Terror and Amazement: Reflections on Easter in the Midst of Terrorism

*Last week a terrorist attack occurred in Stockholm, and today, Palm Sunday, our Coptic brothers and sisters in Egypt experienced bombings in two churches. This post, written during Easter week 2015, continues to be relevant as we begin Holy Week again, in the midst of terrorism.*

The last words of the Gospel according to Saint Mark are striking. In a gospel, literally a story about the “good news,” Mark ends his good news with the women followers of Jesus running from the empty tomb and the first proclamation of the resurrection in fear and amazement. This gospel ends with the phrase, “…for they were afraid.”

The good news ends with terror and amazement.

He Qi - Women at the TombToday is Maundy Thursday of this holy week, when Christians pause to remember and reflect on the last supper Jesus spent with friends and disciples. This is the last time Jesus will have with his disciples, and he is understandably concerned. In a few short hours he will be betrayed, beaten, and killed. Terror is on the horizon. His disciples do not see it, but for us, we feel the brooding presence of tomorrow’s activities. It is a weight the church bears this evening. As the sun sets and Jesus moves to Gethsemane, we watch helplessly as the disciples once again flee from the terror of Jesus’ arrest. The Easter weekend is shot through with terror and amazement.

Today the air is pregnant with a new Kingdom. This weekend it will be born again, this Kingdom of God. It will be a terrifying experience, but in the end the old things will have passed away, and behold, the new things will have come.

Today, April 2, a terrorist cell invaded a college campus in a small Kenyan town to the east of Nairobi. The terrorist attack is ongoing, now a standoff between the Kenyan military and terrorists with an unknown number of student hostages. The day is grim.

Today the air in Kenya is pregnant with terrorism.

Tonight, as the church gathers to pause, and mourn, and reflect on the new Kingdom that is breaking into the world, Kenya gathers to pause, and mourn, and reflect on the events of today.

Somehow I feel particularly close to the disciples this Maundy Thursday. I feel close to their emotions. I cry out to God with them, “But today started off so normally! Today was just another Thursday!” And yet as darkness gathers we have been thrown into terror. Like the disciples we want to flee from the clanging mobs.

But my friends, Easter is coming. It is only a few days away. The new Kingdom is breaking into the world even now, in the midst of the terror and the pain and the devastation. Even as the disciples flee and Jesus is arrested and all is lost, behold, the Kingdom of God is at hand!

The next few days will be dark, for the church and for Kenya. All hope will be lost as Jesus lies dead and the terrorists weave their destruction. The disciples will scatter and hole themselves up and cry in silence, and we in Kenya will do the same thing. But Easter is coming, and not soon enough.

And yet, even after Easter, even after the empty tomb and the good news, the disciples of Christ still run away. They are still seized with terror and amazement. And again I feel a particular closeness to them. Because even though this Easter will proclaim the good news once again to me and this weary world, I know that the events of today will still shake me. I know that even as I sit in church on Sunday and utter those words, “He has risen indeed,” my mind will be filled with terror and amazement. Terror for the current kingdom of this world. Terror that things are still terrible and that people still long to kill and hurt each other. And amazement that despite all this, he has risen indeed. That despite all the crap that this country will have gone through in the days previous, the Kingdom of God is here, right now, all around us, established and being established. That the gospel really is good news, even if it is slightly terrifying.

I will count myself among those disciples, who upon hearing that Jesus is not dead, will go out and flee the tomb, seized by terror and amazement.

On this Maundy Thursday may you contemplate and reflect on the terror of these next few days in light of Easter. May you yourself be seized with terror and amazement at the birth of this new creation, and may you reflect on its repercussions in a world still boiling in sin.

And may Easter and its Kingdom come quickly. Amen.

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