Lent, Peace Spirituality

Holy Week: Reflection for Easter – Life is stronger than death; Rise up to live again

by Rev. Paul Lansu
Senior Policy Advisor, Pax Christi International

[Ed. Note: This is the final entry in a series of reflections throughout Lent and Holy Week from Rev. Paul Lansu. See all of these reflections and other resources at this link.]

Acts 10:34a, 37-43 | Ps 118 (117) | Col 3:1-4 | John 20:1-9

Today is Easter. How will we celebrate, being that Easter is the feast of the victory of life over all negativity?

Hopelessness pollutes our life space. So many streams flow into the sea of our despair. Long-term unemployment scars many a heart. Violence awakens fear in the vulnerable, young and old. Famine gnaws away at the fabric of our society. Scandals in high places erode trust. It gets easier and easier to paint a grim picture of a pointless life ending in disastrous faith. But the darker the night, the more significant is the torch.

Our torch is the risen Christ. This Easter, as perhaps never before, Christ’s message is vital for the people of our time. It is vital because it is life giving. It is a message of hope highlighting that the God who made the world and its people has both safely in his hands and his helping is nearer than the air we breathe. In fact, he is living in our hearts and in our relationships. He has taken on our human condition even unto death. Rising from the dead, he has changed utterly the meaning of our lives.

Search and find

“Who are you looking for?” Jesus asks Mary Magdalene as she weeps by the side of the empty grave. The Easter Gospel left behind the women and disciples confused. They did not know where the Lord was and did not yet understand anything about rising from the dead. They also experienced deep loneliness and abandonment in their great loss and distress. Where are you Lord? When we need you most, where are you? Why should we believe in a good God of Life, when he could have prevented so much unnecessary suffering symbolised on Good Friday?

The resurrected Christ is asking to be found or discovered. If we really look, we can see him everywhere. He can be found among people who pray and work together in a constructive way, in open-minded people who follow a brighter light than the glimmer of their own candle, and in people who have become wise enough not to judge others because they prefer to give life rather than be excluded from it.

We are made to love and to be loved, to reach out in forgiveness, generosity and trust to every brother and sister, especially those in greatest need. Following the torch of his example, we are called to keep hope alive for all those whose lives we touch, hope in the power of God’s love working in and through us for one another. To undermine this hope is the essence of evil.

In a hopeless situation, prayer gives us an instrument for inner peace and solidarity. Through our faith and prayer, we connect with each other in a way that we cannot explain but can feel. This feeling becomes an uplifting presence that translates itself in silence, music, words, body language and empathy. We literally stand next to each other and turn our eyes in the same direction for hope. Standing empty-handed together before God is better than simply standing with empty hands.

Look deeper than what you see

The point of Easter is to see beyond the grave, to see beyond the destruction of human life, to see beyond the observable facts. If we try to understand and rationalise everything, we could go mad. Easter gives us a window through which, besides looking at the world with our brains, we can also look with our hearts and hands.

Faith should keep us alert and in tune with the world. Faith adds something that the modern world has lost — namely a sense of belonging to a love greater than our understanding. This source of love inspires us to deal with our neighbour with more tolerance and to look at ourselves in a less egocentric way.

The religious answer to the question of “who or what are you looking for” is that we should look beyond what we see and understand. He is to be found in the victory over suffering, in the bare helping hands that remove the stones, in the protest of workers who demand changes in the financial world, in the volunteers and professionals who risk their lives working among the victims of poverty and conflict.

At Easter, we celebrate the fact that God moved Christ beyond the Cross. On this instrument of torture he cried out, “My God, why have you forsaken me?” and “Your will be done.” On Easter Sunday, God responds to that cry by showing that he wants to live. Even though life is destroyed, his last will and final testament is to restore it.

The positive in life is much stronger than the negative

Negativity has not the last word. We celebrate that at Easter. Only God has the last word. Beyond so many dead spots in our existence, there is another way to discover that brings us back to life. That is why Christians dare to celebrate Easter without forgetting Good Friday. We can continue to believe in the power of life. We must testify to that power with so many who now need support and encouragement in these days. It is our Easter mission as Christians.

Light a candle

The Easter candle is a symbol of the Risen Lord, the source of all our courage, hope and love. However, we must not reduce the energising flame of faith to the flickering flame of a simple candle. Easter is a time to fan the flame of faith into an inferno that will burn away all fear and selfishness and inflame all hearts with love and hope. Such is the vision. Easter people will not settle for less.

Peace events or marches are organised in many places in different countries on Easter Sunday or Easter Monday. Participants manifest, for instance, against nuclear weapons and/or other contemporary challenges such as the climate, exclusion or migration. Many believers also carry a candle as a sign of life. It remains a task to keep policymakers alert to keep looking for solutions to the major challenges of our time.

At Easter Sunday, we will see the result of our Lenten campaign as an expression of our solidarity with the poor, the weakest, especially with those populations that live in oppression or occupation. We are the risen body of Christ in our world, called to love one another.

Alleluia – Christ has risen! Alleluia.

I wish you a Happy Easter.

 

Nonviolence, Peace Spirituality

When we realise our weakness, we realise our discipleship

by Henrietta Cullinan
Pax Christi UK

A Reflection for the 7th Sunday of Easter…

Acts 1:15-17, 20-26 | 1 John 4:11-16 | John 17:11-19

Discipleship, we learn from this Sunday’s readings, means transformation, means thankfulness, means accepting God’s will. As the psalm says, ‘The Lord has set his sway’. Jesus prays that we be ‘one like us’, leading me to the blessed but at the same time terrifying understanding that God has chosen me and given me to Jesus. Jean Vanier writes of this Gospel passage, ‘This holiness is not something we achieve; it is given.’ [1]

We don’t only become disciples by being committed activists, full of austere courage, brimming with facts and figures about the arms trade say, or high level analysis of geopolitics. The world won’t thank us for bearing witness, it is true, or causing a disruption and standing in the way of its business. But according to Jean Vanier, Christ’s prayer calls us to accept our vulnerability.

When I visited friends in Kabul last year, unlike in most well-to-do houses, and institutions, there was no armed guard. I signed a statement, asking not to be rescued if I was kidnapped. I tried not to think about the implications of this, remembering S. Brian Willson’s words, ‘We are not worth more’ [2]. Instead I followed my hosts’ precautions, taking different routes, not speaking in public, even though taxi drivers often wanted a chat. Stuck in a massive traffic jam once, our driver even warned off a nosy policemen, saying we were Turkish. I had no choice but to put my faith in the people around me. But then I had a passport and a plane ticket, a heavily- guarded international airport, to fly in and out of.

As followers of Jesus’ way of nonviolence, we become vulnerable. When we put ourselves in the way of the businesses and powers that put greed over human life, we come to realise our weakness, and realise our discipleship.

Guide us into the way of Peace.

____________

[1] Vanier, Jean, Drawn into the mystery of Jesus through the Gospel of John, DLT Books, London 2004, p296
[2] S. Brian Willson is an American peace activist and Vietnam War veteran who lost both his legs blockading arms shipments bound for Central America in 1987

Henrietta Cullinan is administrator for the Faith & Resistance Network and a member of the London Catholic Worker. You can read all of Pax Christi UK’s post-Easter Sunday reflections here. 

Nonviolence, Peace Spirituality

The Acts of the Apostles: Our family album

by Gerry McFlynn
Pax Christi UK

A Reflection for the 6th Sunday of Easter…

Acts 10:25-26, 34-35, 44-48 | 1 John 4:7-10 | John 15:9-17

The Acts of the Apostles is the only New Testament book of which we can claim authorship. The Gospels describe the life of Jesus; they contain his Will and Testament and we are the executors of that Will.  The letters of the Apostles explain how that life should be lived.  Acts tells us how those first followers of Jesus did, in fact, live it.

It describes how they tried to make sense of the large print of his words about things like – losing one’s life in order to save it, turning the other cheek, sharing one’s goods, going the extra mile, to say nothing of loving one’s enemies!  It also gives an account of the enormous joy and hope unleashed in them.  And it is a story that has not ended, for every Christian life is a chapter in this Book – our family album!

A striking feature of the lifestyle of those first followers was their refusal to engage with militarism or any other “ism” that militated against the wellbeing of another human being.  They believed that God’s Spirit of love had been poured out on everyone.  In fact, they became known for the love they had for everyone, a love that manifested itself in their care for the poor, the weak and marginalised in society.

Acts describes a nonviolent, caring and compassionate lifestyle and shows how, even in our complicated and violent world, it is still possible to live such a life. As Easter People, we are challenged to live the same Spirit-filled life as those first followers.  We do this in another time, in a different world.  We have to do in our world NOW what those first Christians did in their world THEN.

Gerry McFlynn is a member of our Nonviolence Working Group, a priest and project manager for the Irish Council for Prisoners Overseas. You can read all of Pax Christi UK’s post-Easter Sunday reflections here. 

Peace Spirituality

Finding the spirit of the still strange, risen Lord

by David McLoughlin
Pax Christi UK

A Reflection for the 5th Sunday of Easter…

Acts 9:26-31 | 1 John 3:18-24 | John 15:1-8

Today Saul enters the picture and with him violence. The Jerusalem community are scared of him.  His recent Damascus conversion does nothing to allay their fears.  We get a more accurate insight into the internal fragility of the early community; not yet fully confidant in the abiding spirit of their, still strange, risen Lord.  Saul arrives and the kindly Barnabas mediates on his behalf.  He tells of the vision of the risen Jesus and Saul’s remarkable recent attempt at preaching Jesus, as Messiah, in Damascus.  They are wary.

Paul is young and confident with a detailed knowledge of the Hebrew scriptures which he can quote, at will, from memory.  At ease in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek he is able to argue with all-comers.  Immediately he starts wandering the city, preaching in the name of Jesus, as though he were an Apostle.  They can’t cope with him.  To make matters worse he upsets the Greek-speaking Jewish disciples, with whom he should have had more in common.  The uneasy balance of the community disintegrates as the Greeks plan to kill him. There is a disturbing upsurge of violence here that shows just how hard-won would be the more contemplative account in John’s gospel of all as members of Christ, the one vine.

They hustle Saul to the coast and put him on a boat to Tarsus, back to the family tent-making business, nearly a thousand miles away. We hear no more of him for ten years. But in those years the full significance of the Risen Lord’s ‘Why are you persecuting me?’ will become clear. Saul, as Paul, will return with his teaching of the Church, as the body of Christ, in which each one of us can find a welcoming home, and a unique role, despite our past.

David McLoughlin is a member of our Nonviolence Working Group and is senior Lecturer in Theology, Newman University, Birmingham. You can read all of Pax Christi UK’s post-Easter Sunday reflections here. 

Peace Spirituality

The good shepherd, the leader who provides, ‘life to the full’

by John Williams
Pax Christi UK

A Reflection for the 4th Sunday of Easter…

Acts 4:8-12 | 1 John 3:1-2 | John 10:11-18

The most striking feature of the Liturgy of the Word this Sunday is the commonality of the First Reading and the Gospel in three respects. Firstly, the location, the Temple in Jerusalem.  Secondly, the audience, the religious leaders.  Thirdly, the event preceding the discourse, a healing.

The allegory of the ‘Good Shepherd’ should not be read in isolation from the Old Testament references to the shepherds of Israel, who were the political and religious leaders that the prophets denounced.  Ezekiel 34 especially, depicts the deplorable leadership of shepherds who broke the commandments; who killed, stole and lied, causing violence and suffering for many:

  • shepherds who fed themselves instead of their flock
  • shepherds who failed to care for the weak and the sick
  • shepherds who ruled with cruelty and violence.

We cannot be blind to our present political leaders who are culpable in the same way as Ezekiel describes, when:

  • they engage in the self-interest of the arms trade
  • they fail to use human and financial resources for the well and the sick
  • they align themselves with foreign governments that inflict war and suffering on their own people and their neighbours.

However, Ezekiel goes on to describe the day when God will become the shepherd leader, ‘I, myself will shepherd my people …’ and ‘I shall make a covenant of peace with them …’ This is akin to the Psalmist when he says; ‘The Lord is my shepherd. There is nothing I shall want.’  Today, in the Gospel, Jesus declares that he himself is that shepherd, ‘I am the good shepherd.’

This good shepherd is the leader who provides, ‘life to the full’. This fullness of life is illustrated in the preceding healing, of the blind man in the Gospel and the lame man in the First Reading.  Let us pray today for our political and religious leaders, that their decision-making will bring life, not death.

John Williams is a Trustee of the Christian Peace Education Fund and former Secondary Schools Adviser for Westminster Diocese. You can read all of Pax Christi UK’s post-Easter Sunday reflections here. 

Peace Spirituality

Jesus invites us to look and see

by Paul McGowan, Pax Christi UK

A Reflection for the 3rd Sunday of Easter…

Acts 3:13-15, 17-19 | 1 John 2:1-5 | Luke 24:35-48

The disciples are sharing their stories about the risen Lord. There is a general hubbub, and it is not clear who is listening to whom, if anyone is. Into this atmosphere, the Lord steps and announces ‘Peace’. Naturally, this causes great alarm, terror even. This is not unfamiliar to us. Anyone who announces peace will find it does not go down that well. A politician who insists that war is not the way or that innocent blood will not be spilled will find that alarm and fear predominates, even among those who maintain that peace really is what they want.

To try to calm the general outbreak of anxiety, Jesus gets the disciples to look and see. The truth is physical, something to be touched and known, made up of hands, feet, flesh and bones. Then he gets them to pay attention to the marks of suffering in this body. It is not what it was, not in pristine condition, but they know how the marks got there, they know how this happened, and maybe they even know why it happened.

Doubts linger, so Jesus tries another angle. There are some basic human needs. Jesus demonstrates one of them before their eyes. He eats the fish. It’s not a slap-up meal, but it’s good for you, and it’s good to share what you have, and for some of you, remember, this is why I chose you, you fishermen.

And at last Jesus is able to move to the Scriptures. This realisation of Peace, this physical reality, this battered body, these basic needs met, it is all there to be retrieved from the sources, just as we discussed so many times before, on the road to Jerusalem. The hard knocks are inevitable, it seems, but so is the rising. Now, remember all this when you go to places I have never been.

Paul is a member of the Pax Christi Executive Committee and the Coventry Justice and Peace Group. You can read all of Pax Christi UK’s post-Easter Sunday reflections here.