Taken last September: a few of the lads after a long day of lectures and presenting papers. Filip is on the left in the brown jacket.
My friend and colleague at Durham (also pursuing his doctorate in theology, and my same ‘year’), Filip De Cavel, is a key leader in a large Evangelical denomination in Belgium. I reached out to Filip last week when the tragic events in Brussels occurred. I asked if he would consider writing a short reflection so that we could see the situation through his eyes, and so that we would know how to pray for the Church in Belgium.
He sent me this on Easter Sunday:
Monday evening, March 21 // Clare, my wife, goes to England.
Along with many other travelers, she took of a couple of vacation days during Easter week, and boarded an airplane in Brussels to visit her parents in England.
In front of me was the oft-dreaded blank page– the beginnings of a sermon. At the end of the week, on Easter Sunday, it would hopefully be filled with meaningful words for a congregation. I shouldn’t complain; there is certainly enough Biblical text to draw from.
Mark 16:1-8 caught my eye. If we disregard the so-called “second ending” of Mark, this is the gospel in which the last words of Jesus do not foster a great deal of joy: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Really? Don’t let Mark come near my Easter sermon!
Likewise, the visit to the grave (Mark 16) could hardly be qualified as euphoric. The main characters here, three women, are walking to and from the empty grave. I can almost hear them think, “Jesus’ dead body, Jesus’ dead body! Why has thou forsaken us?” The text paints a picture in less hopeful words: Alarmed; went out quickly; fled; trembled; amazed; said nothing; afraid. Really? Don’t let these women come near my Easter!
Where are the last words of Jesus as reported by Matthew, Luke and John?
Tuesday morning, March 22 // Belgium wakes up with a hang over.
Terror and meaningless violence on our soil..
Some moments later, the scope of this drama becomes clear.
The mourning begins.
A Canadian man, a fellow christian, got stranded at the airport, but was not harmed. He called me since we had mutual friends. Suddenly, the world seems a lot smaller. Some days later, we learned that a young christian man got killed by one of the explosions. He was getting ready to visit his American girlfriend. I didn’t know him personally, but a lot of my friends did.
And in the back of my head, one sentence: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken this young man, and so many other victims?”
Sunday morning, March 27// Easter Sunday unlike any other Easter Sundays.
Lucky for me, Mark’s gospel is near me.
It is, after all, the gospel which recounts the story of a loving father who presented himself and his sick child to Jesus– a father who knew the impact of suffering on one’s life. Jesus dared him to believe. The man replied. “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”
The women in Mark 16 are silent. Maybe it is their way of embodying the same sentiment as this father: belief and unbelief.
The young man in the empty tomb, dressed in white, didn’t allow these women to spend too much time in the tomb. “Go to Galilee,” he directs them. Jesus would meet His disciples there (cf. Mk 14:28).
Galilee, the place where it all started for Jesus.
Galilee, where it all started for the disciples.
Galilee, through the eyes of the resurrected Jesus has become a different place. Not because Galilee has changed but because our Lord has showed who He really is: the Messiah!
He has not forsaken us.
In fact, He is in our ‘Galilee’.
He is there.
Sunday afternoon, March 27
Belgium and many other places in this world have fallen victim to these hideous acts of terrorism. Most notably today in Lahore, Pakistan.
But we are not forsaken. We are not at all forsaken.
Please stand by my fellow country men and women, and pray that many may become convinced of the God who is there.