Two years ago, on Easter Sunday 2019, evil passed over all our homes. Even as many lost their lives, it succeeded in touching us all with its darkness. We were shocked, uncomprehending, and bereft, as the full scale of the massacre became known. We waited, and waited, for it to make sense. Everyone had a question. It was the same one. Why?
This island had known terrorism intimately. We knew and understood politically motivated evil. It prevailed for such a long time that we stopped being shocked by it. But on Easter Sunday 2019, it was different. It hit us without clear motive or history of hostility, and therefore, without warning.
Two years later, as mourning families remember the hundreds who were martyred that day, and many more lives which were wrecked in myriad ways, a nightmare that will never really end as long as they live, perhaps it is necessary to admit that evil offers no easy explanations, and comfort has to be sought elsewhere. Somewhere deep in us where truth matters, we have to free ourselves from the passive acceptance of easy explanations, so we don’t unwittingly become participants in the evil that invaded our land that fateful Easter Sunday.
Lambs to slaughter
Yes, it hit those worshippers in churches and people in hotels without warning. But warning there was, going by reports in the media. In a country in the Middle-East, they knew what could happen on Easter Sunday 2019 in Sri Lanka. They cared enough about their people to issue a warning in writing to their citizens in Colombo at the Saudi embassy, urging them to take precautions and not to step out. This letter was later produced on the TV news, in Lebanon and then in Sri Lanka.
There were others who knew. India knew and informed its neighbor Sri Lanka about the threat. This was stated by India’s Deputy National Security Advisor, Rajinder Khanna at a roundtable conference on terrorism at “The Xth International Meeting of High-Level Officials Responsible for Security Matters” held in Ufa, Russia, June 17th-20th 2019. The Indian agencies informed the relevant authorities in Sri Lanka, expecting them to take steps to prevent harm on a massive scale about to be visited on unsuspecting civilians who had placed their faith in the system. The citizens woke up on Easter Sunday and went to church, to be slaughtered as they prayed, unaware that their system had failed them at every level, and by its negligence had become a cynical participant in impenitent, incomprehensible evil.
‘Let us not be led into temptation’
How does one recognize evil? It has many faces. It mostly operates in the dark. It doesn’t do so well in the light. The light shines in the darkness. Eventually, the light has to be reckoned with.
Those who chose darkness and evil to glorify and hasten their cause, believed that they were on the right path. They believed the sacrifice of so many innocents was worth the eventual dawning of glory. This temptation to employ evil for perceived consequent good, is all too common. It operates at every level of society. When it is commonplace, ordinary and familiar, it is all the more difficult to resist. It is every conscious person’s petition that is contained in the Lord’s Prayer: “Let us not be led into temptation”, as in the new translation from the Greek, by Pope Francis.
All of us, who couldn’t but be affected by the senseless massacre on Easter Sunday, were led through our shock, horror and sadness to attempt to find answers. Answers not only from the authorities which those most affected are most anxious for, but also to look for answers within us, and in what we believed. It is in seeking earnestly through our confusion, that we finally saw the face of evil which defies explanation. It is with faith that can no longer be abandoned, that those who miraculously survived the massacre physically, but struggle daily, as well as others who recognize the presence of darkness, offer their supplication: “And deliver us from evil”.
Opting for the Light
In 1945, a year before the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in caves at Qumran, twelve leather bound papyrus codices were discovered sealed in a jar buried in a farm in Egypt. These were the Gnostic Gospels, written either a decade or two before the canonical Gospels or a decade or two after, according to the ongoing debates. The most famous of these is the beautifully composed Gospel of Thomas. It offers this advice: “Seek and do not stop seeking until you find. When you find, you will be troubled. When you are troubled, you will marvel and rule over all.”
Evil makes us troubled. It excels at hiding its face. Once revealed, it is troubling that it is mostly unrepentant. Can evil beget anything good? There is no evidence that any good came of what the bombers did, either to themselves, their families or their cause. Whatever possible good comes out of its survivors and witnesses recognizing its nature and calling it by its name. Having lost faith that such pain and suffering was not prevented, it was regained and deepened when the battle lines were drawn, ever more deeply, between the choices of good and evil. Every ounce of wisdom gained in reflection, every nerve in the body that strengthens the resolve, every fervent prayer that delivers grace, and every intention that strives for mercy, work together, to transcend the darkness and stand in the light. In that light that you have chosen, you can begin to “marvel”.
‘As we forgive those who trespass against us’
In answering the question, “What happens when forgiveness takes place?” Pope Benedict says “…forgiveness must be more than a matter of ignoring, of merely trying to forget.” He acknowledges that “Forgiveness extracts a price–first of all from the person who forgives. He must overcome within himself the evil done to him; he must, as it were, burn it interiorly and in doing so renew himself.” (Jesus of Nazareth, 2007)
However, this is no easy task, because once embarked on this process, the Pope warns that “…the very first thing we encounter is the limit of our power to heal and to overcome. We encounter the superior power of evil…” He quotes Reinhold Schneider to illustrate: “evil lives in a thousand forms; it occupies the pinnacle of power…it bubbles up from the abyss…” This is the challenge that Pope Benedict says we cannot master with our unaided powers. “This petition for forgiveness”, he says “is more than a moral exhortation…and as such, it challenges us anew every day.” But healing calls for this striving.
‘They will soar on wings like eagles’ (Isaiah)
While an unforgettable global symbol of the Easter massacre is the image of the blood splattered statue of Jesus, poignant and disturbing, there is another, just as symbolic, yet less well known. It is a symbol of hope. It was in a drawing by a little girl who belonged to a Muslim family but had gone to Church that fateful Sunday with her grandmother who was Christian, because she wanted to be Christian herself.
A day before Easter, she told her mother that Jesus had come to her in a dream and told her that he would take her with him to “little heaven” the next day. She had such faith, she took out her colored pencils and drew what she saw. That drawing by a nine-year-old girl, shows an unusual representation of Jesus from behind, with his hands round the waist of two little girls, taking them up to heaven. And in church that Easter Sunday, when she was killed in the blast, that symbol of hope she left behind was a reminder of faith, as well as a source of comfort to those despairingly grieving the loss of their loved ones.