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May 21, 2022

Watching war crimes as we prepare for Easter

As I write this, images of atrocities in the city of Bucha, a suburb of Kiev, Ukraine, are crossing our screens. Executed civilians, hands bound, lying prostrate on the road. Neighborhoods targeted and destroyed, leaving innocent Ukrainians in the wake. A cyclist, seemingly shot for sport, as he rode by. Refugees by the millions running to the borders desperate to escape Russian aggressors in Ukraine. These images shake us to our core. Grief. Rage. Fear. Chaos. Helplessness. Shock. 

The indiscriminate killing of civilians and the rhetoric out of Moscow, declaring that Ukraine should not exist as a nation, has discussions of genocide bubbling up in the international community. While it seems clear that Russia is guilty of war crimes, we cannot wait for international lawyers and judges to decide on convictions and sentences before we begin to process and respond to these atrocities.

The grief and alarm I feel lead me back to the Hebrew Bible book of Lamentations. Lamentations is not an easy or particularly uplifting read. It ends with these words: “Restore us to yourself, O Lord… unless you have utterly rejected us, and are angry with us beyond measure.” The End. No resolution. No happily ever after. Just a final plea and fear of no response. But the difficulty of Lamentations is precisely the reason we must face it. The five-chapter poem forces us to face foreign military invasion of a sovereign country, to wrestle with the reality of murdered civilians, and to watch citizens being kidnapped and taken to foreign lands. Finally, we are left with desolation and desperation ringing in the air.

One week after this is published is Good Friday—a day that can only be called good in hindsight. In the moment, it was only state-sanctioned violence Friday, civilians executed by the military Friday, crushing loss of hope Friday. (Let me be clear, none of Russia’s atrocities and war crimes in Ukraine will be seen as good in hindsight.) Two days later, the church will celebrate Easter Sunday and the stories of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. But this year that celebration is tainted by the darkness that still thrives in the world.

Perhaps this Easter we will do well to remember the first Easter. The joy of the disciples at having their Rabbi and Lord back did not immediately lead to Israel’s restoration as a sovereign nation, nor did it lead to an earthly or heavenly utopia under the reign of a newly crowned King Jesus. Rather, they were given a mission as they continued to live in a world tainted by darkness. Jesus told them that they would go and continue the work that he had been about (John 14:12): welcoming the refugee, creating societies and economies that are good news for the poor, liberating the oppressed, and proclaiming the reality of God’s favor for all people. 

And so, we have the opportunity to use our lives and our voices to carry out just such a mission, at home, abroad, and as far as our sphere of influence will carry our new calling.

Rev. Robby Olson is a Presbyterian pastor in Watsonville. His views are his own and not necessarily those of the Pajaronian.


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