Lent, Nonviolence, Women and Peacemaking

Reflection for Holy Saturday, April 15 – The liberation from fear

by Greet Vanaerschot
Secretary General, Pax Christi International

Readings for the Easter Vigil Mass

The readings of Holy Saturday –  Genesis, Exodus, the texts of Isaiah, Baruch, Ezekiel, the Epistle to the Romans, and finally the Gospel of St. Matthew – shine a special light on this day of ‘emptiness’ – a day of the ‘Great Silence’ between death and resurrection, a rebirth, the meaning of which, at that moment, no one yet apprehends.

In Genesis, there is mention of a ‘formless wasteland’, of darkness and water; also of the sacrifice of Isaac, and of the passage of the Red Sea.

In Isaiah, God speaks to his people, “I have abandoned you, ignored you; I have left you in the storm, but now I will never rebuke you again, and I will make with you an eternal covenant.“

Baruch, on the other hand, regrets that when the source of wisdom is abandoned, all roads go to death.

Ezekiel puts his finger on the behaviour of the sons of Israel, the defilements and profanations of the holy name of God; but he adds that in spite of this, this Holy Name will be revealed to others and God will purify his people.

St. Paul goes further. Our body has been enslaved to sin, but Christ, through His Passion and the Cross, makes us reborn with Him, and keeps us alive for God.

Finally, St. Matthew relates in detail the appearance of the angel to the women who came to embalm the body of Jesus, the fear of the guards, and then the encounter with Jesus.

The readings speak of confusion, treason, sin, violence and terrible fear: the fear of the high priests, elders, guards, disciples; the women at the tomb; a fear that made them hide, run away, keep doors closed, stones sealed…

Why shouldn’t there be fear and “chaos” on Holy Saturday? The day before the people of Israel witnessed a cruel and savage murder of a nonviolent man, one who had promised to save the world. They heard His loud cry to God! Why did You forsake me? Had they misunderstood Jesus? Were these past years of hope all in vain? What else could they do then but be fearful of the future?

How do we in our present time react to events when innocent people are massacred? Aren’t we also fearful? We see nowadays that many people live in fear.  Each day we hear and see awful things happening; cruel terrorist attacks all over the world; the cold-blooded killings of Coptics in Egypt; the shocking gas attacks in Syria; the bombs killing the faithful in Pakistan; thousands of men, women and children drown in the Mediterranean Sea; the stealing of land from the indigenous. We hear about nuclear states refusing to negotiate a ban on nuclear arms, a weapon that can destroy humanity; about the famine in Sudan, Nigeria, Yemen ad Somalia which serves as a deep cause in war and conflicts; politicians who think of the world as their playground where they pursue their personal interests and prefer to bomb and destroy… The list is long. Is it a surprise that, in a world where violence seems to be dominating the world scene and where there is little knowledge and education about the effectiveness of nonviolent approaches, people live in fear? And that apparently our leaders see no other options then building walls, closing borders, increasing weapon budgets, and ignoring climate change?

Pax Christi members, in the midst of violence, however, find strength in the message that is given by the angel to the women when they visited the tomb: that Christ offered himself as a nonviolent victim to strip humanity of its veil of violence. The words of the angel liberated the women from their fear and made them the first privileged messengers of the start of a new era.  Women, who even in the most difficult moments, show tenderness, devotion, and moral strength. They tell us to keep courage, patience, lucidity; to keep a solid hope, a living faith – that the stone placed at the entrance of the tomb has been rolled away and a new life has arisen. “Women,” as Marie Dennis has said, “are bringing their experience and creativity to the challenging long-term vocation of healing and reconciling both peoples and the planet.”

It is this belief that allows peacemakers of Pax Christi, through their words of truth and nonviolent action, to share the suffering of the poorest and the most destitute, those who suffer, who are persecuted and weak, who are exposed to violence and exploitation; but also to work vigorously towards eliminating the causes of violence that produces suffering.

I wish you all a Holy ‘Silent’ Saturday in which you will allow the crucified to enter your life, and that we will never close our eyes to the suffering in our world and the senseless violence.

Greet Vanaerschot is Secretary General of Pax Christi International.

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