FR. RON ROLHEISER, omi
April 28, 2014
Easter is about many things. We celebrate God's power to overcome death, sin, and injustice, but we also celebrate the voices and wounds of the ones who died on Good Friday.
To illustrate this, I would like to recount one such voice, that of an anonymous young woman who was brutally raped and murdered by the Salvadoran military in 1981, at a place fittingly called La Cruz. The story was reported by Mark Danner, a journalist.
He describes how, after this particular massacre, some soldiers told how one of their victims haunted them and how they could not get her out of their minds long after her death.
They had plundered a village and raped many of the women. One of these was a young woman, an evangelical Christian, who had been raped many times in a single afternoon and subsequently tortured. However, throughout this all, this young woman, clinging to her belief in Christ, had sung hymns. Here's how one of the soldiers described it:
"She kept on singing, too, even after they had shot her in the chest. She had lain there in La Cruz with the blood flowing from her chest, and had kept on singing – a bit weaker than before, but still singing. And the soldiers, stupefied, had watched and pointed.
"Then they had grown tired of the game and shot her again, and she sang still, and their wonder began to turn to fear – until finally they unsheathed their machetes and hacked her neck and at last the singing stopped" (The Massacre at El Mozote, pp. 78-79).
Gil Bailie, who recounts this story in his monumental book on the cross and non-violence, notes not just the remarkable similarity between her death and that of Jesus, but also the fact that, in both cases, resurrection means that their voices live on when everything about their deaths suggest that their voices should have died.
A DEATH REMEMBERED
In Jesus' case, nobody witnessing his humiliating death on a lonely hillside, with his followers absent, would have predicted that this would be the most remembered death in history.
The same is true for this young woman. Her rape and murder occurred in a remote place and all of those who might have wanted to immortalize her story were also killed. Yet her voice survives and will, no doubt, continue to grow in importance, long after all those who violated and killed her are forgotten.
As both Jesus and this young girl illustrate, powerlessness and anonymity, linked to a heart that can sing the words: "Forgive them for they know not what they are doing!" while being raped and humiliated, ultimately become their opposite, power and immortality.
A death of this kind not only morally scars the conscience of its perpetrators and their sympathizers, it leaves something that can never be forgotten, a permanent echo that nobody will ever silence. What God raises up after Good Friday is also the voice of the one who died.
A critic reviewing Danner's book in The New York Times, tells how, after reading this story, he kept "straining" to hear the sound of that singing.
REKINDLING THE CREED
The task of Easter is to rekindle the creed within ourselves. The earliest Christians, immediately upon experiencing the resurrected Jesus, spontaneously voiced a one-line creed: "Jesus is Lord!" That does, in fact, say it all. When we affirm that Jesus has been raised from the dead and is Lord of this world we are saying everything else within our faith as well.
In essence, we are saying that God is ultimately still in charge of this universe, despite any indications to the contrary; that brutality and rape notwithstanding, at the end of the day violence, injustice and sin will be silenced and overcome; that graciousness and gentleness, as manifested in Jesus, are ultimately what lies at the root of all reality; that this young woman, so brutally violated, has now been raised and lives, joyfully, in the heart of God; and that her death, like Jesus', is redemptive precisely because, like him, she too, in the face of helplessness before the worst brutality the world could perpetrate, could still say: "Forgive them for they know not what they do."
To celebrate Easter is to affirm that all of this is true. But that also asks something of us.
HER SONG IN OUR HEARTS
It asks, as the critic in The New York Times so aptly put it, that we strain to hear the sound of that girl's singing, that we struggle to keep her, and her song, in our hearts. She is still alive in God's heart, but we must keep her alive in ours as well.
Why? Not for sentimental reasons, nor simply because her story is exceptional. No. We must keep her alive in our hearts because her song is the leaven, the yeast, of the resurrection and that, and that alone, can raise us up to become exceptional too.
One of the tasks of Easter is to strain to hear the voices of Good Friday.