The crucifixion and burial of Jesus in the tomb was not merely an individual tragedy. It symbolized something much deeper. His death and entombment marked the end of the hope of the Jews of his time to be delivered out of the Roman bondage and of the vision of Messianic rule.
A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth (Isa.11:1-4).
The travellers on the road to Emmaus express this utter disappointment when they lamented, “But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since this happened.”(Lk.24:21) The tomb-stone had dashed the hopes of the people for the coming of the reign of God. Even today people in India have been waiting expectantly for “Achhe Din!” Listen to a report from Abhinav Rajput and Prawesh Lama in Hindustan Times, updated on February 6, 2017:
Rocking the youngest of his five children in his arms, street vendor Daata Ram watches his wife tend to two sick cows whose milk once supplemented their meagre income. The 66-year-old’s family of seven survives on what he now makes by selling small quantities of puffed rice in Pandra Sikanpur, a one-street, hardscrabble town of 5,000 in Uttar Pradesh. “I took a loan of Rs 30,000 to buy those cows but I think they are no good now,” says Ram, who uses a fourth of his monthly earnings of Rs5000-6000 to repay the local moneylender.
Across the street from Ram’s thatched hut is the sprawling house of Neeraj Kumar Singh, a well-off sugarcane farmer who lost multiple crops to back-to-back droughts three years ago, and then suffered when farm prices crashed last year. “It takes two harvesting seasons to recover the loss of one,” says Singh who wants his sons to find jobs outside farming so that their lives wouldn’t be held ransom to the vagaries of nature. But his four children have found no jobs, and the 60-year-old farmer is angry that he must now divide his 10 acres of cropland to secure their future.
The stone that sealed the tomb of Jesus was not simply a case of the silencing of a politically powerless person. It signified the cruel end which thousands of common people experience at the hands of cunning scheming political rulers and economic powers who consider them to be a threat to their vested interests and to the status quo of the empire.
Caiaphas, the high priest had already declared, “‘It is expedient for you that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation should not perish.’. . . So from that day on they took counsel how to put him to death.” (Jn.11:50, 53) From the day of the trial and death of Jesus “Herod and Pilate became friends with each other that very day, for before this they had been at enmity with each other.”(Lk.23:12). Furthermore Caesar’s position was threatened by the Jewish leaders, “If you release this man (Jesus), you are not Caesar’s friend.”(Jn. 18:12)
Watching the death of Jesus on the cross, the centurion who was supervising the crucifixion, declared,
“Certainly this man was innocent!”(Lk.23:47) The stone closing the mouth of the tomb connoted the sealing and silencing of the cries of politically, socially and economical weak people. Similar is the condition of the least and the last in our society today. An article of Jaya Rani, published on November 16, 2016, entitled “The Dalit Voice is Simply Not Heard in the Mainstream Indian Media” (https://sabrangindia.in/article/unheard-dalit-voice-rohith-vemulas-letter-would-have-gone-unnoticed-if-not-written-english), narrates the plight of dalits:
The ‘not so changing’ statistics of National Crime Records Bureau say that a Dalit is assaulted every two hours in India. So we would get breaking news every two hours.
At least three Dalit women are raped every 24 hours. Call it exclusive, mask the face of the woman or you can even leave it unmasked since she is a Dalit and keep breaking the news. Crimes against Dalits see a rise of 10-20% every year. In a just society, the media’s space to violence against Dalits should have correspondingly increased too. But has it happened? We all know it has not.
There is a term called oozhikaalam in Tamil. The closest English word to it is apocalypse. As a responsible journalist, I would call this era the apocalypse of the media world. The mainstream media is not for the poor, not for the oppressed. It has carved its kingdom out of loyalty to the powers, to bureaucracy, to domination. It is neither for minorities nor for women and children. Most certainly not for the Dalits.
The tomb of Jesus stood not only for the end of a great human being, but for the termination of the life of a loving human being, who radiated compassion and love, and in so doing cultivated edifying relationships. As Matthew 27:55 and John 19:25 put it there were many women following Jesus as he trudged along the road to Calvary. Among them was Mary the mother of Jesus, who had treasured so many uplifting memories of Jesus in her life (cf. Lk.2:51). Then there was Mary Magdalene whom Jesus had lovingly helped to get rid of the problems (the demons) that had plagued her life (Lk.8:2). She had regained dignity in life because of relating to Jesus. There was Joseph of Arimathea too at Golgotha; he had long been a secret disciple of Jesus (Jn.19:38). Also at Golgotha was Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews who had first come to Jesus at night (Jn. 19:39) and learnt the lesson of true spirituality. Jesus indeed had transformed lives of persons and had been bound with them in relationships of love. The stone on the tomb signified the cessation of a life of love.
The India we live in today is one which seeks to put an end to compassion and love. Even the noblest of motives which Mother Teresa had in giving of herself in love for the poor, the diseased, the orphaned, and the aged have been derogated as a proselytization strategy. Commercial enterprises have given monetary, consumerist and possessive values to love whether it be Valentine’s Day or Christmas or any other festivity.
Who will roll away the stone? The stone which blocks all movements for justice! The stone which silences the suffering lambs! The stone which smothers love! The stone which annihilates hope!
At Easter, we receive the good news that God intervenes to roll away tomb-stones!
“You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know— this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power. (Acts 2:22-24)
But who will roll away the tomb-stones of our times? Is there any hope?
God has called us to follow the steps of Jesus Christ and when we are committed to the gospel of justice and love, the stone will be moved!
We call ourselves Christians. Are we willing to be committed to the cause of the gospel? If yes, the stone will be rolled away!
Hear the words of Jesus:
Very truly, I tell you, you will weep and mourn, but the world will rejoice; you will have pain, but your pain will turn into joy. When a woman is in labor, she has pain, because her hour has come. But when her child is born, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy of having brought a human being into the world. So you have pain now; but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. (Jn. 16: 20-22)
Rev. Dr. Roger Gaikwad
General Secretary, NCCI.