petty and superfluous.
And I became a Christian staring at that exhausted, dirty young marine.
The message to Christians on Good Friday is that our lives are always lived in the midst of the holy and the atrocious, because our social reality is always comprised of both.
We must find holiness in the midst of atrocity, and we must be holy in the midst of atrocity.
On Good Friday, Christians sit in the center of holiness and atrocity.
Jesus didn’t just die on Good Friday; a lot happened to him before that.
Jesus was betrayed by a former friend for money.
He was arrested on false charges and beaten up by the cops.
He was given an unfair trial, with false evidence and a rigged court, simply looking for a reason to convict.
He was tortured while in custody.
He was most likely sexually brutalized, perhaps even sexually mutilated.
He was given over to mob violence.
He had the last of his possessions stolen.
He was tortured again, this time as a means of his execution.
Then finally, mercifully, he died…
He knew it would happen. You can’t say what he said and do what he did in the midst of the forces of imperialism, wealth, and unlimited power and expect to walk away…
And he didn’t walk away. His enemies had him right where they wanted him. He came straight to them.
And they killed him.
One small light- one small, holy light- endured, so small and insignificant that it was absurd even to comprehend it:
Jesus’s cryptic promises of coming back.
Sitting in that room in Bethlehem, watching the mightiest military force in human history methodically destroy the city of Fallujah and every human in it, after only hours before experiencing the holiest moment of my life, I think I felt a minute taste of what the followers of Jesus felt watching him die:
That nothing was good, nothing was holy, everything was pointless, and everything was a lie.
Corruption won. Lying won. Violence won. Corrupt cops, deceitful politicians, weapons dealers, torturers, executioners… They all won.
This Good Friday, Christians from all over the world kneel in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and kiss the Anointing Stone, a stone that once had a corpse lying on it.
They look for hope; they long for love, for justice, for transformation… They call out to God who promises liberation, reconciliation, transformation…
In the midst of holiness and atrocity, they hope that there is a God…
To be continued… God willing…