God Is Under the Rubble in Gaza | Sojourners

God Is Under the Rubble in Gaza

Mourners attend a funeral for Palestinians killed in an Israeli strike that damaged the Greek Orthodox Saint Porphyrius Church, where Palestinians who fled their homes were taking shelter, at the church in Gaza City on October 20, 2023. REUTERS/Mohammed Al-Masri 

Editor’s note: This sermon of lament and anger, a cry against the ongoing war on Gaza, was preached in Palestine on Oct. 22 at both Evangelical Lutheran Church of Beit Sahour and the Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church in Bethlehem. The sermon followed the Israel Defense Forces’ strike on Gaza’s oldest active church, the historic St. Porphyrius Greek Orthodox Church. The bombing killed 18 people, injured others, and displaced about 400 civilians who were taking shelter in the church’s complex.

They besieged our Palestinian family in Gaza, described them as monsters, and blamed them. Israel Defense Forces bombed their homes, razed their neighborhoods to the ground, displaced them, and blamed them. Our families — brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, nephews, and nieces — took refuge in schools where they were bombed, in hospitals where they were bombed, in places of worship where they were bombed, and then they were blamed.

We are broken. The people of Gaza are suffering. They have lost everything except their dignity. Many attained glory — they attained martyrdom — even if they did not ask for it. Now, again in our history, they find themselves facing the same choice: death or displacement. Our Nakba continues!

Where are they to go? There is no place for them in this world!

The nations of the world — including the U.S. — are against them. They use money, weapons, diplomacy, and theology against the people of Palestine, the people of Gaza. They talk among themselves about where we will end up after our ethnic cleansing, as if we were extra boxes that have no place in the house!

There is no mercy. Humanity is gone. There is no one to mourn our death. There is no one to stop this war machine because we are not from a certain people, religion, or race. We are not among the “chosen ones.” The political powers of the world see us as an obstacle, not an ally. We were broken and are broken again every day by the images of death, especially when it comes close to us — our families, our sisters, our relatives, and loved ones to whom we spoke daily. We are all broken. We hear terrifying stories about hell on earth. Hell is a reality in Gaza today. Our Palestinian siblings are in it now.

What is happening in Gaza is not a war or a conflict, but an annihilation — continuous genocide and ethnic cleansing through death and forced displacement. World political powers are sacrificing the people of Palestine in order to secure their interests in the Middle East; they say our annihilation is needed to keep the people of Israel safe. They offer us as sacrifices on the altar of atonement, as we pay the price for their sins with our lives.

Where is the justice? They talk about international law. They lecture us on human rights and look down upon us as if they are superior to everyone else in terms of values and morals. I say to them, “Go away with your laws and your talk about human rights.” You Europeans and Americans have been stripped naked in front of the whole world today. Your racism and hypocrisy have been exposed. Truly, is there no shame? I personally do not want to hear about peace and reconciliation.

The people of Gaza today want life. They want a night without bombing. They want medicine and surgical operations with anesthesia. They want the simplest of life’s necessities: food, clean water, and electricity. They want freedom and life with dignity. Those under bombardment, beatings, and persecution do not want to hear about reconciliation and peace. They want the end of aggression!

They asked us to pray. The people of Gaza are still asking us to pray, and they are still praying. Where do you get this faith?

We prayed. We prayed for their protection … and God did not answer us, not even in the “house of God” were church buildings able to protect them. Our children die before the silence of the world, and before the silence of God. How difficult is God’s silence! Today we cry out with the psalmists:

“My God, my God, why did you leave Gaza? How long will you forget her completely? Why do you hide your face from her? In the daytime I call upon you, but you do not answer; by night we find no rest.

Do not depart from the people of Gaza, for distress is near, for there is no one to help. O Lord God of our salvation, day and night we have cried before you … let our prayer come before you ... incline your ear to our cries ... for surely you have been satisfied with afflictions. Our souls and our lives approach the abyss ... our eyes melt from humiliation. We call upon you, Lord, every day. We stretch out our hands to you. Why, Lord, do you reject our souls? Why do you hide your face from us?” (Adapted from Psalms 13, 22, and 88)

We search for God on this land. Theologically, philosophically, we ask: Where is God when we suffer? How do we explain his silence?

But away from philosophy and existential questions. In this land, even God is a victim of oppression, death, the war machine, and colonialism. We see the Son of God on this land crying out the same question on the cross: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why do you let me be tortured? Crucified?

God suffers with the people of this land, sharing the same fate with us. As Mitri Al-Raheb wrote in his article “Theology in the Palestinian Context,” which appeared in an Arabic book I edited:

“As for the God of this land, he is not like all the gods... His land is plowed with iron... His temples are destroyed by fire ... His people are trampled underfoot, and He does not move a muscle. The God of this earth is hidden from view. You search for His traces but do not see them. You long for Him to split the heavens and come down to see. To listen, to be compassionate, to be saved. The God of this land does not repel brutal armies, but rather shares one fate with his people. His house is demolished. His son is crucified. But his mystery does not perish. Rather, he rises from the ashes, and with the refugees you see him. He walks, and in the dark of the night he raises springs of hope. Without this God, Palestine remains a scorched land ... it remains a field of destruction. But if God tramples its foundations, he will only make it a holy land, a land in whose hills the good news of peace resounds.”

Beloved, in these difficult times let us comfort ourselves with God’s presence amid pain, and even amid death, for Jesus is no stranger to pain, arrest, torture, and death. He walks with us in our pain.

God is under the rubble in Gaza. He is with the frightened and the refugees. He is in the operating room. This is our consolation. He walks with us through the valley of the shadow of death. If we want to pray, my prayer is that those who are suffering will feel this healing and comforting presence.

We have another comfort, which is the resurrection. In our brokenness, pain, and death, let us repeat the gospel of the resurrection: “Christ is risen.” He became the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. When I saw the pictures of the bodies of these saints in the white bags in front of the church, during their funeral, Christ’s call came to my mind: “Come, you who are blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundations of the world” (Matthew 25:34).

In front of images of death and pictures of the deaths of children, we hear today the immortal call of Christ: “Let the little children come to me and do not forbid them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these” (Mark 10:14). If there is no place for the children of Palestine and the children of Gaza in this cruel and oppressive world, then they have a place in the arms of God. Theirs is the kingdom. In the face of bombing, displacement and death, Jesus calls them: “Come to me, you who are blessed by my Father. Let the children come to me, for theirs is the kingdom.” This is our faith. This is our consolation in our pain. Amen.