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.

 

Lent, Peace Spirituality

Holy Week: Reflection for Good Friday – Die to find life again

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

[Ed. Note: This is the eighth in a series of reflections throughout Lent from Rev. Paul Lansu. Reflections on the Sunday readings will be posted each week on the Friday before the Sunday which the reflection references. Holy Day reflections will be posted the day before the actual Holy Day. See all of these reflections and other resources at this link.]

Is 52:13-53:12 | Ps 31 (30) | Heb 4:14-16; 5:7-9 | Jn 18:1-19:42

Believers gather around the cross today. They listen to the stories from the Scriptures. These stories offer us a message that is new: suffering acquires meaning in God. Death never has the last word in Him. Through the suffering of Christ, God brings reconciliation for all. This gives many the strength to endure suffering, even today, and to look for a world where every tear will be dried and all the pain will have disappeared.

People can hurt others a lot

The memorial events marking the nearly seventy-five anniversaries of the liberation of Auschwitz/Birkenau and twenty-five years of genocide in Rwanda remind us again of the savagery that human beings inflict on one another. It is not that we need to delve into history for evidence of such brutality with current ongoing wars and totalitarian regimes which are always developing more sophisticated techniques of human torture and destruction.

What is new is that television and social media now brings the experience of such depravity from all over the world into the heart of our homes–where sometimes there is great cruelty already. Every day we are confronted with war and violence, with poverty, hunger and injustice. A great danger here is indifference or powerlessness.

One risk is that familiarity makes us almost immune to the pain of this indescribable suffering. It also means that the suffering of Jesus in his passion pale into insignificance by comparison with modern atrocities. But the core of the passion story of Jesus is not the intensity of his pain–intense though it was–but the person who endured the suffering and the love that motivated him to do so.

Calvary is not the end!

Life will continue. We will live on in our children. There is a new beginning. At death, the questioning can be sorrowful, somber and heart-rending. Why death now? What of the bereaved? The joyful anticipation is replaced with pain-filled loss and anxiety. Even in the presence of vibrant faith, there is often a sense of finality, of completion of an era.

This atmosphere of finality pervaded Calvary on Good Friday. Calvary seemed to be the end. Is this the last moment of life? Is death the end of life? The great hopes of a promising life were dashed. With hindsight, it was easy to see that it would end in this way if Jesus insisted on justice, forgiveness, love and peace. Now the miracle worker from Nazareth fails to come down from the Cross even though he had raised Lazarus from the dead. Dead he was now himself, the same as those who had gone before him.
But Jesus had the power to take up his life again. That he would do at the Resurrection, but first he would endure the intense pain of the human condition. He must know the loneliness of death first-hand, the sense of abandonment by God.

Death is where there is no hope

Good Friday shows that people without hope die in despair. A society or world without hope degenerates into humiliation, indifference, fear and violence. Only the person who is prepared to light a candle of goodness at every opportunity rather than curse the darkness of evil. Only the person who daily takes that first small step in building a chain of goodness. Only the person who believes that oftentimes a majority for hope is just one individual with faith and courage. Only the person who knows it is in giving away time, energy and even life itself that one comes to experience lasting love, human and divine. It is only such a person that can create new life and joy in today’s world. We are enabled by the Spirit to keep hope alive in the hearts of those whose lives we serve.

No matter how grim the suffering or bleak the future seems, the Father has a great dream for us which he will realise just as he did for his Son. Today’s message is not to be afraid: I have overcome the world, and so can you.

Presente! Consider the suffering of this time

For many years a quiet event has been organised by different solidarity and faith groups on Good Friday to commemorate the suffering of many human beings and remember the misery of many peoples today. People come together in silence to remember those who are suffering, for those who have been killed yesterday and today in wars or other forms of violence and injustice.

Participants walk with crosses with names of victims of violence on them. This gives the victims a name and identity. Names of victims are prayed aloud one by one and those present answer each time with: Presente! It’s about people! They are not dead before God. The faithful walk from one religious or symbolic place to another. Along the way people stand still for a short reflection. They reflect on the suffering of today. It is also a public testimony to our faith. All people of good will are invited to join these events. It is the Way of the Cross today.

Let humanity speak!

Such an action is a powerful sign of solidarity with all victims of senseless violence. It is an act of resistance against all systems that prevent people from developing themselves in our own societies and elsewhere, not the least in the developing countries. Considering that suffering is a tender gesture of love for people who are in pain, who are sick, who are facing death. Let humanity speak!

All of Christ’s way of life is characterised by his gift to the utmost: the love for the enemy, the mercy for the neighbour, the infinite forgiveness, the unconditional faith in God, the constant prayer, the attention to the least and respect for the stranger.

On Good Friday, we see that Jesus’s choice for the poorest, the weakest and victims bring him into conflict with the powerful. They feel threatened and want him on the cross. The death on the cross in itself makes no sense. But death does not have the last word. Jesus lives. Life is stronger than death. God continues to choose for justice and love over death. No Good Friday without Easter. No Easter without Good Friday.

____________

Photo credit: The 8th Day Center, Chicago, Illinois, USA

 

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.

Lent, Nonviolence

Reflection for Good Friday, April 14 – The cross and nonviolence

by Judy Coode
Project Coordinator, Catholic Nonviolence Initiative

Isaiah 52:13-53:12 | Hebrews 4:14-16, 5:7-9 | John 18:1-19:42

How easy it would be to ignore the torture and death of Jesus. How simple it would be to celebrate the Resurrection, God’s glorious power, the joy in knowing that eternity in heaven awaits us. But there is no way to Easter Sunday without Good Friday. There is no way there but through, as many of us have realized after years of struggles and challenges.

With his human nature, it is understandable that Jesus tried to find a way out of his suffering. He prayed for weeks, he agonized, he begged for relief. But he accepted the pain and endured the crucifixion, which is our most potent example of nonviolence in action. When we say that we are followers of Christ, we are saying that we too will nonviolently resist the powers that oppress, and that we will accept the consequences of our resistance.

James Douglass writes: “Crucifixion in and of itself follows the logic of total violence. Yet the cross has become … the symbol of nonviolence. … How could the logic of ultimate violence and the reality of a transforming nonviolence ever become linked in one and the same symbolic reality, the cross of Jesus’ crucifixion? To take up the cross is, in Jesus’ transforming vision, to assume the suffering of the oppressed.  … Jesus’ vision of life is to take on the suffering of the oppressed not as a passive victim but as one acting in loving, nonviolent resistance, thus risking one’s own crucifixion. …

“The inconceivable change that occurred at Jesus’ cross was that an empire’s terrifying deterrent was transformed through the nonviolent resistance of love, truth, and forgiveness. … The violence of a crucifixion meant to keep total violence in power was revealed instead, to the eyes of the oppressed, as the transforming power of a suffering, nonviolent love.” (The Nonviolent Coming of God, Wipf and Stock Publishers.)

Judy Coode is Project Coordinator for the Catholic Nonviolence initiative, a project of Pax Christi International.

Lent, Nonviolence

Reflection for Holy Thursday, April 13 – The practice of communion

by Johnny Zokovitch
Senior Communications Officer, Pax Christi International

Exodus 12:1-8, 11-14 | 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 | John 13:1-15

The “last supper” scene in John’s gospel is strikingly different than its counterparts in the other gospels. When we read the passages from Matthew, Mark and Luke, we witness a scene — bread and wine, eating and drinking — that is reminiscent of our own experiences of Eucharist in the liturgy. But the ritual action in John’s gospel is completely different. Why? Is it that John simply did not know of the tradition of eating bread and drinking wine? Most scholars agree that this is not the case; for instance, John presents Jesus in a very “eucharistic” setting in chapter 6 at the multiplication of the loaves and again in 6:52-58 where he speaks of his flesh as “true food” and his blood as “true drink”. So why is it that John chooses a different ritual action for Eucharist — the washing of feet — instead of employing the action of eating bread and drinking wine?

John tells us that Jesus washes his disciples’ feet in order to provide a model for the discipleship community to follow, to practice among their membership. Many of us know the action of washing another’s feet in the cultural milieu of first-century Palestine was an action not even required of the lowest of slaves. Therefore Jesus’s action toward the disciples is one that calls for a radical redefinition of leadership within the discipleship community — namely that service to one another is the true manifestation of leadership. This in itself is a stunning reversal of the dominant myth of our culture that leadership is about power. But why does John choose to place the foot-washing specifically in the context of Eucharist?

First, it is clear John is making a connection between Eucharist and service to one another. A commitment to radical, deep discipleship is a commitment to live a life in service to one another, especially to the most vulnerable among us. Secondly, discipleship must be practiced in community. As one wise disciple put it, “If I live alone, whose feet will I wash?”

But foot-washing makes a further demand on the Christian community. It is a very intimate action, one not easily engaged in between complete strangers. How many of our churches today can claim to be places of intimate communion? And yet John’s gospel expects that such intimacy is an essential quality of Christian community.

John highlights foot-washing as the ritual action of Eucharist because he wants us to understand that the validity of our celebration of Eucharist–the validity of our worship, our prayer, our spirituality–is dependent on our commitment of intimate service to one another. The surrounding society spoke of the early Christian communities by referring to their great love for one another and their care for the needs of each member so that there wasn’t a poor one among them. Eucharist should demonstrate our oneness in Christ, our communion with each other. But it is impossible to talk of authentic Christian community if we remain strangers to each other.

Johnny Zokovitch is Senior Communications Officer of Pax Christi International.

Lent, Nonviolence

Lent 2017: Reflection for Palm Sunday, April 9 – On Jesus’s way of active nonviolence

by Wamũyũ Wachira
Board Member, Pax Christi International

Matthew 21:1-11 | Isaiah 50:4-7 | Philippians 2:6-11 | Matthew 26:14-27:66

What does it mean to celebrate Palm Sunday devoid of all power trappings and in the midst of a migration crisis and violence in all its forms?

Palm Sunday is the beginning of Holy Week. We accompany Jesus as he enters Jerusalem until his death on a cross. Jesus’s entry to Jerusalem is unique as he uses a colt and the people receive him by covering the path with their cloaks and palm branches as they shout aloud, “Hosanna! Hosanna!” Is this not a contradiction of what is expected of a king? Why did Jesus choose to use a colt instead of riding in the latest model helicopter? Why did the people use their cloaks and branches instead of a red carpet that befits such a leader? Why does he choose Jerusalem instead of going back to Nazareth, his place of birth?  Jesus is inviting us to shed off the trappings of power and embrace all people.

During this holy week we accompany Jesus, a king who is stripped of all the glory, who chooses to keep quiet when accused, to forgive and embrace all his enemies, to act nonviolently when spat on, slapped, crowned with thorns, ridiculed and nailed on a cross. He does not summon his mighty soldiers to fight for him, or disperse the crowds with tear gas, or kill using drones. He challenges his disciples to put away the sword and not to retaliate. Jesus’s mission is that all may have and enjoy fullness of life (John 10:10).

As we celebrate Palm Sunday this year, 2017, we are invited and challenged to active nonviolence which is at the core of Jesus’s mission – to speak, act and feel nonviolently when confronted with violence.

Teresia Wamũyũ Wachira, IBVM is a member of the Pax Christi International Board. Currently, she is a Senior Lecturer in Peace Studies at St. Paul’s University in Nairobi, Kenya.