Palm Sunday in the Christian calendar marks the entry of Jesus to Jerusalem. It is a day that celebrates the true meaning of the lordship of Jesus. The entry of Jesus to Jerusalem shows that lordship does not happen by way of abusing others, but rather by being faithful to God and to the vulnerable human beings even if this leads to the death on the cross. While thousands of Christian Egyptians were coming out of churches with their palms sprinkled with water, there were tens of Christian Egyptians whose palms were sprinkled with their own blood. Palm Sunday in Egypt this year took a new meaning in light of the suffering and death of the followers of Jesus.
On Palm Sunday in the Coptic Orthodox tradition the priest leads a communal funerary mass. The earliest tradition we know (which might stems from an earlier practice) is from the canons of the sixty sixth Patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church, pope Christothollos (12th century CE). Statute 10 asserts that the church should not perform baptisms or funerals during Holy Week; rather the church should be marked by characteristics of asceticism; Holy Week is a week of sadness and mourning. The following article of the statutes states that after the mass of Palm Sunday, the church performs a communal funerary mass for all of those who may die during Holy Week. This mass includes readings from the Gospel according to John chapter 5 verses 19-30 as well as two passages from second Corinthians chapter 15 (vv. 1-27 and 39-58). These passages emphasize the hope that Christians trust in as they face death; such hope is based on the resurrection of Jesus Christ who overcame death. Holy Week in the Coptic Orthodox tradition focuses primarily on the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus.
This year however we cannot separate the suffering and death of Jesus from the suffering and death of those who follow him, those who were killed brutally because they happened to be worshipping in church on Palms Sunday. The death of the innocent Jesus was brought anew to life in view of the death of the innocent Christian Egyptians; and the death of the Christian Egyptians has a meaning when thought of in relation to the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus. For Christians, Jesus is the ultimate model of an innocent human being who has suffered an unjust death. Christian Egyptians who were brutally murdered by terrorists show that suffering and death of innocent ones are part of the human story. It is even possible to say that like Paul, Christian Egyptians’ suffering and death complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of the presence of the church in the Middle East. It is crucial to say, though, that suffering and death are not the last word. The justification of the innocent Jesus through the resurrection gives humans hope in the face of terrorism, fear and death. This is not meant to romanticize death and martyrdom; we should do all that we can to protect human life. This is meant to assert that we are not alone when we suffer; Jesus walks with us. As the church worldwide remembers the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus let us pray that the families who have lost loved ones find spaces to cry out like Jesus and may their hope be renewed trusting that God is a just God.