The celebration of Easter cannot be done with integrity unless we are prepared to set it within the context of life’s pain and suffering. An acknowledgement of the bruises, the scars and the damage we mete out on God’s creation, the forces of evil and oppression we perpetuate and our complicity with crimes of hate and ideologies of supremacy, is, indeed, the basis for Easter and the theology of resurrection. In this regard T. S. Elliot is right in the words:
The Son of Man is not crucified once for always
The blood of martyrs is not shed once for always
But the Son of Man is crucified always
And there shall be martyrs and saints
(from ‘Choruses from “The Rock”’)
Jesus of Nazareth was crucified over two thousand years ago because he dared to confront empire, challenged the status quo and called for an alternative community, based on righteousness, peace and joy. Bishop Oscar Romero, an advocate for justice and peace, was assassinated in 1980 while celebrating Mass in San Salvador because he dared to challenge the government of his day and called for an end to a rule of law that robbed people of their God-given rights. 19-year-old Nusrat Jahan Rafi died a few days ago on 10 April 2019, in Bangladesh, from burns received as punishment for reporting her experience of sexual harassment from her school headmaster.
“But the Son of Man is crucified always. And there shall be martyrs and saints.”
Thomas, the disciple dubbed doubtful, declared Jesus as “Lord and God” (John 20: 28, NIV). Pope Francis declared Archbishop Oscar Romero martyr and saint (October, 2018). And Nusrat Rafi? Only time will tell.
This is the message of Easter, the story of resurrection, the statement that death, martyrdom, is the path to resurrection and celebration of the new. Predicting his death, Jesus declares: “Truly, truly I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone (with no life); but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12: 24, ESV). According to Jesus, life remains contained, controlled and consumed by insularity, infested by injustice and lacking in possibility for renewal. It is to the new that we look. No, it is the new, the life after death, that has already been born because of the crucifixion of the Son of Man, the reality of martyrs and saints. Resurrection theology is void without crucifixion and martyrdom. Crucifixion and martyrdom are not willing acts by some victims of sadism. They are the path to justice and peace. To say Jesus died, that Romero died that Nusrat died, is far too tame a language to describe the extent of human cruelty; it is to conceal the passion for justice and the outrage at evil by those whose lives were taken because they dared to stand up for their convictions.
In Good Friday People (1991), Sheila Cassidy, who was arrested and tortured in Chile for providing medical care to a revolutionary, calls attention to the “Prayer for the Blessing of the New Fire” in which these words are spoken:
“Grant us through this Easter festival to be so inflamed with heavenly desires, that we may come with minds made pure to the festival of thy undying radiance, through the same Christ our Lord” (p. 178).
Cassidy interprets this prayer as “people’s hearts (possessed) with a mad burning passion for their God”. This is the kind of passion that possessed the first disciples of Jesus after they had time enough to contemplate the crucifixion of Jesus and to consider his words: “Destroy this temple and I will raise it again in three days” (John 2: 19, NIV). Jesus knew that death could not contain him, that death represented a way to life in fullness for all. Therefore, the angels, who approached the women at the tomb, were right in the question asked and the statement made: “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, he is risen” (Luke 24: 5, NIV).
Resurrection theology is summed up in the Mexican proverb: “They tried to bury us; they didn’t know we were seeds”. Every time we kill one who stands up for justice, we bury another seed. On 10 April, 2019, we buried Nusrat Jahan Rafi, another seed, another martyr, another saint who will most assuredly spring forth from the ground of oppression giving cause to celebrate new life – the ministry of those who dare to stand up for what is right and to pave the way for freedom for the oppressed, the displaced and the marginalized. Oscar Romero clearly knew this when, weeks before his assassination, he said: “I have to confess, that as a Christian, I do not believe in death without resurrection. If they kill me, I will rise again in the Salvadorian people” (Cassidy, p. 42).
This is our Easter message for 2019. Council for World Mission (CWM) believes that resurrection cannot be divorced from crucifixion, that Easter cannot be separated from Good Friday. We believe that “The Son of Man is crucified always. And there shall be martyrs and saints” as long as God’s agents of God’s mission remain vigilant in the face of evil and oppression. This is a cry of victory, a cause for celebration, the meaning and the message behind Easter.
So, on behalf of the entire CWM family, we greet you and wish you a holy and joyful Easter. Our prayer is that we will all look to the future with hearts “inflamed with heavenly desires” and that inspired by courage to do the right we will continue the tradition of Easter at whatever cost, knowing full well that “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone (with no life); but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (ESV).