This was a piece used in The Spire, a monthly newsletter published by the American Church in Paris. Visit acparis.org for current and past issues.
Resurrection Sunday. A day filled with hope in the endless possibilities of new life as Christians all over the world celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. This singular event signals the climax of God’s redemptive plans for the world. Through Jesus Christ’s resurrection death is defeated and the hope for everlasting life springs forward into our existence here and now. It’s something worth celebrating. And it’s something worth reflecting on in the wake of a week of violence concluding with the crucifixion of the Reverend Thomas Uzhunnalil, a Salesian priest, who was kidnapped in Yemen earlier this month.
As news reports poured in the morning after Easter, like many of you, my heart was filled with deep despair for the victims of senseless violence in the name of religion. And I thought about how easy it is to lose hope in goodness when acts of terror and unspeakable violence are carried out. In these moments we echo the psalmist who says “How long, LORD?”
To be honest, there is a lot in the world to find saddening.
But as I reflect on this past Holy Week I can’t help but look at Jesus on the cross. Luke 23 tells us two things that Jesus does that should give us a model for how we are to react to the violence of the past week.
First, Jesus forgives the very people who are nailing him to the cross. In the middle of excruciating pain and unbearable fatigue, Jesus does not retaliate. He forgives. There’s a strong temptation for us to want to retaliate against those who wrong us. Including those who wrong people in our tribe (i.e. other Christians). But Jesus clearly demonstrates that as Christians forgiveness is always to be the norm.
Second, Jesus says to the criminal hanging on the cross next to him, who asked that he remember him when Jesus comes into his kingdom, “I assure you that today you will be with me in paradise.” Jesus, even in his own pain, shows compassion.
So what can we learn from this? What do Jesus’ final moments tell us about how we should respond to the unspeakable horror of crucifixion and mass murder of Christians in the 21st century?
First, forgiveness. Is there a more difficult concept to grasp in our context than forgiveness? Evil runs rampant in this world. And we feel the pull of vengeance, but often disguise it in the name of justice. But if Jesus’ own story is any indication of how we are to orient our own lives, then forgiveness is the natural (though instinctively unnatural) response to violence. Remember the words in Colossians 3 to “forgives as the Lord forgave you.”
Second, compassion. This characteristic is slightly more nuanced. Compassion demands that we not only forgive our oppressors but have compassion for them. The people who are capable of such heinous acts as crucifixion are also people in deep need of the grace, mercy, and love of Jesus Christ who was obedient to death, even death on a cross. And so we are required to be ambassadors for Christ through our posture of compassion to even the cruelest of aggressors.
Is this easy? Of course not.
There is something counterintuitive. Something so foreign to saying to someone who has hurt you so severely, “I forgive you.” And yet, as Christians, that exactly what we are urged, compelled, even commanded to do.
I don’t know the way forward. I don’t know how to resolve the crisis of a terrorist group who is hell bent on committing such brutal and unconceivable acts of terror.
I do know that death and hate do not have the final word. I do know that on the cross Jesus shows us that self-sacrificial love, including forgiveness is normative for his followers.
And I do know that resurrection changes things. Resurrection says that no matter how deep the despair. No matter how much things seem like they are lost, broken, damaged, etc. Death and sin and loss and terror do not have the last word. The surprising, beautiful reality of Jesus’ resurrection is that there is always hope for new life where hope and healing are possible in the midst of death and darkness.
Let’s practice resurrection.
 Sharkov, Damien. “ISIS CRUCIFIES CATHOLIC PRIEST TOM UZHUNNALIL ON GOOD FRIDAY: REPORTS.” Newsweek. March 28, 2016. Accessed March 30, 2016. http://www.newsweek.com/isis-crucify-catholic-priest-good-friday-441219.