“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” — 1 Corinthians 15:55
As many Christians sat down on Sunday morning to celebrate Easter, a suicide bombing targeting Christians halfway across the world in Lahore, Pakistan killed 72 people and injured at least 320. Right as Western Christians were shouting, “He is risen, Alleluia!” an entire city cried out in horror and mourning. As Western children hunted Easter eggs, a bomb exploded into Pakistani children visiting a neighborhood park.
“Members of the Christian community who were celebrating Easter today were our prime target,” said a spokesman for a splinter group of the Pakistani Taliban.
Death has not lost its sting. Death is not Dead.
“Death is dead.”
That’s my favourite saying at Easter. When Jesus died, so did death and all it’s incumbent atrocities. However, Lahore suggests that rather than being deceased death continues its painful reign. Death has claimed hundreds of victims in recent terrorist attacks in Belgium, Turkey, Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon, the Ivory Coast, Iraq, and Pakistan. Death continues to unjustly claim the lives and dreams of disenfranchised peoples across the whole world. Death yesterday took someone’s grandmother and another’s daughter, and it will do the same tomorrow.
And yet we say death has been defeated and lost its sting? It can seem an audacious, callous, absurd claim. For how can such evil mar such a joyous day? How can God allow this to happen? How can we possibly celebrate Jesus’ victory over the grave in the face of such suffering?
An asterisk seems to hang over our “He is risen indeed.”
Easter was the day for celebration. This was not the plan. Walking out of Easter service, I wanted all the world to have sunny skies and joy unspeakable. I wanted everyone to feel like our congregation felt when the choir sang, “Then on the third at break of dawn the Son of Heaven rose again.” Surely Easter is a day of respite from the tired tragedy of politically motivated xenophobia and terrorism and all the rest.
It was not to be. Pain burst into Pakistan and onto my newsfeed.
Easter after Easter Christians are called to hold the cross and the empty tomb in tension — to lean into the already-but-not-yet nature of God’s kingdom. For some of us, this is a call to face a gritty realism: Terror is here to stay, at least for a little while. For others, this tension is a reminder that the light shines in the darkness — that for all the terror at home and abroad Jesus really has defeated death.
It’s a brutal reminder that freedom from death both for an individual and for the whole world can only be found in Jesus – can only be realised in the way of Jesus.
But whether we find ourselves mired in idealism or cynicism, we should take heart in Paul’s encouragement in light of the resurrection:
“Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour is not in vain.” 1 Corinthians 15:58
In the face of suicide bombings, our labour is not in vain. Labour is, however, nonetheless required. Let us excel in the work of the Lord continuing to build, continuing to proclaim, continuing to baptise, continuing peacemaking.
We continue to tell the story of death defeated in the lives of individuals who as a result of the resounding victory of Jesus on the cross have and are experiencing new life, resurrection life. We will continue to baptise on Easter. We will continue to believe with Proverbs:
“When the righteous prosper the City Rejoices” – Proverbs 11:10
Our labour is not in vain:
death is dead