Before the sun rose here on the western side of the world. As, perhaps, some were finishing vigil and going to bed to catch some zzz’s before an eventful day. While Easter festivities were little more than a restless stirring in the midnight dreams of exhausted clergy. Men, women, and children were gathering together, halfway around the globe, to begin celebrating the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. And in a moment—the least expected—death showed its face. Sheer terror. Of all the days and times (which was anything but random), on this Resurrection morning evil walked into a half dozen churches and hotels throughout Sri Lanka—stealing away the very breaths of hundreds proclaiming the gospel hope of new life in Christ. The day’s holy meaning ripped apart just as the bodies themselves who had come to hear the good news of the Risen One. Instead of water dripping from the foreheads of the newly baptized, the walls were splattered and floors pooled with the blood of the faithful. When you and I awoke, getting dressed in our Sunday best, and making our way out the door—anxiously waiting in line at Starbucks for our dirty chai tea latte—and across town to worship, the body of Christ stretched across all places was wailing in the immeasurable pain of being grotesquely dismembered. Siblings stolen away from the rest of God’s family. Leaving a gaping hole in the Spirit’s beating heart. Children and parents, whole families, congregations and communities, locals and visitors alike—lives suddenly ending, relationships immediately severed without warning. The agony of Good Friday played out all over again—before their very eyes. Eloi Eloi lema sabbachthani! My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? Whereas Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them had run home with uncontainable joy to share with the eleven that Jesus was not dead but had been raised; early on this first day of the week, the streets of Colombo were filled with mass chaos and screaming as people scrambled in search for loved ones among the debris. Easter became, for those in this little island nation off the tip of India, unimaginable—but not as was formerly intended. How are we to proclaim resurrection joy and live into the fullness of Easter in the face of sin’s savagery and death’s relentless torment?
Gleefully shouting Christ is risen! Alleluia! in the wake of a terrorist attack—which resulted in three hundred and fifty plus casualties and over five hundred injuries—seems disengaged at best and morally reprehensible at worst. Yet, on the other hand, we know Easter cannot be held off until a day void of all pain, suffering, and death. It would just never happen—not from a lack of hoping. How do we simultaneously hold (in tension) the promise of resurrection life in the Risen One, while still living each day in a world where death continues to exercise its incomprehensible will? As we journey into this season of hope (because Easter is not a single day), what message do we have to offer amidst such atrocity and uncertainty? Hearing the horrific news coming out of Asia, it’s hard not to feel like we’ve slid backwards into Lent. Remember, you are dust and to dust you shall return. Likewise, when faced with violence, the temptation is always to fight fire with more fire. Let’s hunt down those despicable individuals behind this senseless series of attacks and give them HELL! This, however, is NOT THE ANSWER and never will be—no matter how many times we sinfully practice it on our adversaries. Revenge begets revenge—it is an endless cycle no one wins. So you’re saying Satan controls the day? By no means, to quote the Apostle Paul. Christ, the Crucified and Risen One, is Lord over all—yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Death has lost its sting. It sure doesn’t feel like it right now. I hear you. But in the bodily resurrection of Jesus, who had died three days earlier, death has been proven powerless. This means, though we too will experience death one day, it is not the final insurmountable word. The power of God is greater than the grave. As for us today, we await each new day in eager anticipation for that unknown time when the Risen Christ Jesus who ascended to heaven will return—fully establishing the kingdom of God and completely destroying the last enemy, death (1 Corinthians 15:19-26). You and I—all of us on this side of history—reside in the in-between time, now but not yet. The promise of new life has been unleashed among us in the scandalous news of the Resurrected Jesus, and yet we await the fullness of this promise made manifest throughout creation and the cosmos. Here and now, we cling to the hope passed on originally from those faithful women who found the tomb empty.
Christ, Crucified and Risen, was present with all those victims amidst the tragic events on Easter morning in Sri Lanka. Just as Christ, Crucified and Risen, is here with each and every person who suffers and dies. Christ, Crucified and Risen, remains with us always—throughout our suffering and sorrows, life and joys. If nothing else, we can be boldly confident of this truth. Not even the great abyss can divorce us from Christ Jesus. We can no more separate the death and resurrection of Jesus than we can compartmentalize his presence in our daily lives. The Easter hope and promise, though professed by less lips today than a week ago, is that in and through the resurrection of Jesus, the Crucified One, God speaks a loud and resounding NO!!! to death, its finality, and power over our lives. It is no longer the period (full-stop) marking the end of life, but rather only a comma (momentary pause) in the ongoing sentence (though not run-on, the Lord is surely grammatically perfect) of God’s creative and redeeming dialogue of love with the world. The atrocity of what happened in Sri Lanka cannot be simply wiped away as just an unfortunate misstep in this life, subordinate to the spiritual (perfect) realm. The trauma and grief of this event will be worn by the community for years on end. The deaths and ongoing injuries of hundreds of Sri Lankans is yet another wound in the side of Christ’s cosmic body. It is an aching reminder that the world we live in is not as God intends for us. We pain at the loss of sisters and brothers in God’s all-inclusive family. We mourn this and every loss of life, and lift up the sufferings of others, near and far, in prayer to God—our strength and comfort—who embraces all. We continue, driven by hope and courage, to work for peace and justice throughout the world—holding those responsible for such senseless crimes accountable for their actions, all the while seeking to promote God’s love which overcomes differences and hate in all places. My heart aches tremendously at yet another instance of death showing its face among us and overshadowing the joy of Easter resurrection. But even this temporary darkness cannot overcome the light of Christ! Nevertheless, we trust that God is working in and through this horrible event (though not having caused it), in ways beyond our understanding, to eventually bring forth goodness and newness of life. We do not lose hope. Death and its minions of idolatry and sin are not in control. The Risen Christ assures us that God and God’s kingdom come cannot be thwarted and death will one day finally be no more. With our hope in the coming resurrection, we profess our faith which death can never steal from us: Christ is risen, indeed! Alleluia!
– Pastor Andrew