On Tuesday evening I attended a Prayer Service for Sri Lanka, following the fatal bomb blasts that killed over 300 people on Easter Day. It was hosted by Blacktown Uniting Church and organised by the Sri Lanka Reconciliation Forum and led by Uniting Church Ministers, Rev Dr John Jegasothy and Rev Radhika Sukumar-White. Radhika, an Australian, Sri Lankan Tamil, spoke to the several hundred gathered people, expressing her deep pain and sadness over the evil and violence perpetrated to the people of Sri Lanka. She spoke of the pain and struggle this small island nation has endured for decades through ethnic tensions and now religious violence.
I stood in a church in Blacktown surrounded by several hundred people of diverse backgrounds. There were people of many religions and none. There were many Sri Lankan people come to remember their homeland and the suffering. There were many from non-Sri Lankan background come to share the sadness and pray and stand in solidarity for peace.
As I stood there I was aware of not only sadness but powerlessness that I felt before the evil powers of the world who do what they do and with scant regard for the pain and suffering they inflict on other innocent people. I felt the immense powerlessness to change this evil – that I cannot do anything to make this situation right. I can’t fix the problem, release the pain, change the evil-minded people who are constantly seeking the means to express their hatred through violence and bloodshed. I cannot even begin to understand how such people think or what motivates them. I cannot understand an evil and hatred so profound that it would inflict such devastating violence upon innocent people. I also cannot understand how anyone can connect such evil to a deep spirituality or religious life – it simply doesn’t work.
Radhika told us how she and her congregation had journeyed through Good Friday and the pain and suffering of Jesus as he was driven towards his death on the cross. She them recounted the joy of her congregation when they gathered on Easter Day to celebrate resurrection – the victory of love over death and violence and brings hope and joy. They sang, prayed, listened, laughed and had Hot Cross Buns. Then a few hours later she heard the news of murder and suffering in the homeland of her family, as others gathered to celebrate this same life and victory over death. As they gathered to celebrate Easter Day and the victory of love over death, they were mercilessly killed. The violence and evil of Good Friday, of the powers of evil in the world remains and we find ourselves caught between the joy and the pain, the hope and the reality of evil. We are left confused and uncertain. Does Easter have meaning in our lives? Does Jesus’ death and resurrection mean anything in our world – or is it simply just an other-worldly story whose power lies beyond this world?
Over the last couple of weeks, I journeyed the Stations of the Cross – Northmead several times. I came back to various works of art depicting this last journey of Jesus and pondered their deeper story and meaning. I was challenged by the artist’s stories and their profound reflections on Jesus’ story. The last time I journeyed through the Stations was as part of the Northmead Uniting Church Good Friday service where Rev Niall Reid led us through a series of reflections and readings using the various works of art to highlight and open the story’s meaning. It was gentle and deep. Over these couple of weeks, I had to sit with the story and its deep pain and struggle and how it reflects the experience of each of us and our world. Niall led us to the place in the exhibition where ‘Resurrection’ is portrayed and said:
This is Good Friday, why are we standing in front of this Resurrection artwork, surely this has to wait until Easter Sunday?
When the criminal said ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’
Jesus replied, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’ (Luke 23:43)
Really! How can this be, new life, resurrection today? But isn’t that sometime in the future. This artwork created with quantum physics in mind speaks of time, past, present and future coalescing – cross and resurrection ever and always existing together in the same moment – pain and suffering, healing and abundant life coexistent. Light and smoke [in the candle before the work].
On Sunday morning I stood at the lookout at Kurrajong Heights with about 50 others. We watched the sun rising across the Sydney basin, although there was much beautiful mist down low over the suburbs. It was magnificent, a beautiful sunrise, signalling a new day and on Easter Day, a new way in the world. We read, prayed, sang and reflected on the story of hope breaking into the world’s pain, sadness and death.
As I ponder my experience on Tuesday evening standing in solidarity with the pain and suffering of the people of Sri Lanka, I was caught between the big hope and the evil reality. The joy and the pain, the rising sun and the misted valley of darkness. I was confused by the presence of people many religions and none standing together in peace, whilst the violence is attributed to ‘religious groups’. I also ponder the Gospel story for this Sunday – John 20:19-31. It is the evening of that first Easter Day and the followers of Jesus are hiding behind locked doors and solid walls. Perhaps the news of Mary Magdalene that she has seen the Risen Christ, further coalesces their fear – will the authorities blame them for the removal of the body? Will the authorities come for them anyway because they were with Jesus, part of the movement? More than that is the utter confusion and dislocation of their grief. Everything they have given themselves to and hoped for has vanished before their eyes as Jesus hung dying. There is nothing more!
This locked room is the place where we all find ourselves at various points – lost, confused, grieving and powerlessness before the very big, dark and hostile world. We can change nothing. We have no real power and we feel utterly helpless. It was into this locked room of despair that the Risen Christ, bearing wounds, appears – no knocking or keys, just presence in their midst. His first words are: ‘Peace be with you!’ He says three times through the story – ‘Peace be with you!’ He offers them the peace that will sink into their being and release them from the fear that entraps them. Despite the lingering scars and wounds that will remain, Love has overcome the death and pain. The grief and suffering are real but in the midst is a Love that transcends everything and touches us in the depth of our being. With it is the realisation that Love is the only thing that we have and all we can rely upon. As a Buddhist speaker on Tuesday evening said quite simply: ‘Hatred cannot end hatred. Only Love can see the end of hatred.’ These words are reflective of Jesus’ message that only Love can challenge hatred, evil and overcome death.
The hope for Sri Lanka lies in the power of people gathering together and standing in solidarity and committing themselves to love and peace. Only this can overcome the evil that lurks and runs amok in our world. It is the only response we can make.
This is the essence of the Christian story because God is the centre and essence of Love and God is with us in every experience and struggle to love us and give us life!