This past Sunday the world awoke to Easter morning to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. This may seem like another religious holiday, a reminder to go back to church every now and then, one expression of a certain system of beliefs and their traditions, even a weird relic of a time where people believed in such myths. But if what Christians believe about the resurrection of Jesus is true, that the whole world experienced a second Big Bang of sorts, a singularity that exploded into new life outside of a Jerusalem tomb some 2,000 years ago. What Christians believe is in that moment Jesus Christ, following his crucifixion at the hands of religious and political leaders, did not stay dead. That though he was executed as the result of an evil and systemic miscarriage of justice, it was not him who was on trial at all. Rather, it was human sinfulness, systemic powers that hold people in bondage, and evil cosmic forces that we in the docket
And upon climbing out of the grave that Easter Sunday morning, with a body, but a different, glorious body, Jesus Christ trampled death by death. Death was forever disarmed, like an emperor with no clothes, a tyrant with no power, and no authority.
This is but a small encapsulation of what Christians believe about the resurrection of Jesus but you can see the implications—and the questions. Unfortunately, these questions are often asked not with words but with deeds, the most vile and horrible things that humans do to one another. This past Sunday morning, worshippers were gathered at St. Sebastian church (amongst other locations in Sri Lanka). These worshippers joined along with hundreds of thousands of churches, and hundreds of millions of believer all around the world, to celebrate this very resurrection, to proclaim that death was defeated. The proclaimed in song and in words and handshakes that "Christ is risen" when death itself, in the form of merciless explosions, ripped through the church leaving children, women, and men in pieces, families torn apart with grief and anguish, and survivors mangled physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
If Jesus is raised, how can the world be as it is? If death has been disarmed, how can it be so deadly? And if Jesus is the reigning king over all the earth, shouldn't a church on Easter Sunday morning be a cosmically protected space?
Any response to this question will not suffice as an answer. Anybody who tells you they can offer reasons for why these things happen is offering you a system not the God of the Bible revealed in Jesus. Second, any slogans of neatly packaged hope are only spoken in the native tongue of Job's foolish friends and merely as salt in the wound of those who are suffering. Some would suggest that we should not ask questions in the face of such mysteries because, really, "Who can know the mind of God?" I agree. But then I look at Jesus and I see him praying to his father in the garden of Gethesemane, "Have you forsaken me?" Or "Is there another way? Can this cup be passed?" and the story would seem to suggest that the most human thing we can do is to ask honest questions of our Heavenly Father. Therefore, humbly and fearfully, I want to offer two responses, one practical, one Christological.
Lament is our most basic art form, the first form of communication that we learn. Far before babies learn to smile or respond to the adoring faces of their mothers and fathers, they learn to wail out in the night because they are in need. Their cries are essentially asking the question, "Are you seeing this?" This most primal sense is often lost in the church as we begin to philosophize and theologize about what God must be like and why he must be doing what he appears to be doing. In Exodus 3, God breaks the silence of Moses' life, telling him he is going to rescue the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He says to Moses in vv.7-8, "I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey..." God hears, God sees. God responds. All the Israelites were doing is crying out with that most basic human cry, "Are you seeing this?"
As Christians, our impulse is to do, to help, our religion is a religion of words, and we often want to offer them, to preach, to proclaim them. And in the face of all this activity, simply joining with our sisters and brothers in crying out may seem so insignificant. But this is as much a part of faith heritage as the doing and the preaching. There is a book in the Old Testament entitled "Lamentations" and it offers no comfort or resolution. In Revelation, the martyrs around the throne—the chorus the congregation of St. Sebastian's have now joined—cry out, "How Long?" Even heaven laments.
Walter Brueggemann writes of the costly loss of lament, "covenant minus lament is finally a practice of denial, cover up, and pretense..." In your personal prayer times, and in our congregational gatherings perhaps the most powerful thing that we can do is simply cry out on behalf of our sisters and brothers.
Perhaps trying to choose between a Friday lament and a Sunday triumphalism is the wrong question. When we view the life of Jesus on a whole, we see something quite different. Perhaps we are being invited to hold the poles of Friday and Sunday together. It's not that one could not have existed without the other. I certainly would suppose Jesus could have snapped his fingers and pronounced us "saved" from the curse. But he didn't. And this to me, is of world-shaping significance.
Jesus, God in the flesh, suffers. This suffering on the cross is not an ancillary part of his identity not some necessary addendum in order to accomplish salvation. Jesus reveals the Father fully. And, in the words of John's gospel, the cross is the hour of God's glorification, the moment where we behold God in all the radiant beauty of his extravagant love.
In the resurrection account in John's Gospel, Jesus invites Thomas to place his hands in the scars on his hands. In Revelation, Jesus is depicted covered in blood (its not the blood of his enemies). Perhaps the suffering of Jesus is not a moment in time but something that God has invited into his very being (for more see Jurgen Moltmann, The Crucified God). Maybe this means that God not only hears the cries of those who suffer as in Exodus 3, but enters into their suffering as in the crucifixion.
It's then and only then that we arrive at Easter morning. Yes, God suffers, yes God enters into our pain. But that pain will not get the last word. God makes no truce with death, he doesn't hold its hand and "make it a part of his plan" or "that everything happens for a reason." He breaks it. He shatters the gates of hell, he conquers. The last word on pain is the first word of the new world, the first word that Jesus speaks to his friends upon raising from the dead. "Peace."
To our sisters and brothers in Sri Lanka and to all those so horribly affected. We join your cry. We offer our lament. And we place our hope in the nail-scarred hands of Jesus, knowing that he has suffered for you, alongside you, and that in death he triumphs over death.