Easter is about many things. We celebrate God’s ultimate power to redeem death, sin, and injustice, but we also celebrate the now-glorified voices and wounds of the ones who died on Good Friday.
To this end, I would like to recount one such voice, that of an anonymous, young girl who was brutally raped and murdered by the Salvadorean military, at a place fittingly called La Cruz (the cross) in 1981 . The story is reported by a journalist , Mark Danner.
He describes how, after this particular massacre, some soldiers shared how one of their victims haunted them and how they could not get her out of their minds, long after her death.
They had plundered a village and raped many of the women. One of those was a young girl, an evangelical Christian, whom they had raped many times in a single afternoon and subsequently tortured. However, throughout this all, this young girl, clinging to her belief in Christ, had sung hymns:
“She kept right on singing, too, even after they had done what had to be done, and shot her in the chest. She had lain there on La Cruz with the blood flowing from her chest, and had kept on singing – a bit weaker than before, but still singing. And the soldiers, stupefied had watched and pointed. Then they had grown tired of the game and shot her again, and she sang still, and their wonder began to turn to fear – until finally they had unsheathed their machetes and hacked her neck, and at last the singing had stopped.” (The Massacre at El Mozote, N.Y., Vintage Books, 1994, pp. 78-79.)
Gil Bailie, who makes this story a corner-piece in his monumental book on the cross and non-violence, notes not just the remarkable similarity between her manner of death and Jesus’, but also the fact that, in both cases, part of the resurrection is that their voices live on. In Jesus’ case, nobody witnessing his humiliating death on a lonely hillside, with his followers absent, would have predicted that this would be the most remembered death in history. The same is true for this young girl. Her rape and murder occurred in a very remote place and all of those who might have wanted to immortalize her story were also killed. Yet her voice survives and will no doubt continue to grow in history, long after all those who violated her are forgotten.
As both Jesus and this young girl illustrate, powerlessness and anonymity, linked to a heart that can sing the words: “Forgive them for they know not what they do” while being raped and humiliated, ultimately become their opposite, power and immortality. A death of this kind not only morally scars the conscience of its perpetrators and their sympathizers, it leaves something that can never be forgotten, a permanent echo that nobody will ever silence. What God raises after Good Friday is also the voice of the one who died.
A critic reviewing Danner’s book in the New York Times tells how, after reading this story, he kept “straining hopelessly to hear the sound of that singing.”
The task of Easter is re-enkindle the entire creed within ourselves. The earliest Christians , immediately after experiencing the resurrected Christ , spontaneously voiced a one-line creed: “Jesus is Lord!” That does say it all. When we say that Jesus has been raised from the dead and is Lord of this world we are saying everything really. We are saying that …
God is ultimately still in charge of this universe, despite many indications to the contrary; that, brutality and rape notwithstanding, at the end of the day, violence, injustice, and sin will be both silenced and overcome; that graciousness and gentleness, as manifested by Jesus, are ultimately what lies at the root of all of reality; that this young girl, who was so brutally violated, has now been raised and lives, joyfully, in the heart of God; and that her death, like Jesus’ death, is redemptive precisely because, like him, she too, in the face of utter helplessness before the worst brutality our world contains, could still say: “Forgiven them for they know not what they do.”
To believe in the resurrection is to know that all of this is true. But the task of Easter asks still something else of us.
Easter asks us, as the critic in the New York Times so aptly put it, to strain to hear the sound of that girl’s singing, to struggle to keep her, and her song, alive in our hearts. She is alive in God’s heart, but we must keep her alive in ours as well.
Why? Not for sentimental reasons, nor simply because hers is an exceptional story. No. We must keep her alive in our hearts because her song is the leaven, the yeast of resurrection, that alone can raise up our own hearts so that we too might become exceptional. One of the tasks of Easter to strain to hear the voice of Good Friday.