If your Easter Sunday Service was anything like the millions that took place across the country (and the world), you were duly reminded of the freedom that was hard won for us by Jesus’ resurrection and resounding victory over sin and death. In the service I attended, the speaker hammered home just how precious that freedom is by invoking the still fresh memory of the 148 Kenyans who died at the hands of Al-Shabaab militants last Thursday.
“148 lost their lives because they wanted to follow Jesus,” the solemn, red-robed man at the front of the congregation proclaimed emphatically. “They did not let the extremist militants take that away from them.” He paused carefully between words for a more dramatic effect. And it worked. Unease settled on the faces of those present, many dressed in their Sunday best. Murmurs of agreement reverberated throughout the towering sandstone-walled cathedral. People shook their heads, making ripples across the sea of dismayed faces.
Like the cogs in a Swiss watch, my mind turned over those words and what they really meant for us hymn-singing, hand-raising, relatively well-off Christians living in Australia. I agreed with everything the preacher was saying. I just wondered how many of us would go beyond ruminating on the tragic nature of those deaths to think about why Al-Shabaab came to exist in the first place. I wondered who would cast their mind back to 1969, when the US (whose global actions successive Australian political leaders have refused to question) initiated its 20-year propping up of Somali dictator Siad Barre. His reign would be described by the United Nations Development Programme as having “one of the worst human rights records in in Africa” (no small feat) and incubated the beginnings of what eventually morphed into today’s Al-Shabaab. I wondered if we would remember the 2006 invasion of Somalia by US-backed Ethiopia, after which the ensuing humanitarian upheaval killed tens of thousands of Somali civilians, displaced 1.9 million people and further radicalised previously benign political factions. I wondered whether we would connect the long history of messy foreign interventions to the direct creation or substantial aggravation of other extremist groups, like the now infamous ISIS (who most recently attacked a Yemeni mosque, killing 142 praying Muslims) and the Taliban (responsible for the massacre of 150 Pakistani school children and staff in December last year). I wondered if we would acknowledge that our country’s tacit endorsement of continued US drone strikes perpetuates and even worsens incidences of terrorism.
I wondered. But not for too long. A brave dive into the total quagmire of who’s responsible for what in the wars raging in the Middle East and Africa was too much for my meandering mind on a Sunday morning.
There was, however, something I didn’t have to wonder about. And that was this: It would be a tragedy of a different kind if the memory of our fallen Christian brothers and sisters provoked mere murmurs, head shakes and a short-lived sadness that died in the pews, never making it out of the church doors.
Millions around the world need us to stand with them against the unrelenting waves of violence that tear their lives apart. More than that, they need us to move from a sedate state of indifference to a willingness to at least try to understand the underlying causes of that violence. It’s not only the civil wars and terrorist attacks – horrendous as they are – that demand our attention. It’s also the ominous presence of everyday violence – rape, trafficking, police brutality and forced labour – in the lives of the 4 billion people living outside the protection of the law, that requires us to kill the apathy.
Don’t know where to begin? Start here.
During yesterday’s service, we prayed for our hurting world to come to know peace. Do we realise what a challenging prayer that is? There is a grave – and I mean grave – need for active, engaged Christians willing to pray the words, then do the deeds. Pray for the poor, then help them. Pray for the abused, then protect them. Pray for the refugee, then fight for their rights. Pray against war, then speak out for peace. Pray with faith, then follow up with action.
Easter is the reason for our ultimate freedom. The freedom to enjoy a fully restored relationship with the God who created us and loved us enough to pay the ultimate price for it: the excruciating death of his only beloved Son on the cross. How precious is that freedom to us? Precious enough, I hope, to start loving, praying for and working towards the freedom of others.