23 April 2019
A woman weeps during a memorial service for victims in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on 23 April 2019, two days after a string of suicide bomb attacks on churches and luxury hotels across the island.
(photo: CNS/Dinuka Liyanawatte, Reuters)
The liturgies of Holy Week are filled with references to Jesus as the Suffering Servant of God. The reference is to four poems in the book of Isaiah that speak of a mysterious “servant of God.” In the fourth poem (Isa 52:13-53:12), when harshly dealt with, the servant “bore it humbly, never opening his mouth he was like a lamb led to the slaughter house.” The servant ultimately is abused and killed for the sins and transgressions of all. This image of Jesus as the non-violent suffering servant of God is rooted deep in Christian theology and piety.
We see it again in the Gospels. When an armed crowd comes to arrest Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, one of his followers strikes out with a sword of his own, severing the ear of the High Priest’s servant. Jesus rebukes his follower and states “those who take up the sword, die by the sword” (Matt 26:53). Throughout the Passion narratives, in the face of incredibly cruel violence, Jesus remains the non-violent victim.
All this makes the tragic events of this past Sunday all the more poignant and powerful.
This year on Easter Sunday, almost 400 people were killed in Sri Lanka. Most of them were celebrating the Resurrection — the victory of the non-violent Christ. Terrorists targeted Christians as they worshipped — that is, as they were united with their Lord who had been mishandled, beaten and crucified, who did not respond to violence with violence and was victorious. Like the Jesus they were worshipping, the victims of the attack were non-violent innocent people.
Anger is a normal, human reaction. Anger directed towards violence, oppression and injustice can be a good thing. But it is very easy for anger, especially in the face of such brutal and senseless violence, to become rage and a drive for revenge. That is entirely understandable. The rage of those who lost loved ones must be understood and, to some extent, felt.
But at times like these, we Christians face our greatest challenge: will we opt to be violent like Pilate or non-violent like Christ?
It must never be forgotten that, after having endured hatred, violence and death, the risen Christ brings to the world a message not of revenge but peace.
The true mystery of Easter is that violence, brutality, death and power are not victorious. Rather, weakness, humility and non-violence overwhelm violence, conquering it with life and goodness.
There is something deadening and horrifying about what happened in Sri Lanka. However, it is by no means something with which Christians are unfamiliar. Violence has been directed against us since the time of our Lord; it has been with us since the beginning. Since that time there has always been an understandable temptation towards revenge. However, the risen Suffering Servant constantly and inconveniently reminds us of the divine power of non-violence.
It may be tempting at times like this to call for retribution and vengeance. But the words of Paul ring clear: “Never repay evil with evil but let everyone see you are concerned on with that which is good….never try to get revenge (leave that to God)….Resist evil and conquer it with good” (Rom 12:17-21).
It is the belief in the overwhelming power of non-violence over violence, rooted in the Resurrection of the non-violent Christ, that makes us who we are — or definitely who we should be.