“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” — 1 Corinthians 15:55
As many Christians sat down Sunday morning to celebrate Easter, a suicide bombing targeting Christians halfway across the world in Lahore, Pakistan killed 72 people and injured at least 320. Right as American Christians were shouting, “He is risen, Alleluia!” an entire city cried out in horror and mourning. As American children hunted Easter eggs, a bomb exploded into Pakistani children visiting a neighborhood park.
“Members of the Christian community who were celebrating Easter today were our prime target,” said a spokesman for a splinter group of the Pakistani Taliban.
Death has not lost its sting.
Rather death continues its painful reign. Death has claimed hundreds of victims in recent terrorist attacks in Belgium, Turkey, Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon, the Ivory Coast, Iraq, and Pakistan. Death continues to unjustly claim the lives and dreams of disenfranchised peoples across America. Death yesterday took someone’s grandmother and another’s daughter, just as it will do the same tomorrow.
And yet we say death has been defeated and lost its sting? It seems an audacious, callous, absurd claim. For how can such evil mar such a joyous day? How can God allow this to happen? How can we possibly celebrate Jesus’ victory over the grave in the face of such suffering?
Good Friday is the day we patiently honored the continued pain and suffering of the world, we tell ourselves. Easter was the day for celebration. This was not the plan. Walking out of Easter service, I wanted all the world to have sunny skies and joyful potlucks, respite from the tired tragedy of politically motivated xenophobia and terrorism and all the rest.
It was not to be. Pain burst into Pakistan and onto my newsfeed. An asterisk seems to hang over our “He is risen indeed.”
Easter after Easter Christians are called to hold the cross and the empty tomb in tension — to lean into the already-but-not-yet nature of God’s kingdom. For some of us, this is a call to face a gritty realism: Terror is here to stay, and your Easter bells and baptisms do not hide it. For others, this tension is a reminder that the light shines in the darkness — that for all the terror at home and abroad Jesus really has defeated death in some final, mysterious way.
But whether we find ourselves mired in idealism or cynicism, we should take heart in Paul’s encouragement in light of the resurrection:
“Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor is not in vain.”
In the face of suicide bombings, our labor is not in vain. Yet, in the face of Jesus' resounding victory over death, labor is nonetheless required. Let us excel in the work of the Lord.