“But the needy will not always be forgotten, nor the hope of the afflicted ever perish.” – Psalm 9:18
Every year during Easter, Christians celebrate Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem. The days that follow are a countdown of events that led to his suffering, death, and resurrection. In 1994, people in Rwanda gathered in churches on Palm Sunday. There were processions as faithful Christians re-enacted Jesus triumphant entry to Jerusalem. On Thursday, 7 April 1994, the week following Palm Sunday, the genocide began. How could neighbors sing, “Hosanna in the highest…” (Matthew 21:9), and then leave the place of worship to hunt and kill their neighbors?
Ultimate power is the ability to bring back to life that which was regarded as dead. Death is the end of life, a consequence of sin. Jesus shed his blood on the cross for the forgiveness of sin (Hebrew 9:22; 1 Peter 1:19-21), and conquered death by the power of the resurrection—which was also demonstrated when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. He declared, “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:24).
Death seems more “common” in certain places in the world. Zakes Mda writes about the life of a professional mourner whose “ways of living have become the ways of dying,” where death is all around.1 Senseless violence touches everyone, and is brutally shocking. Yet, characters in Mda’s book are almost relentlessly optimistic. They have found ways to channel their despair by mourning for strangers. He writes about the experiences of death in South Africa which are indicative of the daily reality of death.
How can we speak of forgiveness, reconciliation, and hope in the context of death and suffering? Emmanuel Katongole defines the Christian mission as not being rooted in the future we are yet to achieve, but “a new community that bears witness to the fact that in Christ there is a new identity.”2
This is the way of the cross, the way of forgiveness and reconciliation demonstrated by Christ’s life and death. When we suffer, it takes a higher power that is greater than any human ability to forgive. Only God can show us how to forgive and bring back that which is broken by death and decay.
Jesus’ interactions with his disciples, with the crowd at Bethany, and with Lazarus sisters (as well as the events of his resurrection), help us better understand the power of resurrection.
To be relevant in a hurting world, we must embark on the pilgrimage that Christ invites us to make (Romans 12:9-13). I suggest four “ministries of service.”
1. The Ministry of Presence: Contextual Ministry. Places of death and misery are all around us, from hungry people who are in the midst of great drought to drug addicts in the inner cities. Jesus is Immanuel, God with us. He requires us to go where the need is and preach the message of forgiveness and reconciliation (Luke 24:47-50).
During his ministry, Jesus spent time with those who suffered and mourned. In the midst of a crowd experiencing pain and suffering, we also must point out where death has happened so that those we minister to may experience resurrection.
2. The Ministry of Lament: Personal Connection. We must weep with those who are weeping under the weight of sorrow. There can be no resurrection without lament. We can never know true grief until we have experienced the loss of a loved one and begin to identify with those who mourn. Jesus wept with those who mourned Lazarus. The song of the suffering servant in Isaiah 53 is a prophetic song that reminds us that Christ would go through pain and suffering on our behalf.
We must engage and weep with those who have been raped, have had homes burnt, have had children kidnapped to become child soldiers and sex slaves, and have been enslaved by ideologies and religious beliefs contrary to God’s will. A personal connection with the hurting offers hope and opens the door for healing and forgiveness.
3. The Ministry of Prayer and Petition: Intercession. Suffering and pain is our reality. We must confront it by prayer and petition. Jesus spoke with the Father on his journey to the cross and asked for forgiveness of those who would crucify him. He also prayed that those who witness the resurrection will put their faith in him and see the glory of God.
As we pray and ask God to increase the faith of those who need to be reconciled to God, it becomes a witness for the display of God’s glory and goodness (John 11:41). Jesus instructs us to pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44). The miracle of forgiveness is demonstrated by the life of Christ and in many human testimonies, such as that of Grace Akallo, a Ugandan girl abducted by rebels in northern Uganda who later forgave her abductors.3
4. The Ministry of Advocacy: Voice for the Voiceless. There are many obstacles that prevent us from experiencing the resurrection power. We must intentionally shout aloud as Jesus did: “Lazarus, come out!” (John 11:43) so that others might hear.
There must be a deliberate cry against the social, economic, and spiritual obstacles that prevent us from experiencing the resurrection power. It cannot be whispered behind closed doors; it must be loud and clear for all to hear. This is the first step toward restoration of life and reconciliation one to another.
The power of Christ’s resurrection is able to offer hope, reconciliation, and forgiveness. His suffering and sacrifice is the example we should follow. We must never lose faith as we wait for this hope to be revealed in us. For this is a hope that does not disappoint.
1. Mda, Zacks. 1991. Ways of Dying. Southern Africa: Oxford University Press.
2. Katongole, Emmanuel. 2009. Mirror to the Church. Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA: Zondervan, 25.
3. McDonnell, Faith J. H. and Grace Akallo. 2007. Girl Solder: A Story of Hope for Northern Uganda’s Children. Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA: Chosen.