Issues Vol. 168 >
Vol. 168 No. 15 - April 15 - April 21, 2017
We are called this year, to celebrate the light of Christ's Resurrection filled with the hope of Easter empowerment and carry it into a world of darkness and uncertainty. However, this invocation of hope may seem premature and dangerously naïve. The ominous shadows cast by the massacres in the bomb blasts of Churches in Egypt, chemical attacks in Syria, retaliatory missile strikes, tensions escalating between nuclear powers, violence and death by cow vigilantes and anti- Romeo squads,halting of religious services and polarisation of politics seem to be working at cross-purposes with the Easter message.
More personally, the spirits of some may be dampened this Easter by illness, bereavement, family breakdown, addiction, and unemployment. When life has let us down or when old struggles are succeeded by new ones, we may find it challenging to trust in the victory of God. When hope begins to slip away, fear takes its place and we are robbed of Easter Peace, Joy and Love.
The message by the angels is clear, succinct and compelling: "Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised." The angels describe the key moments of tension and drama in the Easter story. Fear and joy, despair and hope, doubt and faith. This message 'Do not be afraid'—is in many ways the hallmark of good news and heralds the restorative and empowering word of courage that is the very essence of the Resurrection life.
There is a mountain of evidence in the life of the disciples and of the church that Jesus indeed rose. We see the disciples changed, walking in newness of life as a new creation, filled with the Holy Spirit. The evidence that they were changed by the Risen Christ is huge and convincing. The fear that casts its shadow over Easter is actually the doubt that you and I can really walk in the newness of life, that we can become a new creation that we can change and be filled with the Holy Spirit.
Can the God of Genesis, Who separated the darkness from light, Who brought the entire world into being from nothing, make a new creation and give new life? Can the God of Exodus Who delivered the Hebrew people from slavery bondage deliver me from the bondage of sin? Because of the Resurrection of Jesus, we can experience the power of the Genesis in our life. We can experience an Exodus from the bondage of sin in our life. The stone in our life can be rolled away.
For all of us standing at the empty tomb – whatever the circumstances – there is unfathomable hope. There is hope for those on the peripheries of society; hope for governments and leaders; hope for the Church in this time of purification and renewal, hope for you and for me striving to lead a holy life.
Easter is meant to leave us with a very different sense of the present and the future. It offers a reality that is full of joy. Easter proclaims that fear and terror and death are not the end of the story. If we keep joyful faith in the memorial of the Lord's paschal solemnity and live it in this way, listening to His word and celebrating His mysteries, then we shall have the sure and real hope of sharing His triumph over death and living with Him in God.
The Easter Alleluia proclaims the unending Love of God – and empowers us with this unquenchable fire of God's love, summoning us to entrust ourselves to Christ's care as we hope in the divine power of Christ's Resurrection. Anchoring ourselves in the sure promise that God who has the last word, will ensure us the light and life and grace and mercy and Joy and Peace of Easter.
The Easter exclamation 'Allelluia' is a basic reaction in joy to the Risen Lord.
Alleluia! If there's one word that characterises our Easter celebrations, it's this. We've been holding off from using it for the whole of Lent, just so that we can apply it with renewed intensity to our celebration of Christ's Resurrection. It gets sung back and forth three times by the priest and congregation at the Easter Vigil, as we take it up again, and it's stuck on the end of various parts of the Mass of the Day, from the Introit on the way in, to the dismissal at the end. This 'Alleluia' permeates the whole of our Easter celebration; it gives it its character, its mood. But just what does it mean - this 'alleluia' that expresses our celebration of Jesus' resurrection from the dead? The word does have a meaning – it comes from a Hebrew word that means 'praise the Lord' – but Christian tradition hasn't translated it, leaving instead the sound that obviously lies behind the Hebrew word for 'praise': the sound of cheering, or, to use a technical term which reproduces the same kind of noise, 'ululation'. This great cry of 'alleluia' is like the roar of a crowd at a football match when a goal is scored; it says something more basic and more immediate than the explanation of its significance that comes in the post-match analysis which puts into words what happened in the match. A supporter of Manchester City can explain all the significance for Liverpool of this or that goal, but only a Liverpool supporter could have cheered when the goal was scored
Jesus was dead and buried, with a big stone rolled against the tomb, and the Pharisees came to Pilate to ask for permission to seal the stone and guard the tomb. Pilate responded, "You have a guard of soldiers. Go, make it as secure as you can." (Mt 27:65) So they did. They gave it their best shot—in vain.
It was hopeless then, it is hopeless today, and it will always be hopeless. Try as they may, people can't keep Jesus down. They can't keep Him buried. They may use physical force or academic scorn or media blackout or political harassment or religious caricature. For a season, they will think the tomb is finally sealed. But it never works. He breaks out. It's not hard to figure out: He can break out, because He wasn't forced in. He lets himself be libelled and harassed and black-balled and scorned and shoved around and killed. "I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again." (John 10:17-18). No one can keep Him down because no one ever knocked Him down. He lay down when He was ready.
China may have been "closed" for forty years to Western missionaries, and it's not because Jesus slipped and fell into the tomb. He stepped in. And when it was sealed over, He saved fifty million Chinese from inside — without Western missionaries. And when it was time, He pushed the stone away, so we could see what He had done. When it looks like He is buried for good, Jesus is doing something awesome in the dark. "The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how." (Mark 4:26-27) The world thinks Jesus is done for; out of the way. They think His word is buried for good in the dust of irrelevant antiquity. But Jesus is at work in the dark places: "Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit." (John 12:24) He let himself be buried — "no one takes my life from me" — and He will come out in power when and where He pleases — "I have authority to take it up again." And His hands will be full of fruit made in the dark.
Death and destruction seem to be part of the staple diet of so many.
They leave behind a trail of brokenness, hopelessness and devastation so shattering
that strangely, death itself seems to be the preferred option
which many hope will put an end to their suffering.
Death is often our neighbour.
It is often the choice of those
who have lost hope in themselves and in others.
It is the perceived certainty that the inevitable will occur
which triggers a death-wish response.
Lurking in the subconscious is a world which is threatened with collapse,
a world that can no longer sustain itself.
There is nothing more to live for.
Death is seen as a relief from present suffering.
It is perceived as an end to life as we know it.
From this perspective, it is not uncommon
that not only do we sometimes see death
as a liberation and escape from suffering,
but often go a step further.
We wish the death of those who inflict suffering on us,
as another alternative to ending our suffering.
We wish and call for "divine retribution"
so that a sense of justice and closure may be accomplished.
It is not long before the victim in turn becomes the persecutor.
As for those struggling with emotional, psychological and physical illness,
whose suffering can at best be alleviated by medication,
death seems the most humane response we could wish for them.
We seem caught in a karmic cycle of death and destruction
and a life devoid of meaning, even if it is only self-satisfying.
The egg which harbours within itself life in its embryonic form
is unable to bring it to fruition if it is broken from the outside.
But if it allows itself to be broken from within,
it brings forth new life.
A mother grieving beside the bruised and battered body
of her son as He hangs on the Cross in His dying moments
utters not a word – quite an unusual occurrence.
The Roman centurion, witnessing the cataclysmic events
as Jesus breathes His last, recognises Him as the Son of God,
remembering the power of His Word to heal.
He makes a profession of faith, even as He proclaims His death.
Mary Magdalene was the first witness of Jesus' Resurrection
Why did Mary Magdalene visit the tomb of Christ? Was it simply an act of sight-seeing? St John doesn't tell us, and St Matthew does tell us that 'Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb', but the other two Gospels add the detail that the women went to anoint the body of Jesus, taking the first opportunity to do so once the Sabbath was ended.
So of course, this was no act of mere curiosity, but an act of love. Mary's love for Jesus did not die when He died on the Cross, and like all true love, Mary's love drives her to serve the one she loves in the only way she now can, by an act of tender reverence towards the body of Jesus.
This is the same instinct that impels us Christians not only to pray for those we have loved who have died, but also to give them a respectful funeral, to tend their graves, and to long for the day when we shall be re-united with them, and hold them once again in our arms. We do not pretend that death is nothing at all—it is a profound tragedy, but our love is stronger and deeper.
Mary comes, then, to perform that act of love for one who is dead. But she discovers the strange, hard to grasp truth that stands at the centre of our faith—He is not here, He has risen. The tomb is empty. This empty tomb that once held the corpse of our Saviour and our God is the place that roots our religion in the world of history, the created world that God so loved. Jesus was buried there, the slaughtered victim of all the world's hatred and fear. But He is not there now. The Lamb once slain now lives for ever.
As yet, Mary does not understand what the empty tomb means. How could she? Her conclusion that His body has been stolen makes the best sense of what she sees, and so her love seems to be frustrated; it has reached a dead end. But we know what will happen next; she will encounter the Risen Christ in the garden, and He will call her by her name, and she will understand. When this happens, she will know that her love for Christ is not blocked, but re-directed.
It is not that Jesus' body no longer matters. On the contrary, it matters all the more, for now it is not only a living, but a life-giving body, a glorified body that must be served in new ways. The oils and spices can be left behind, for the loving service that Mary Magdalene must offer to the body of Christ is one that will impel her far from this garden of the dead, to serve Christ in the new garden of Eden which is the Church.
This article is based on the experiences of North Korean refugees.
First of all in the hospitals: the situation is critical—no antibiotics, no dressings, not even any soap. To give you just one example, instead of bottles of serum for the transfusions, they use beer bottles filled with boiled sugar water!
I was able to visit some schools. They illustrate the chronic malnutrition of the entire population—with the exception of the apparatchiks of the regime, of course! One needs to know that a North Korean child, aged seven, measures on average eight inches less and weighs 22 pounds less than a child in South Korea. Refugees (whom I have met in South Korea) were unanimous in telling me that in North Korea, "you have to bribe some member of the party or of the army in order to obtain basic necessities." Hence corruption is the order of the day.
I was surprised not to see any handicapped people. The truth is that the North Korean regime, racist and eugenicist, is obsessed with the notion of racial purity in which those designated "abnormal" have no part. Consequently, they are expelled from the major cities.
North Korea is a country so closed that no one can enter or move around without a visa — "including God," as the refugees add with a touch of black humour. The two principal pillars of the repression are, on the one hand, total control over all the movements of the population, and on the other, enforcing complete ignorance about the outside world. North Korean refugees who have succeeded in escaping discover to their astonishment a reality that is totally different from what they have been told ever since birth.
They describe all the unbridled Marxist propaganda inflicted on the people in order to turn them into zombies, submissive to the Communist Party. The dictator is presented as a veritable 'god', an idea unfailingly promoted in every speech, in all the teaching, all the information. The Kim dynasty is the object of a frenetic propaganda effort, with its 30,000 giant statues and portraits in every town and village, and its slogans inscribed on vast billboards on every street and road. North Koreans are taught to spy on their neighbours and colleagues, and denounce one another for any failing in their duty towards the 'Great Leader'. After the arrest of the transgressor, the whole neighbourhood and the family are rounded up, in order to criticise the transgressions
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