Ezekiel 37:1-14 – Ezekiel raises them bones
John 11:1-45 – Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead
The Holocaust Museum of Yad Vashem in Jerusalem takes you on a carefully constructed journey. It is like a university campus with various buildings, each of which tell a different part of the story. You are first introduced to the thriving Jewish communities in Europe, the very different and vibrant ways in which they lived alongside and contributed to European culture and life. You are introduced to very traditional communities, wearing clothing and living a lifestyle that set them apart from others, and introduced to those who were very much a part of their society, contributing in the way of science, commerce and the arts. Life is presented in all its fullness. And then you are shown the manner in which they were torn away from their homes and thrown into concentration camps, families separated or killed before the eyes of their loved ones. You are shown the horrific life of the camps and the ways in which people were forced to betray one another for a scrap of bread. And then there are those who sacrificially gave their lives for others, those who shared their bread, and the righteous among the nations, those who were not Jewish but who did their best to save those they could.
There is the memorial to the children of the Holocaust – a simple round building. You enter a kind of round walkway that seems like a vast cave. The walls, ceiling and floor are covered in mirrors – each of them reflecting a single candle lit in the centre. The light of the candle is reflected through each of the mirrors and those reflecting lights seem to go on forever.
There is the building which represents Sheol – the land of the dead. The walls are of huge stones and everything else is painted black. There is a chance to read out the names of someone connected to you who died in the Holocaust – and in doing so their name lives on. In Jewish tradition, once the 40 days of mourning after a death are over, it is not considered acceptable to speak of the dead – and this is difficult when the whole point of the museum is to remember those who were lost in such horrific circumstances. It is hard to describe what it is like to be in such a dark space, with queues of people lined up to read out a name, what a privilege it feels to have been picked by the group I was with to read out the names they had requested, to know and understand the horrific manner in which those few people whose names I carried had died – each one of them had given their life for others.
At the end of the experience, and the museum is choreographed to be this way, you come out onto a veranda, in the light of the sun, and alongside the young army conscripts or students who are brought there on a daily basis – to demonstrate the hope of the future in the next generation, that despite all the efforts of Hitler, the Jewish people live on and prosper. Ezekiel’s bones are resurrected.
This past week saw the twenty year commemoration of the genocide in Rwanda. A BBC reporter shared the story of just one man he came to know during that time, a man who had saved his life and the lives of they believe over 1,000 people in the course of the conflict. Capt. Mbaye Diagne was a UN peacekeeper from Senegal who somehow managed to smuggle hundreds of people away from the killers roaming the streets and countryside of Rwanda. The film Hotel Rwanda touches on part of his story. Only days before he was due to fly home, his tour of duty complete, he was caught in a road bomb and killed by shrapnel. His wife reports his usual good humour had disappeared, greatly affected by all the death and devastation he was witnessing. But because of him, hundreds of people are alive today.
In a continuing effort for reconciliation within Rwanda, the renowned photographer Pieter Hugo visited a meeting of perpetrators and victims from that time. They are a powerful witness to resurrection after death. Each of the victims suffered loss of home, of livelihood and more importantly loss of loved ones, of husbands, brothers, fathers, children. Many of the perpetrators had served terms in prison, and as part of their rehabilitation into the community they had to not only recant their actions, but seek the pardon of their victims. Here follows a little of the article I found:
‘The people who agreed to be photographed are part of a continuing national effort toward reconciliation and worked closely with AMI (Association Modeste et Innocent)…small groups of Hutus and Tutsis are counselled over many months, culminating in the perpetrator’s formal request for forgiveness…
‘At the photo shoots, Hugo said, the relationships between the victims and the perpetrators varied widely. Some pairs showed up and sat easily together, chatting about village gossip. Others arrived willing to be photographed but unable to go much further. “There’s clearly different degrees of forgiveness,” Hugo said. “In the photographs, the distance or closeness you see is pretty accurate.”
‘In interviews… the subjects spoke of the pardoning process as an important step toward improving their lives. “These people can’t go anywhere else — they have to make peace,” Hugo explained. “Forgiveness is not born out of some airy-fairy sense of benevolence. It’s more out of a survival instinct.” Yet the practical necessity of reconciliation does not detract from the emotional strength required of these Rwandans to forge it —side by side.’ (http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/04/06/magazine/06-pieter-hugo-rwanda-portraits.html?smid=fb-share&_r=3)
The raising of Lazarus from death is a powerful metaphor of love and forgiveness offered to us all by Jesus Christ – Love that can give life for others that they might live, and forgiveness for even the most heinous of sins. Life means life, full of joy and an open ability to love and forgive in the face of pain.
This past week Archbishop Justin Welby went on LBC Radio in London to spend an hour answering questions from the public. Anyone was able to phone in and ask a question. The rather contentious subject of equal marriage came up, several times in fact. And in the last five minutes I believe Justin made one of his more powerful appeals. He shared that he is awake nights trying to balance what is an impossible situation. He hears the pain of gay couples who seek the blessing of the church on the relationships of love and commitment they have found. He hears the pain of parents of gay teenagers who have committed suicide because of bullying. He hears the pain of gay people who have felt themselves rejected from the community of the church, a church that they feel would deny them the love of an ever-forgiving, ever loving God. He understands God’s love to be there for all of us, for everyone. But he also hears the pain of the families and loved ones of whole Anglican Christian communities who have been killed in parts of Africa because others around them, their neighbours, disagreed with the Episcopal Church in America’s decision to sanctify gay marriage. He hears the pain of those Churches in Africa who feel they are coming under increasing pressure to disengage from the Anglican Church in England, in Europe and the US because of this one issue.
Now I have heard people say that ++Justin is weak, that he is giving in to bullies. But I rather believe he is reminding us, here in England, that much of what we do can have repercussions in other parts of the world; to not be naïve about what we consider to be issues of justice. If we seek equal marriage, then we need to take responsibility for what happens in other places. It is not about giving in to bullies, but about taking pity on those who bear the brunt of our actions. It is not about not supporting equal marriage, but about accompanying our actions with a strategy that would enable vulnerable Christian communities in other parts of the world to feel safe. Of course, it must be recognised that the issue of equal marriage is an excuse. If it had not been this, it would have been something else. There is a much greater economic and cultural divide, a divide of histories in need of reconciliation and forgiveness.
We still don’t know what will happen in the next vote in General Synod on women bishops, but we do know that it is because of a strong push to listen to one another, on a human level, that has made the difference in the lead up to this next vote and which has gained much more support. Perhaps what we need, on a global scale this time, is a larger listening exercise on the issues of not only equal marriage but perhaps in general across the Anglican Communion – to enable people to meet face to face, share our stories of pain and loss. It is much harder to hate someone you have sat down with, broken bread with, with whom you have asked about their day or how their family is doing. A process of reconciliation is needed – a process of self sacrifice and of love. As Jesus removed the bonds of Lazarus burial shroud, we need to unwind our bindings of fear and hatred, misunderstanding and ignorance. Just as Jesus rolled away the stone of Lazarus’ tomb, we need to remove that heart of stone and replace it with a heart of flesh.