April 7, 2014
Today, we are a region in mourning.
Just three days ago, we lost one hundred and forty-seven of our brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, relatives, friends, acquaintances, fellow citizens, in a horrifying attack in Garissa University College.
And today, our East African Community sister country Rwanda commemorates the 21st anniversary of the beginning of the genocide of 1994, a horror that also washed over their country and claimed over 1 million lives in about 100 days.
Both these great losses occurred during the Easter season, when we remember the greatest sacrifice of all; that of our Lord who was innocent, but tortured, mocked, flogged and crucified by our sin.
Even in our grief, we are triumphant, because we know the Resurrection. We know that even as Jesus was whipped by the soldiers, mocked by the crowds, crucified on the cross and taunted by the thieves on Friday, Sunday was coming when the stone would be rolled away and the Lord would appear in the flesh.
However, it is still too soon, and the pain is still too fresh, for us to celebrate the Resurrection when Kenyan families still haven’t identified, let alone buried the victims of the Garissa tragedy. We do know, though, that our sister country Rwanda has emerged from the ashes of 1994 to build a new nation. But even in Rwanda, everything isn’t perfect. Some pain never heals, and like our Lord’s pierced hands and side, the scars will always remain. However, the power of the Resurrection is what keeps us believing two thousand years later. It is the same power that can propel Rwanda to greater heights, and that can help Kenya win the war over terror.
All the same, it’s important for us to remember that there’s no Resurrection without the story of great love, and later great trauma, of the people who loved the individuals who were so cruelly taken from the world. And today, I’d like us to reflect on one such story.
The story of Mary.
But not everyone celebrated. King Herod, fearing a threat to his power, panicked about the birth of Jesus, and had all the Hebrew baby boys slaughtered.
So whether it was from the celebration or the Herod’s reaction, Mary knew that the child she was raising was no ordinary child. She probably knew that the hopes and lives of people would forever be changed because of her son.
But thirty three years later, Christ’s calling to redeem mankind would be like a spear through her heart. It’s not that Mary didn’t know. When she and Joseph brought the baby Jesus to the temple, the prophet Simon had warned them: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
But even then, I doubt that any warning could prepare Mary for the horror of seeing her son in excruciating pain, hanging on a cross, all because he had loved the rejected, fed the hungry, healed the sick and taught the people.
And that is the story that we’re witnessing 147 times today in Kenya, and that we witnessed a million times in Rwanda in 1994. In Kenya, parents took their children to school because they knew that their children were not ordinary. They had hope that these young people who were training to be teachers and other professionals, would touch the lives of thousands more. Although some knew the risk of taking their children to a school so close to the border with Somalia, and even tried to get their children transferred to another campus, they still sent their children to university because the hope for their children’s future was so much stronger than the fear of the present. Like Mary, they knew.
But three days ago, a sword pierced their soul.
We must thank these parents for their step of faith, and pray earnestly that God may comfort them. Because no parent deserves to go through that kind of horror.
Similarly, in Rwanda 21 years ago, a sword pierced the soul of many families whose children, parents, friends, lovers, were wiped out, and with them, hopes and dreams for the next generation. Again, nothing could have prepared them for the heartbreak of seeing neighbors, and sometimes even relatives, turn on them upon incitement by the government.
But the excruciating and cruel manner in which innocent lives are taken away by people for whom politics is more important than humanity – be it Herod ordering the slaughter of baby boys, the Roman soldiers crucifying Christ, the Interahamwe slaughtering Tutsis or Al-Shabab killing in the name of Somali Islamic nationalism – is not the end of the story. There is Resurrection. The sorrow of Mary Magdalene, who was with Jesus’s mother at the cross, would soon be replaced with the joy of seeing the risen Lord, whose resurrection was announced with the question “why are you looking for the living among the dead?”
So we too, with our tears, must also see our fallen children, our fallen brothers and sisters, as rising from the tomb. We must tell the world that 147 people’s lives are snuffed out, but they are alive!
They are alive because we remember them by naming them. We can name Isaac Pop Bushen, Branton Wakhungu, Aban Kumba Daniel, Peter Masinde, Selpher Solo Wanda, Erick Ondari Nyabuto, Doreen Gakii, Adley Mose, Ruth Esiromo, Solomon Oludo, Mary Muchiri, Lydia Obondi, Tonie Wangu, Joy Chepkorir, Gideon Bryson Mwakleghwa, Priscilla Kathure Akwalu and others.
But we can also remember them by honoring the dreams which they and their parents wanted to fulfil by sending them to Garissa University College. And this is where I call upon you, Daystar students, to take your studies more seriously. We teachers are unhappy to see parents pay fees for their children, and the children skip class, crashing their parents’ dreams, while confusing many other students who are struggling to raise fees to finish the semester. Remember that for each one of you, when you were born, the universe lit up and celebrated this great life that has joined the world. Each parent, each teacher, each preacher who has spoken into your lives saw potential in you and invested their dreams in you. When you were born, God smiled and said – did you know that my son or my daughter will bring healing to the sick, knowledge to the illiterate, hope to the nation?
Do not let yourselves, your sponsors, your country down. Embrace the power of the Resurrection and remember the hopes invested in you, the youth of Kenya, hopes that Al Shabab tried to wipe out three days ago.
In dedication to the grieving parents and families of our heroes who fell in Garissa, I would like to play this song “Mary did you know?” by Mark Lowry and Buddy Greene. It is normally played as a Christmas song, but I think it points out what Mary might have been remembering as she watched her son die such a painful death