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Sadness and Gladness

Nes Ammim - aus dem Alltag in einem nicht-allt├Ąglichen Dorf in Israel. 47. Kapitel

Foto: kmb43xgame / freeimages.com

Predigt am 7. Mai
von Tobias Kriener, Nes Ammim

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Dear Nes Ammimniks, dear Guests,

„You will be sad – but your sadness will turn into gladness.“

Last week we witnessed this: First there was a day of sadness and mourning: the remembrance day for the fallen soldiers and the victims of terror. We went to two cemeteries where two Nes Ammimniks are buried who died as soldiers of Israel: Peter Chanoch Denneman who was kidnapped when hitchhiking and murdered; and Jonatan Vermeulen who was killed by a carbomb when he was doing his duty and trying to defuse another carbomb.

The cemeteries in Nahariya and Chanita were full of people who were commemorating somebody near to them. This is something that we simply don't know in our countries – in Switzerland and in the Netherlands and Germany: The Swiss didn't have war for centuries. But also the rest of Europe didn't have war since more than 70 years. Scenes as we witnessed them on Monday are not possible in our countries because we simply almost don't have fallen soldiers – except for very few that are killed in international missions like in Afghanistan. As Avner Shai told us in his lecture last Wednesday: Here in Israel almost every family has lost somebody – every soldier knows of the comrades in his unit that fell in the many wars that Israel fought. And on this day the political discussion whether all of these wars were neccessary or some could have been avoided is suspended because all are united in their mourning of the dead.

„You will cry and weep – you will be sad.“ This is the experience that the whole of Israel makes every year on the day of remembrance of the fallen soldiers and the terror victims.

And they make the other experience on the evening of that same day: „your sadness will turn into gladness.“ We witnessed this also: How they celebrated the 69. day of independence. For the Israelis these two belong together: the mourning for the fallen and the gladness over the foundation of the state – because they see the fallen soldiers as those who secure the existence of the state – whose death made the coming in existence of the state of Israel possible in the first place. The mourning over the dead turns into gladness over the state – and into gratitude for their contribution – the greatest and final contribution they could give: their very lives.

This connection is very clear for the Israelis. But it is not easy for us to follow this connection. Especially we in Germany are very suspicious against this connection because during the Nazi-period – and also during former periods in German history like in the German Empire before and during World War I - this connection was exploited so brazenly and so unabashed: the completely vain suffering of millions was sugarcoated with slogans like: „Germany has to live – even if we have to die.“ Therefore since then the supreme goal of German and of European politics is to avoid and prevent war by all means.

Back to the Israeli experience: We can learn when we go to the cemeteries in commemoration of Peter and Jonatan that the Israelis are thankful for the soldiers who died in the wars because thanks to their commitment they can live in security. Everybody is united in mourning – and in joy about the existence of a state for the Jews. The connection between sorrow and joy is present and very vivid for every Israeli.

But still: The gladness can not wipe out the mourning. The parents who lost a child – the wife who lost her husband – the children who lost a parent – the comrades who lost a good friend: they will always have to live with their loss and with their sorrow; it will become weaker with time – but the loss is permanent – nobody can bring them back – the dead are separated permanently from the living. And they have to live with it.

In this respect what Jesus tells his disciples is fundamentally different. He speaks „of a gladness that no one can take away from you“ - a gladness that puts an end to sadness once and for all. To make this message concrete and colourful he uses a parable: He speaks of a process that is also well-known to all – an everyday event: the process of a woman giving birth to a child – the event of new life coming into the world.

Thus his fate – which makes his disciples sad at first – is different from the fate of anybody else – is different from our fate. His death his not final but is part of the process of creating new life.

It is the experience that Jesus' disciples made after his death on the cross: They were separated from him – they were sad, and not only that: they were lost in fear for their own life – they were frightened that his fate would become their fate as well. Until they encountered Jesus again – alive!

Alive in a different way: They could not get hold of him – they had to let go. Jesus made it very clear to them, that his life now is a new life – is a new act of creation by God, his father in heaven. His new life is not just the continuation of what they were used to – of what we are used to.

I come back once more to the day of remembrance of the fallen here in Israel. When I was standing there I remembered that many Israelis live in the expectation that the conflict with their Arab neighbours will go one forever – that there is no way out in sight – that, as the saying goes, they have „to live by the sword“ forever. And this means that there will be more victims added every year – there will be more relatives and friends coming to the cemeteries to mourn their loss. The sadness and the weeping will go on forever – it will never cease.

This struck me as an extremely bitter aspect of the life of the Jewish Israelis: On the one hand if you live with the expectation that peace is unreachable anyway – you will not seriously try to reach peace.

And even more desperate: If you expect nothing but everlasting war you will arrange your whole life according to it: You will live with the expectation of more sorrow, more mourning, more weeping, more fear, more desperation.

You will have to live without the hope for a new beginning – for a turn to the better – for the creation of new life. In my eyes this is the sadest aspect of such an attitude: The lack of expectation of a change for the better.

I don't want to put our Christian expectation in a very simplistic opposition to this Israeli reality – or  better: this perceived reality. I think there is potential for the building of bridges to the other side – to the Arab side. But expectation alone can not change reality – even if it's only a perceived reality.

What Jesus announces to his disciples – the advent of new life that will fill their hearts with a gladness that no one can take away from them – is a question of trust: Whom do we trust? Do we trust the reality – the reality, that may very well be a perceived reality only? Or is their a possibility – is there a reason to trust Jesus – to trust his promise that God is able and is willing to create new life – that can put an end to our reality of sadness and weeping and mourning?

The reality of the personal loss the so many Israelis have been commemorating this week is very strong: it can not be wiped out with some simple message of optimism. I don't have this simplistic expectation.

I am just grateful that Jesus shows me an opening to be able to put my trust onto a different reality: the reality of God – the heavenly father of Jesus – who is nobody else than the God of Israel – who promises to create new life – like he has created life in the beginning when he brought this world into beeing. On him I put my trust. On him I put my hope that our  hearts will indeed be filled with gladness, the kind of gladness that no one can take away from us.


Dr. Tobias Kriener, Studienleiter in Nes Ammim, Mai 2017
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