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Re-thinking Easter and the Lampedusa Cross.
By Ken Russell in All Sorts
The Cross of Jesus is, and always was, a sign of love's uncompromising resistance against evil and a force for the good,The Lampedusa Cross has established its presence among us, all messy-coloured and unlovely and improvised and salvaged. Nothing shiny and brassy from Lampedusa; only the impulse of a village carpenter to attach together two unassorted beams from wreckage bestrewing his island coastline, telling evidence of human tragedy upon tragedy. The Lampedusa Cross tells its story to those who will listen - of broken families caught in the crossfire of a civil war they do not comprehend, their small chances of escape imperilled in the fragile craft offered by unscrupulous entrepreneurs only too pleased to make a fortune from their misery and vulnerability. Connexions Apr 9
So how does the Lampedusa Cross speak to us on this Easter Sunday beyond the most vivid and unavoidable witness of the Cross itself - indisputable witness to mans' inhumanity to man?
Last week's Connexions posited three ways that immediately spring to mind. 1. the salvation view, a transaction for eternal forgiveness for those who truly believe. 2. the badge of sorrow, humanity's weeping for goodness destroyed in innumerable situations of mortal tragedy.
3. the investment for peace in the face of belligerent evil, the quiet courage in the 'prince of peace' who never ceased to believe the values he embraced would survive beyond his death. Last week's article
promised a fourth interpretation of the Lampedusa Cross as an Easter motivation. Here it is.
It sometimes pays to follow up on a news item to gain additional perspective. So it was when I googled this weeks reports of terror attacks on two Egyptian Coptic churches; St Mark's Cathedral in Alexandria and the Mar Girgis Church in the Nile town of Tanta, both celebrating Palm Sunday. To date 49 have died and many more have suffered grievous injuries. In each case, Islamic State has claimed responsibility.
Neither event is especially significant given the frequency of such bombings make them almost daily events somewhere in the world. But in a momentary film clip on TV1 I caught sight of an image that remains a vivid memory - a big crowd of angry shouting Egyptian Christians gathered in solidarity immediately after the attack on their church. Lifted shoulder high was one of their number brandishing a wooden cross, as if to say - 'they can destroy our churches, but they cannot destroy the faith this cross stands for!' But that was not all. A little further googling revealed something else, missed in TV1's coverage. The crowd of Coptic men, several hundred of them, were not the angry rabble they may at first sight have appeared to be. A short video clip revealed a truly moving happening. The men, in perfect unison, were reciting the Nicene Creed in Arabic.
Have in mind the situation of Christians in Egypt. They are less than 10% of the population, and if reports are correct, under constant discrimination, even persecution, by the Moslem majority. Their Cathedral had just been attacked and some of their number killed by Moslem extremists, but the first response of those Coptic Christians, under the banner of a hastily acquired cross, was to go into the streets to reaffirm the creed, such a prominent feature of their Sunday liturgy. Pure and simple, it was an act of defiance that the nation of Egypt could not easily ignore.
The Lampedusa Cross, like so many crosses before it over many centuries of Christian witness, carries a clear message of defiance, resistance, opposition, dissent. This cross declares unequivocally 'you people from Libya and other places who heartlessly exploit the vulnerability of refugees - you are wrong, and the judgement of God, and your peers, is upon you.'
But don't get me wrong. I am not suggesting, even for a moment, approval of the militant crosses carried over the hearts of the Crusaders who plundered and killed "the infidels" in the land of Jesus, forever blooding the image that early Moslems formed of Roman Christianity. Nor am I commending the harsh and uncompromising cross in the theology of evangelical denominations competing for the souls of remote villagers in the rain forests of New Guinea and West Papua.
The steel core of resistance in the Christian cross, against evil and for the good, is not to be confused with the militant proselytisation of biblical fundamentalists in every corner of the world.
The Cross of Jesus is, and always was, a sign of love's uncompromising resistance. Martin Luther King once declared , "Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed." His was resistance of a different time and culture, but it is well known the great freedom champion was mightily inspired by the resistance model he saw in Jesus of Nazareth. It was Dr King and his movement for black rights that made 'passive resistance' fundamental to black protest, a Jesus-like policy if ever there was one.
Jesus wasn't crucified because he was a super awesome guy that
quietly went around asking people to please be nice to each other. He
was crucified because secular and religious authorities alike saw him as
a threat to their power and influence.
The cross in one form or another confronts us every time we sit
ourselves comfortably (o yeah?) in Church, and the very familiarity of
its presence can insulate us from the imperative of its authority over
and among us. Maybe if we were Coptic Christians in Egypt or United
Methodists in America, the sheer gravity of events in our nation,
whether as the target of Islamic State or as the recipients of Donald
Trump's egotistical executive orders, would better attune us to look
into the heart of the cross to discern the call to resistance.
It's Easter. The joy of the day is undiminished, even if we greet it in
different terms and understand it more mythically. But this Easter we
have Lampedusa. Look hard, and remember from whence its timbers
came. Condemn the injustice and oppression that filled its boats, and
uphold the strong desire of our Italian carpenter through his
workmanship to resist the cruel forces, and with his crosses engage
the world. Allow Lampedusa to influence you, and let holy resistance
become your spiritual practice.
Aotearoa - New Zealand has no special claim on the title Godzone, even
if Fred Dagg sometimes gave the impression it has. Get out there as
Easter people, resist what is wrong in our society and embrace what is
good. And as Erin Brockovich said to weary Christchurch insurance
victims this week "never give up."