Thursday, April 21, 2011

Holy Week and Suffering in Bahrain

This week between Palm Sunday and Easter is the center of the Christian calendar, re-enacting the surprising events that (Christians believe) usher in the reign of God in human history: Jesus enters Jerusalem on a donkey (not a white horse), he symbolically re-claims the Temple, he washes his disciples' feet; he gives himself over to betrayal; he stands silently before his judges, torturers, and executioners; he carries the instrument of his own death to the site of his own execution. This--this?--is how the Kingdom is revealed, in the humble face of a suffering servant.

It's also the week of Passover in the Jewish lunar calendar, which is no accident, since the events of this week occurred during Passover, which is why the Christian church has always tied its observance of Holy Week to that calendar (and why Easter never has a fixed date in the solar calendar: it moves with the Jewish lunar months).

Just today, during this week of kairos (deeply meaningful) time, I received a disturbing message from my friend Shubbar's wife:
Thugs and security have attacked us twice, threatening to take my kids as hostages and causing my mum to go through a collapse two times. They stayed for two hours or so and created horror among the women and children in the house. They also took my brother in law and tortured him with electric shock to reveal the place of my father. We don't know where my father is since more than a month, but they are not believing us. I don't know what to do.
Pray for me and I seek your help if you have any idea.
In an earlier message she also said that her little two-year-old, who is just barely talking now, was deeply troubled by the original intrusion of masked security forces and the abduction of Shubbar. In fragments, this adorable little guy said
Mama; they came, they broke the door and the gate; they hurt baba [daddy]; they went; I don't like them; they are not nice; mama I am scared.
How do we even begin to comprehend the fear and anxiety that this family, like hundreds of others, is facing?

I couldn't help but notice some resonances between the suffering of Jesus and his community in Holy Week and the suffering of the Shiite community in Bahrain. Of course, there are many differences between the early followers of Jesus and 21st century Bahrainis, but their stories converge on this point: the Powers seek to crush resistance through force, to disperse opposition through fear, and to deprive their opponents through denying any hope. And ordinary people lose their will to resist; they scatter; and they lose hope. Rome (and the Al Khalifa) appear to have won.

So is there hope for Bahrain or for our friends? I see little, but the story of Holy Week suggests that hope may emerge at the darkest moments. Yesterday, liturgical churches would have read Isaiah 50:4-9, part of which reads
I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting. The Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who are my adversaries? Let them confront me. It is the Lord God who helps me; who will declare me guilty? (vv. 6-9)
The church reads this prophetic, poetic text as pointing toward the drama of what is about to happen to Jesus, who was tortured.

But this suffering, paradoxically, is the way to glory. How can this be? The prayer for Wednesday of Holy Week in the Book of Common Prayer offers a model:
Lord God, whose blessed Son our Savior gave his body to be whipped and his face to be spit upon: Give us grace to accept joyfully the sufferings of the present time, confident of the glory that shall be revealed.
I pray this prayer for our friends in Bahrain. I pray that the path of Jesus--through suffering toward redemption and glory--will be their road as well.

During this week, my Jewish friends say "Next year in Jerusalem," recalling how God liberated them from Egypt. During Ashura, my Shiite friends speak of the way of 'Ali and Hussein as opposed to the ways of Yazid and Mu'awiyya (Caliphs who tried to crush the Shiite movement). And, today and tomorrow, Christians speak of the way of Jesus as opposed to the ways of the Sanhedrin and of Pontius Pilate. We are all praying that justice will be done and that the weak will be vindicated.

May the reign of God triumph here on earth as it is already ruling in heaven. May justice be done. And may the captives be freed, here, today, as in heaven and in the future.

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