Over the past couple of weeks you might have come across a powerful series of photographs published by the New York Times showing the stories of reconciliation between some of the victims and perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide. (http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/04/06/magazine/06-pieter-hugo-rwanda-portraits.html?_r=0)
The Rwandan genocide took place in 1994 after the death of the President. Hutus began targeting Tutsis and by the end of the turbulent 3 month period over 800 000 Tutsis were killed and 250 000 people, mostly Tutsi, fled the country as refugees.
20 years ago, in the aftermath of an ethnic blood letting, I’m sure it was hard to see the resurrection promise of new life as they surveyed death and destruction. As tears streamed from their eyes, I imagine that Christophe Karorero, Viviane Nyirama, Cansilde Kampundu and others featured in the photographs couldn’t see themselves reconciling with the ones who had brought them so much pain in the Good Friday of the Tutsi people.
It was only after years of working through the pain and sorrow were they able to see hope. One survivor, Mnganyinka said, “I was like a dry stick; now I feel peaceful in my heart, and I share this peace with my neighbours” (see link above).
When we’re in the pits of despair, we don’t always get to hope very quickly. It isn’t usually until we’ve had some time to think, some time to heal, some time to process that hope pierces the great sorrows of our hearts and allows us to see the risen Christ.
But this roller coaster ride that we take during Holy Week makes our heads spin as we go from crying Hosanna, “Lord save us” at our Palm Sunday service to “Crucify him” as we read the story of the Passion of Jesus. This weekend as we go from the despair of seeing God die on the cross to the hope of the resurrection, we can make the mistake of thinking that if sorrow lasts too long, there is something wrong with us.
When we are blinded by pain and sorrow, we are more than ready to get out of the darkness that engulfs us. We are ready: ready to grasp joyous victory of hope returning from the dead; ready for hope to turn the world upside down; ready to give birth to something new in our lives.
But sometimes even in the midst of a faith that holds tight to the promise of resurrection that hope is still elusive. Even as we raise our voices to sing, “Now all the vault of heaven resounds” we still yearn for the fulfillment of that hope in our every day world. As we raise our voices in Alleluia, we long for our sprits to ascend from the depths and find their home in the heart of God.
I think the gospel of John captures that perplexity about what was happening as the disciples went to the tomb and were confronted with an empty one.
I think the New Testament itself is a way of coming to grips with what that empty tomb meant to the disciples, to Israel and to the world.
As I read John’s account of the resurrection, I wondered if Mary felt much like we do in our own grief as she travelled to the tomb that day to connect with the One over whom she grieved. And I’m not surprised to find her confused and perplexed as she meets Jesus after finding the tomb empty that first Easter morning.
John describes her as being beside herself with grief because she had no idea where they took her Lord’s body. Her Easter surprise, her hope was standing right there in front of her and she couldn’t see it for the tears in her eyes and the clay in her feet. She was human and those feelings of grief consumed her so that she couldn’t see the hand of God. She was so wrapped up in her fear that she couldn’t see the dawn of a new day that would give new hope not just to her but to the whole world.
It makes me wonder just how many times we have our own Easter surprises staring us in the face and we can’t see how God is giving birth to new things until we’ve had some distance, until we look back at our own footprints in the sand and realize how God was with us during those tough times.
So when the joy of being an Easter people eludes us; when we desperately need the hope of the risen Christ we gather together with others who hope.
- Together we tell each other the stories of our faith.
- Together we hear the stories passed down through the centuries of new life.
- Together, as we sing we begin to see the risen Jesus.
- Together we rest in the promise that even if our eyes are clouded with tears and our hearts are weighted down with anxiety, we can live in hope.
For the next 50 days we celebrate Easter. It is a reminder to us that resurrection and the hope it brings takes time to see because of those tears cloud our eyes. But just as Jesus took time to visit with his disciples at the tomb, in the upper room and on the Road to Emmaus, so too will Jesus come to you.
Rwanda itself is only beginning to see the hope of the future as they share their stories and in their faces, we see that the hope of the Risen Christ can be ours too no matter how dark the present.
So if the grip of grief and death have you in its’ claws this joyous Eastertide; if the alleluias sometimes get stuck in your throat in the midst of the heavy burdens we carry, remember that you are not alone as you walk this Easter journey. Christ is standing nearby waiting for the moment when your eyes will catch a glimpse of the dawning of hope.
Before you know it, your own Easter surprise will and you will be able to shout alleluia with Mary, alleluia with Peter and alleluia with the disciple who loved him.
Alleluia, Christ is risen.
Christ is risen indeed, Alleluia!