The Sting of Easter

“When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’ ‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’” (I Corinthians 15: 54-55).

Surrounded by beautiful people festooned in pastel finery, that poetic and electric passage from Saint Paul has long been associated with my Easter tradition. That soaring passage, however, fell flat for me this Easter.

How could I have felt so unsettled? If Christ had risen, why did I feel like I was moping around in a graveyard? The news during Holy Week was morbid. Fanatics with machine guns murdered 150 Christian college students at a university in Kenya on Maundy Thursday. This is not the kind of thing that is supposed to occur.

With “Up From The Grave He Arose” streaming through my mind, I found myself heavy hearted as I staggered between the empty tomb of the Nazarene and the freshly dug graves of young Christian martyrs.

During darker times for my soul, I’ve taken begrudging comfort in what theologian George Eldon Ladd referred to as the “already and the not yet” nature of the kingdom of God. Things are not as they are supposed to be today, but one day… In the midst of mayhem and bloodshed and hatred and chaos there is a quiet revolution of grace and forgiveness and love and peace percolating beneath the surface to reassure us that God has not left the building. Be patient, I remind myself. One day, tomorrow will become today and the future will merge with the present.

It is the blessed hope that St. John the Revelator was right when he wrote that God will “wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

Until that time, we live in the “old order of things,” the not yet. I know that in my head, but sometimes it takes a while to reach my heart.

“The mistake they made was to pray to Jesus,” began the Reuters news report. An eyewitness described the gruesome execution of three female students at the hands of bloodthirsty and suicidal Islamic terrorists during the campus massacre. “The mistake they made was to say, ‘Jesus, please save us,’ because that is when they were immediately shot,” Reuben Mwavita, 21, told the news agency.

“The attackers were just in the next room, I heard them ask people whether they were Christian or Muslim, then I heard gunshots and screams,” said Susan Kitoko, 24.

Many of the victims were students associated with the college’s Christian Union that were attending an early morning prayer meeting.

“I could hear my friends still praying loudly and calling the name of Jesus Christ,” said Kenneth Luzakula, a Christian Union student. “Others were screaming. I heard gunshots repeatedly from the toilet nearby where we had hidden. They killed my friends but I know they are all in heaven because they died worshipping God.”

Grieving family members and friends were assured on Easter Sunday that the young martyrs would “rise again with Christ.” As a parent, I cannot begin to imagine how long that spiritual reality will take to sink in for a mother or father forced to bury a child. In those moments we merely weep with those who weep.

The already and the not yet. “How long, O Lord, how long?” they asked in the Old Testament. “Let this cup pass from me,” we read in the gospels. The living between two worlds, two stark realities, is the arduous journey set before us. Lord, have mercy.

It was only two months before Easter when we were horrified to see the young Coptic Christians paraded out to a shoreline in orange jumpsuits.

“The blood of our Christian brothers and sisters is a testimony which cries out to be heard,” Pope Francis said in response to the barbaric beheadings on the Libyan coast. “It makes no difference whether they be Catholics, Orthodox, Copts or Protestants. They are Christians! Their blood is one and the same. Their blood confesses Christ.”

“To the last moment, the name of Jesus was on their lips,” Hana Aziz told CNN. Aziz was in the next room when his nephew and uncle were kidnapped by masked ISIS terrorists. “As they were being martyred, they were calling God’s name, saying, ‘God, have mercy on us.’”

Speaking on Christian radio, Beshir Kamel was grateful that ISIS failed to edit out the declarations of faith in Jesus Christ of the dying men in the brutal video. Kamel had two brothers who were martyred on the Libyan beach. Thirteen of the men in their 20s were from a village called Al Aour, 125 miles south of Cairo, Egypt. Kamel testified that the families of the young men congratulated one another and rejected despair: “We are proud to have this number of people from our village who have become martyrs.”

“To witness is to be a martyr,” said Archbishop of Canterbury the Most Rev. Justin Welby, on Easter Sunday. “There have been so many martyrs in the last year. … These martyrs too are caught up in the resurrection: their cruel deaths, the brutality of their persecution, their persecution is overcome by Christ himself at their side because they share his suffering, at their side because he rose from the dead.

“Because of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead the cruel are overcome, evil is defeated, martyrs conquer.”

Steve Beard

Beard

Martyrs conquer. In death, new life emerges. “Man never showed so much hate for God as when he crucified him; and God never showed more love for man than when he arose,” observed Father Justin Popovic, considered a saint by the Serbian Orthodox Church.

Our life passes through the stillness and the weeping of a cemetery — but the good news is that our God is a grave robber. That is a gospel of flesh and blood. That is a gospel I can affirm. That is a gospel that ultimately rings true.

Steve Beard is the editor of Good News. 

 

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