By Deacon Charles Rohrbacher
Christ is Risen!
Indeed He is Truly Risen!
During Holy Week, I watched an interview with Fr. Jon Sobrino, a Jesuit priest and theologian at the University of Central America in El Salvador. (http://ismreview.yale.edu/article/resurrection/) Fr. Sobrino was the only surviving member of his community when, in November 1989, Salvadoran soldiers broke into the Jesuit residence and murdered the Jesuits, their housekeeper and her teenage daughter.
Asked about the resurrection and hope, Fr. Sobrino noted that Jesus died as an innocent victim of violence, that his death was not accidental but a deliberate attempt by the powers and principalities of this world and those who misguidedly serve them, to eliminate him and silence his message.
In that context, Jesus’ resurrection both defied and overcame the injustice and violence that killed him, but that is also the fate of the poor and powerless around the world. His resurrection is the hope and the assurance that the powerful and violent do not, in the end have the final word. Because Christ is risen, the poor and the victimized, despite assurance to the contrary, can’t be made to simply “disappear.”
I will be pondering this dimension of the hope and the resurrection particularly during this month. April 24th is the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the Armenian genocide. On that day in 1915 the political, religious and business leaders of the Armenian community in present-day Turkey and Syria were rounded up and executed as the Ottoman Empire began the systematic destruction of the Armenian and Assyrian Christian minority communities. It was the first genocide of the 20th century and resulted in the deaths of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians and Assyrians. This horrific crime against humanity, which the present day Turkish government continues to deny, foreshadowed even greater and more terrible crimes against humanity perpetrated by Hitler and Stalin and their successors.
Commemorating this month’s anniversary of the Armenian genocide seems, on the face of it, to be an odd way to celebrate the joy of the Paschal season. But I wonder if this is because of our constant temptation to compartmentalize the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus. Which is to say, I’m tempted to neatly divide the Paschal Mystery in two halves — before and after. Before is the tragic prelude, the suffering, broken Jesus, hanging dead on the Cross and buried. On the other side of the dividing line is the happy ending: the resurrection and the Risen Lord.
But that can’t be true: we believe that the death and resurrection of the Lord are inextricably bound up together into a single Paschal mystery. The passage or exodus of the Lord (and of humanity) from slavery to freedom and from death to life is the lens through which we contemplate and participate in all of the events of salvation history. The Paschal Mystery is how we understand the life of discipleship, the joys and sorrows of our contemporary world and of our own lives.
Thus, the death and resurrection of Jesus, whom the powerful and the violent could not, in the end, make disappear, is the hope and the vindication of the innocent and powerless victims of cruelty and injustice.
It is understandable that we seek to forget the memory of the Cross. Who wants to remember suffering and powerlessness, in the history of our own lives or in the lives of others? In the account by St. John the Evangelist of that appearance of Jesus to the fearful disciples on the evening of Easter Sunday, he recounts:
Jesus came and stood among [the disciples] and said: “Peace be with you.”
After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you.”
I would have expected that having been raised from the dead to new life, the wounds Jesus suffered would have disappeared entirely from his body. Yet the gospel writers recount that when he appeared to his disciples after the resurrection, the marks of the dreadful wounds inflicted on his weak and vulnerable body on the cross were still evident. I wonder then, if perhaps it is this necessary but uncomfortable memory of the Cross that is kept alive in the marks of the Lord’s wounds on his glorified body.
In John’s gospel, after greeting the disciples with the word “peace,” he then shows them his wounds. I doubt Jesus’ purpose in doing so was to castigate them for fleeing when he was arrested, for denying that they even knew him and for their humiliating fear.
It’s striking as well that Jesus does not appear before the powerful and violent men who had him put to death. Instead, Jesus appears before the weak and fearful disciples, terrified that they will be the next to be rounded up and imprisoned or put to death by the authorities.
Why is this? I think that in a very profound way, Jesus is showing them and us the paradoxical strength and dynamism of the hope that the wounds on his resurrected body reveal. His wounds are the signs of the utter powerlessness of the One nailed to the wood of the Cross. Yet in his obedience to God’s will and purpose, his adamant refusal to hate and seek revenge and in his willingness to forgive even those torturing and killing him, he overcame the seemingly invincible power of those who put him to death.
But Jesus did not only show the disciples his wounds. He breathed on them, an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and gave them the authority to forgive sins as Jesus does.
Every one of those disciples followed the way of the Cross that Jesus walked. They too bore in their own flesh the wounds inflicted upon them because they were his followers. Like Jesus, the crucified peoples and individuals bear the wounds of great suffering and injustice. The marks and memory of those wounds will never disappear, but transformed by the Cross and Resurrection of Christ, they are an invitation to participate in the saving and healing mission of Jesus in our world.
In February we saw this lived-out in front of our eyes in the example of the Coptic martyrs, beheaded by hate-filled fanatics on a beach in Libya. Simple construction workers and poor migrants, they did not curse or damn their captors, instead in the name of Jesus they put their trust in God’s mercy and faithfulness and prayed for their executioners.
Jesus chose the weak, the imperfect and the powerless of this world to be his friends, to be witnesses to his saving mission of compassion, mercy and forgiveness. His resurrection is the vindication and hope of the innocent victims of hatred and injustice. Let us cherish their memory with gratitude and never lose hope ourselves in the Risen Lord with whom they live forever.
Deacon Charles Rohrbacher is the Office of Ministries Director for the Diocese of Juneau. Phone: 907-586-2227 ext. 23.