Easter Monday dawns grey and windy in Britain, with Storm Katie casting a typical gloom over the Bank Holiday. But for those of us celebrating Easter, with a whole octave in which to celebrate as on Sunday itself, the weather chimes with our mood. Yesterday came the report of the slaughter in Lahore which the perpetrators, a Pakistani Taliban splinter group, claim was aimed at the Christian minority. The bomb was set off by a fairground, with the result that many children were among those killed or injured. Then, early this morning, came an as yet unconfirmed Austrian media report that Father Tom Uzhunnalil, a Salesian from Kerala who had been working in Yemen, had been crucified by IS on Good Friday. Death everywhere, it seems, at the very moment when we are celebrating life. What are we to believe?
Today’s gospel, Matthew 28.8–15, addresses a very similar problem. The women come away from the tomb, ‘filled with awe and great joy’. Jesus confirms their faith and commands them to tell the other disciples, but while they are hurrying away to do so, a plot is being concocted by the chief priests and soldiers to contain the situation. It is a damage limitation exercise of a kind which has become depressingly familiar. The truth is manipulated in such a way that it is emptied of meaning. We are left with the first century equivalent of ‘spin’ — and there are still many who subscribe to it.
What we have to remember, however, is that no amount of ‘spin’ can actually change substance. What is true remains true, no matter how many glosses or interpretations are put upon it. Again this morning there are those advocating ‘an eye for an eye’ rather than Jesus’ own ‘love your enemies; do good to them that hate you.’ What are we to believe? Where do we stand?
Ultimately, each will have to decide for him/herself. What we do matters. I hope you will forgive me if I say that I think the women come out of the accounts of Christ’s Passion, Death and Resurrection remarkably well. There is no silly business with swords, no prevarication (Peter), no running away (the other disciples). They stay by the cross, risk trying to anoint the body of the dead Jesus, believe the Resurrection and announce it to the apostles. This morning, therefore, let us ask the prayers of the holy women of the gospel to help us choose how we shall respond to the evil menace of IS and its counterparts. They were filled with awe and great joy, says St Matthew. I have a hunch that awe and great joy provide an answer: they achieve more than hatred and contempt because they allow Christ to Easter in us.
Important Update 29 March 2016
The Salesians have issued an official statement regarding the rumours circulating about Fr Tom, all of which seem to stem from the Austrian media report referenced above. Please see http://bit.ly/1WVmle6