The Sting of Death
At a late night dinner in Colombo last month, my colleague and I were hosted by a loving young Sri Lankan couple and their cricket-loving lad. Conversation, calamari, caramel custard, and coffee was enjoyed well into midnight at the Cinnamon Grand—a delightful combo that’s etched forever into our memories.
My visits to Colombo have always been heart-warming. Lovely people, luscious land, and languid mood. But there’s so much more to this people and to this place that fascinates me. Thirty brutal years of sweat, blood, and tears. Thirty years of an ugly civil war. Thirty years of fear, hurt, and pain. Thirty years of despair that ended in 2009.
In my visits, I’ve had the privilege of interacting with young and old Sri Lankans: those who have been in the thick of all that transpired in those thirty ghastly years. I’ve also spoken to the ones born during that era, growing up in the midst of impending danger, in the very heart of chaos, in the hearing and sight of bomb blasts. And I have also been honoured to know the likes of our young cricket-loving host, born in an era of peace—or so we thought. The innocence in my little friend’s face, the aspirations in his heart to be a national cricketer in the Sri Lankan squad, and the light in his eyes at the dessert counter are all still fresh in my eyes. I was so happy that this little child didn’t have to go through what his parents did.
But all of this came crashing down when I learned that the tenure of peace was just a mere, ten years.
The Cinnamon Grand was one of the eight blast sites. Across this priceless jewel in the Indian Ocean, on Resurrection day, eight sites were chosen for destruction, the majority of which were churches. On the very day that the worldwide church celebrates the joyous triumph of life over death and good over evil, bomb blasts and killings, conspiracy and treachery, sorrow and pain, agony and mourning made a mockery of God’s gift of forgiveness and salvation to all of humankind. Almost three hundred were killed and about five hundred more injured.
I’m all too familiar with the vices of humankind. But the depths of human depravity that we see unfolding day after day is sickening to me. An eye for a toe nail, a head for a strand of hair, a community, a culture, a country attacked for no rhyme or reason. We call ourselves civilized and cultured, but is this not a civilization with no civility, a culture with no character, a race with no restraint, a spirituality with no sanctity?
On Maundy Thursday, Jesus Christ washed his disciples’ feet. Judas, the disciple who would betray his Rabbi with a kiss just a few hours later, was a beneficiary of Christ’s demonstration of humility, kindness, and love. Judas didn’t seem to cringe like Peter did when he felt the touch of his meek Master’s loving hands on his dirty self. His heart remained callous, unresponsive. But the master chose to stoop over and serve his disciple nonetheless. This is the heart of God: ever seeking and reaching out to touch and save even those who would betray him.
This last, purposeful object lesson of Christ is a lesson in forgiveness, meekness, servanthood, and love. A new command (mandate or Maundy), I give you, he said: “Love each other as I’ve loved you.” And how exactly did Jesus love them? With his very life, with his death. And so our brothers and sisters in Sri Lanka continue to model the resurrected Savior, living out loud the power of the resurrected Lord through their forgiveness, meekness, service, and love. Surely, no easy task.
The people of Sri Lanka have been enabled to do this in the past. Through all of their ethnic and ideological differences, they have done it supremely well; a winsome testimony of the enabling of Jesus Christ to help humanity forgive. Even as the wounds of loss are bleeding, the pain scathing, the agony writhing, and the anger seething—through it all, again, they would resurrect their scarred-yet-victorious Savior and triumphantly cry: “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?(1) I believe that the Sri Lankans will prove to the world yet again that love always trumps hatred and good always triumphs over evil.
Until then, their comfort, their healing, and their chant shall be:
“The other gods were strong; but Thou wast weak;
They rode, but Thou didst stumble to a throne;
But to our wounds only God’s wounds can speak,
And not a god has wounds, but Thou alone.”(2)
We are all with you in thoughts and prayers at this hour of grief. May the God of all comfort and peace, heal, restore, and recompense as only God can.
Charles Premkumar Joseph is a member of the speaking and writing team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Mumbai, India.
(1) 1 Corinthians 15:55.
(2) Edward Shillito (1872-1948), “Jesus of the Scars.”
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