Reflections | March 14, 2024

Dust and tears

Burning tires

A Lenten Reflection

By Doris T Abdullah

Genesis begins with God walking on water, dividing the waters into seas, oceans, rivers and separating water to form dust on earth. After formation is finished God begins creation of all living flesh creatures, which included birds in the air above the earth, sea creatures in the waters, an assortment of animals including human beings, plants and trees on the dust of the earth and non-living stone mountains of minerals in the waters and on the dust of the earth. Genesis tells us that it took God six days to create all things and God declared creation “all good” after the creation of humans. On the seventh day of creation, God rested.

The present violence being carried forth in Gaza and Israel is between living human flesh over who has the right to live on the dust of the earth. They are fighting each other for portions of earth which neither of them created. Both sides refer to written scriptures, from thousands of years ago, as validation for their historical killing of each other and for carrying forth the same barbarous killings today. The legal arguments in the International Criminal Court are wrapped around land disputes as are conversations and discussions in religious spaces. God is called upon in the capacity of a real estate agent by Christians, Jews, and Muslim in the courts and in the fighting.

I’ve been in confusion throughout the beginning of Lent season with the traditional Lent calling to fast and the two celebratory commemorations of Palm Sunday and Purim. I want to believe that my giving up bread and water for a period of hours within each day from Ash Wednesday to Easter will fulfill my Lent fasting obligation and be acceptable to our Lord. However, my few hours each day of choosing to give up bread and water, while 2.2 million people in Gaza face death by starvation seems contrary to the meaning of fasting and Lent.

Isaiah 58:4B-7 sets forth the moral obligation for repentance and restoration in our fasting:

“Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high. Is such a fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry?”

I can choose to fast for justice in calling on my government to take a different approach to our actions in the conflict. Fasting for justice demands that our government provides food, medical assistance and water instead of firing missiles causing more deaths from our naval ships stationed in the area. I can demand my government not to ship any more 2000-pound bombs to be dropped on apartment buildings, tent cities, hospitals, and the infrastructure in Gaza. Demand instead that our air force drop food, medical supplies, and water from helicopters of peace over Gaza.

Palm Sunday and Purim both fall on Sunday March 24. I was unsettled about waving palm branches on Sunday morning symbolizing Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem and cheerfully celebrating the demise of the evil Haman at Purim Megillat Esther reading Sunday afternoon.

The book of Esther is one of belief, courage, faith, and hope. It gives inspiration to girls and women to not be afraid and use their voices to speak out against gender discrimination, violence against women, and a right to an education. An entire people was saved from genocide, because Esther went before the king and spoke to him of a plot to kill all her people. The penalty for going before the king without being summoned was death. She risked her life to save others.

Jesus tells us that “greater love has no one than this.” (John 15:13a). Yet, not only one evil man was killed in retribution, but all his sons who had nothing to do with their father’s plans were executed as well.

Luke 19:41-42 tell us that as Jesus approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it, weeping over the coming destruction of the city and for the sinful people living in it. A people that welcomed him with waving palms along the road, but betrayed, denied and called loudly for his death a few days later. I also weep during this Lenten season not just for the starving people in Gaza, but for the additional 781 million starving people in our world. I weep for my neighbor’s families suffering war in the Ukraine. I weep for family and friends bearing a multitude of illnesses. And I weep for myself on this Lenten spiritual journey of repentance and restoration.

Joy will burst forth from my tears as I remember God’s rainbow covenant and promises with every living creature in the air above earth, waters and dust including humans on the earth.

“And never again will I destroy all living creatures as I have done. As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.”…I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each human being too, I will demand an accounting for the life of another human being…. For in his own image God made humankind.” (Genesis 8:21C-22, 9:5B-6B NIV)

Doris Abdullah is a credentialed minister and member of Brooklyn (N.Y.) First Church of the Brethren and represents the Church of the Brethren denomination at the United Nations.