By Steve Beard
“When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’ ‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?'” (I Corinthians 15: 54-55).
That poetic and electric passage from Saint Paul has long been associated with my Easter tradition. This past Sunday, however, it did not soar in my soul like it had in the past.
Like all believers who are actively living between what theologian George Eldon Ladd referred to as the “already and the not yet” of the inbreaking of the Kingdom of God, I found myself heavy hearted as I staggered between the empty tomb and the freshly dug graves of young Christian martyrs in Kenya.
“The mistake they made was to pray to Jesus,” began the Reuters news report. An eyewitness described the gruesome execution of three female students at the hands of bloodthirsty and suicidal Islamic terrorists on a Kenyan university during a Maundy Thursday massacre.
“The mistake they made was to say ‘Jesus, please save us,’ because that is when they were immediately shot,” Reuben Mwavita, 21, told the news agency.
“The attackers were just in the next room, I heard them ask people whether they were Christian or Muslim, then I heard gunshots and screams,” Susan Kitoko, 24, told reporters.
Many of the victims were students associated with the college’s Christian Union that were attending an early morning prayer meeting. “They killed all my friends. I was praying with them when we heard gun shots and two guys who wore hoods and carried long guns came in. I escaped because I was standing next to the rear door, so I dashed out with one other friend,” said Kenneth Luzakula, a Christian Union student.
“I could hear my friends still praying loudly and calling the name of Jesus Christ,” he said. “Others were screaming. I heard gunshots repeatedly from the toilet nearby where we had hidden. They killed my friends but I know they are all in heaven because they died worshipping God.”
Family members and friends who grieved on Easter Sunday were assured that that the young martyrs would “rise again with Christ.” As a parent, I can only imagine how long that spiritual reality will take to sink in for a mom and dad forced to bury a child.
The already and the not yet. “How long, O Lord, how long?” they asked in the Old Testament. “Let this cup pass from me,” we read in the Gospels. The living between two worlds, two realities, is the journey set before us. Lord, help us.
“To witness is to be a martyr,” said Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev. Justin Welby, on Easter Sunday. “I am told by the Coptic Bishop in England that the Coptic Christians murdered in Libya last month died proclaiming that Jesus Christ is Lord. They are martyrs, a word that means both one that dies for their faith and one that witnesses to faith.
“There have been so many martyrs in the last year. … These martyrs too are caught up in the resurrection: their cruel deaths, the brutality of their persecution, their persecution is overcome by Christ himself at their side because they share his suffering, at their side because he rose from the dead.
“Because of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead the cruel are overcome, evil is defeated, martyrs conquer.”
Martyrs conquer. That is a gospel of flesh and blood. That is a gospel I can affirm. That is a gospel that rings true.
Steve Beard is the creator of Thunderstruck Media.