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April 23, 2019

The Sting of Death Strikes Sri Lanka Again

by Charles Premkumar Joseph

Cinnamon Grand it was! My colleague and I were hosted by a loving young Sri Lankan couple with their cricket loving lad (who doted on Dhoni) for a late night dinner in Colombo last month. Conversations, calamari, caramel custard and coffee at the Cinnamon Grand, well into midnight – a delightful combo that’s etched forever in our memories.

My visits to Colombo have always been heart-warming. Lovely people, luscious land, languid mood a perfect affordable get away – typical backpacker thinking. But there’s so much more to this people and to this place that fascinates me. Thirty brutal years of sweat, blood and tears. Thirty years of an ugly ‘civil war’. Thirty years of fear, hurt and pain. Thirty years of hell. But all this ended in 2009. After all, there’s light at the end of every tunnel, isn’t there?

In my visits, I’ve had the privilege of interacting with young and old Sri Lankans. Those that have been in the thick of all that transpired in those thirty ghastly years. I’ve also spoken to the ones born during that era, growing up in the midst of impending danger, in the heart of chaos, in the hearing and sight of bomb blasts. And also to the likes of our young cricket-loving-Dhoni-doting host, born in an era of peace – or so I thought!

The innocence in my little friend’s face, the aspirations in his heart (to be a national cricketer in the Sri Lankan squad), and the light in his eyes at the dessert counter are still fresh in my eyes. I was so happy that this little child didn’t have to go through what his parents did. All of this came crashing down, when I learnt that the tenure of peace that was meant to be was just a mere, ten years.

Cinnamon Grand it is. News reports confirmed it. One of the eight blast sites, the majority of which are Churches across this priceless jewel in the Indian Ocean. On Resurrection day. On the very day, that a peace-loving community world-wide celebrates the joyous triumph of Life over Death and Good over Evil – bomb blasts and killings, conspiracy and treachery, sorrow and pain, agony and mourning are like a mockery of God’s gift of forgiveness and salvation to all of humankind – clearly a nasty punch below God’s belt! Two hundred and ninety dead and about five hundred more injured. Bravo, well played.

I’m all too familiar with the vices of men. Being no Superman, myself. But the depths of human depravity that we see unfolding day after day seems sickening, nauseating, repulsive,  repugnant, appalling, pathological, vile and even demonic! One man to another – an eye for a toe nail, a head for a strand of hair – a community, a culture, a country for no rhyme or reason. We call ourselves, civilized and cultured. A civilization with no civility, a culture with no character, a race with no restraint and a spirituality with no sanctity.

On Maundy Thursday, Jesus Christ washed his disciple’s feet. Judas, the disciple who’d betray his Rabbi with a kiss a few hours later was a beneficiary of Jesus’ demonstration of humility, kindness and love. Judas didn’t cringe like Peter did, when he felt the touch of his meek Master’s loving hands on his dirty self. His heart chose to remain callous, unresponsive, vile and wicked. But the Master chose to stoop over and served his disciple, nevertheless. That’s the heart of God. Ever seeking and reaching out to touch and save, even those who would betray him.

Jesus’ purposeful object lesson – a last lesson of sorts – is a lesson in forgiveness, meekness, servanthood and love. A new command (mandate – Maundy), I give you he said, “Love each other as I’ve loved you”. And how exactly did He love them? With his death! And so would our brothers and sisters in Sri Lanka, continue to model the Resurrected Saviour and live out loud, the power of the Resurrected Lord, through their forgiveness, meekness, service and love. Surely, no easy task to ask.

But the people of Sri Lanka, have been enabled to do this in the past – through all of their ethnic and ideological differences – they have done it supremely well. A winsome testimony of the enabling of Jesus Christ to help forgive. Even as the wounds of loss are bleeding, the pain scathing, the agony writhing and the anger seething – through it all – again, they would resurrect like their scarred-yet-victorious Saviour and triumphantly cry, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? [1]

They will prove to this world yet again, that ‘Love always trumps hatred’ and ‘Good always triumphs over evil’.

Until then, their comfort, their healing and their chant shall be;

“The other gods were strong; but Thou wast weak;
They rode, but Thou didst stumble to a throne;
But to our wounds only God’s wounds can speak,
And not a god has wounds, but Thou alone.” [2]

We are all with you in thoughts and prayers at this hour of grief. May the God of all comfort and peace, heal, restore and recompense, as only he can.


[1] 1 Corinthians 15:55

[2] “Jesus of the Scars” by Edward Shillito,

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