Palestine (MNN) — Bethlehem languishes under a lockdown, but Christians there are making the most of their Lent observance.
Wherever you are, you likely can’t leave your home except for basic, essential tasks. It’s not like there are many places to go anyway; most public gathering have been cancelled, from sporting events and concerts to graduation open houses and weddings. Practice it or not, we have all given up something for Lent this season.
Bethlehem is no exception. Palestine responded quickly and harshly to the coronavirus outbreak, and the country has seen very few cases. Read more about the situation in Bethlehem here. For our original story, click here.
Mercy Aiken of Bethlehem Bible College has decided to embrace the forced observance. She was caught up in the Bethlehem lockdown in early March, and says, “It’s also very interesting that it’s occurring during Lent, which is a time of stripping and a time of embracing the cross, and a time of humbling oneself, and a time of simplifying oneself, and inviting God in in a greater measure as we look towards the cross and the resurrection.”
Aiken says other Christians in Bethlehem are treating the time similarly. And they have had opportunity to do so in the past as well. “The people that live in Bethlehem have been under curfew many many times in their history. With the first Intifada and the Second Intifada, there were times when the whole town [was] put on curfews, sometimes for a month, or even longer. People would be allowed out for short periods of time to buy food. And the rest of the time, they would have to stay inside their homes.”
Christians have traditionally celebrated Lent for 40 days leading up to Easter. While historically the fast focused on certain kinds of food, Christians today often relinquish hobbies or other distractions to prepare to celebrate Christ’s death and resurrection.
Pray and fast
The whole town of Bethlehem has suffered financially under the quarantine, much like other towns all over the world. Aiken says, “All of the Holy Land, Israel, Palestine, all of it, is very dependent upon tourism. And because it’s all come to a complete grinding halt, there’s a lot of people who don’t have a lot of financial backup. And they make their living from month to month exactly what they can get off of tourism.”
Especially since the lockdown happened during the peak tourism season, Lent leading into Easter. Christians, Muslims and Jews will all be affected.
As you sit at home, unable to do many things you would like to do, think of it as a preparation. Soon we will celebrate Jesus’ death and his victorious resurrection. And pray for the people of Bethlehem, the city where Jesus was born. Pray that they would be kept safe from illness and that their financial needs would be provided for. For the COVID-19 Prayercast video, click here.
Stain glass windows depicting the Crucifixion and Resurrection. (Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)