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Sri Lanka attacks: grief-stricken but hope-filled

Danny Webster: "Our hope in Jesus' resurrection gives us a visible witness to the defeat of death"

Two years ago I was in Sri Lanka with my wife. It was our honeymoon and we spent a couple of weeks on this incredible island following the exhaustion of wedding planning and the big day itself.

Because we needed rest, we opted for a more leisurely pace, with an extended beach stay, rather than the typical tourist itineraries. Due to seasonal monsoon cycles, we went to the east coast, just north of Batticaloa, where one of eight explosions in Sri Lanka targeted Christians as they attended church on Easter Sunday. 

My wife and I wanted to see more of the South-Asian country than the shiny resorts on the coast, so one day we boarded a tuk tuk to Batticaloa. When we got to the city, our driver took us to a local restaurant where we ended up with two lunches, one of which was ordered by him. Then we wandered around the town. Batticaloa is not a tourist place’, unlike Kandy, the tea trail, or the cultural centre around Sigiriya; it’s a very normal town. 

The east coast is an area that has suffered severely over the last few decades, with the civil war devastating communities, and the tsunami in 2004 undoing much of the initial reconstruction. We still did the tourist thing’ in Batticaloa, though, photographing the waterfront, the fort, and a few churches we stumbled upon – although not the evangelical church attacked last weekend – before returning to our hotel.

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A few days ago, on Sunday morning, when I woke up early to head to BBC Radio London to review the day’s papers and saw the news of the attack, it struck me a little closer than perhaps it otherwise would have. My reaction is, perhaps, similar to those who were especially affected by the fire in Notre Dame; when we have been to a place and walked its streets, we feel a little more intimately the pain that is inflicted on those who call that place home. Countless profile pictures across social media had been changed to show people in front of the cathedral’s towers.

Jesus triumphed over death when He rose from the grave.

When I think of the comfort and ease with which I went to church on Sunday to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, I cannot help but cry out for those who suffered as they did the same, and others for whom attending any form of church gathering, or meeting to pray, or daring to speak about their faith, or choosing to follow Jesus, is an act that risks their life. There is pain too grievous for words, suffering too acute to imagine. But it is pain that is real and suffering that has not spared lives.

We do not know the full story of the attacks in Sri Lanka, but, along with locals and tourists in luxury hotels in the capital, Christians were targeted on the day that stands at the centre of our faith: Jesus triumphed over death when He rose from the grave. For these attacks to take place on Easter Sunday is both particularly callous and horrific, but also shot through with the hope that this day is built on.

Death is brutal; there is no sugar-coating it. Families grieve lost loved ones; friends and neighbours know that life will not be the same again. Those who were once with us are now not. The Christian hope does not deny the reality of death or the pain that it brings, but we know that this is not the end of the story.

Last week two young Christians died in a road accident on the Greek island of Santorini. Toby and Milly Savill were members of a church-plant in Vauxhall, London, and I saw countless tributes from friends who knew them. The BBC picked up on the words from Katya Savill on Facebook: Our loss of Toby and Milly is inconceivable, something that will take a lifetime for so many to come to terms with. But we are confident of the joy they are experiencing right now with Christ on high. We continue to grieve, but we will never lose sight of this certain hope.”

Our hope in the resurrection of Jesus and the new life that He brings does not remove the pain and the suffering, but it gives us a visible witness to the defeat of death; it gives us the confidence that death has lost its sting. And we know that in Him we will be raised to life eternal.

About the author

Danny joined the Evangelical Alliance in 2008 and has held a range of roles in the advocacy team. He currently looks after media relations and oversees advocacy programmes and projects including public leadership. Before working for the Evangelical Alliance, Danny, who has degrees in politics and political philosophy, worked in parliament for an MP. Danny is passionate about encouraging Christians to integrate their faith with all areas of their life, especially when it comes to helping them take on leadership outside the church. He frequently provides comment on current political issues, both in Evangelical Alliance publications and to the press.

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