A Lenten Reflection by Fr Nael Abu Rahmoun, vicar at Christ Church Anglican church in Nazareth, diocese of Jerusalem.

Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up
(John 3. 14)

John 3. 14-21

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

Friends of the Holy Land,

Salaam Shalom and greetings to you all from the city of the Annunciation and Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. As I greet you with the word "peace", we continue to miss peace in the home land of Jesus. We continue to witness massacres of innocents, killing of children, Devastation and destruction in Gaza. Fear and insecurity in Israel as well as in the West Bank.

As we all walk together the journey of Lent, we also pray together, let us reflect together this week on "God's Love". We cannot understand this Love without realizing the meaning of the Cross; the Cross of Jesus is the demonstration of the great and eternal Love of God.

In the Gospel according to St. John (3. 14-21), we are reminded of God's love and His deep desire to save everyone "For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life" (3.16). Our God has done what never ever any other god could do, because His love and mercy are greater and more important than anything else. He is always ready to forgive our sins and to transform our hearts and lives and to strengthen our souls and to wipe every tear from our eyes, to cleanse and heal and redeem and sanctify us. Just like the father in the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15. 20), is our Father in heaven filled with compassion. We just need to take the decision and to believe in Him, as Saviour and Lord, to trust in Him and to go unto Him for refuge, carrying our crosses with no more fear.

Archbishop Hosam Naoum wrote: We must unite with the sufferings of Christ through the suffering and injustice we experience in our earthly lives. Only by our passage through the cross can we understand the meaning of resurrection and victory. Only in this way can we affirm the triumph of life over death, and of peace over war. Without pain and death, there would be no resurrection. So let us journey with Christ on the path of the cross until we see with Him the light of the resurrection in all its glory, leading us to new life. (Pastoral letter – Lent 2024).

After the crucifixion of Jesus, the Cross understanding has been totally changed, it became an instrument for salvation and life, a better life, and not for death and punishment. The wonderful prototype of the serpent of Moses in the book of Numbers (21.9): "So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live" is very helpful to understand the power and the effectiveness of the Cross. The people made God upset many times, and this time God wanted to discipline them. Then after they decided not to perish but to repent, with the assistance of Moses, God accepted their repentance and offered a solution, so they can be saved.

Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up. (John 3:14). I invite everyone to spend time in front of the cross and kneel, meditate and pray, looking at the face of the Crucified, at His eyes, so you will feel the power of mercy, forgiveness and love, you will experience the joy of salvation.

Lent has a special significance this year, here in the Land of the Holy One. While we continue to grieve and cry and call and pray for a ceasefire and the end of hatred and war, we should promote reconciliation and healing, to build and recover trust between the two nations, including religious leaders. This clearly will not be an easy work at all, but it is a sacred duty. There is no other way than love, reconciliation and Acceptance of each other. We need to find more peacemakers and justice seekers and consider them as our partners, to renew the interfaith work, and try to be influencers. It is time for religions to be part of the solution and no more part of the conflict. I call to rediscover and see the image of God in the faces of each other, keeping in mind that everyone was created by God in His own image.

As I share this reflection from Nazareth in the month of March, in which we usually celebrate the international women's day, Feast of the Annunciation and Mother's day and some churches have Mothering Sunday; The Blessed Virgin Mary the first disciple, continue to be the example of faith and obedience. My thoughts go far to Gaza with tears, to the mighty and powerful women of Gaza, with their children and families they endure great suffering. Here comes to my mind the scene of cross (John19. 25-27), when Saint Mary shared the suffering of her Son as she watched His agony and death. My heart and more thoughts are with the children, and all innocent people, in Gaza, West Bank and Israel, are with the Anglican Arab Ahli Hospital staff, with all Christians who are taking shelters in the Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches, are with all people who lost their loved ones and still live and smell blood and death, with the traumatized and starving children. We must understand that war does not bring peace but more hatred. In war, no one wins, but it is everyone's defeat.

Please remember your sisters and brothers in Christ; the living stones of the home land of Jesus, pray with and for us, visit us as soon as you can, don't let us feel alone or forgotten.

Let us pray: Almighty God we thank you for your eternal love, in sending your only Son to redeem us on the cross, grant us the ability to carry the cross and follow you as your disciples, so we can proclaim your kingdom. In the name of Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.