The Nazarene called out to the man who was buried and his body rotting, ‘Come out, Lazarus!’ Today, the same Jesus calls out, ‘You Church, come out of the tomb!’ The one who calls it out is that same Nazarene who was crucified and buried. He did come out of the cave. He shows the way!
Jesus broke the silence of the tomb. The huge stone that closed his burial cave had to roll out. Jesus was out of the cave breaking all silence, breaking all barriers of death and destruction, calling out: ‘I am alive! People of the world, be alive! Death and destruction will have no power over you. You have a right to live. I came into the world to announce life, not death. Not the sombre silence of the grave, but the flame of hope!’
This clarion call reverberates over every part of the universe, every continent, every hill and valley, plateau and prairie. Where the dance of death and the drama of destruction play havoc on the lives of people this call is sharp and shrill.
Today, in India particularly this clarion call is timely. Jesus of Nazareth calls out to the Indian Church in the nation’s hour of need. This call comes in many shapes and forms. The most recent ‘Open Letter to the Heads of all Churches and other Christian Leaders’ by a group of ‘Indian Christians’ is one such call. It is signed by Dr. Michael Williams, Educationist, John Dayal, Human Rights Activist, and twenty two other journalists, Rights activists, theologians, scholars, educationists, and pastors. ‘We are concerned at the steady shift we see in our country from a pluralist, secular, democracy to a Hindu Rashtra...A new coercive culture...is destroying lives and families among us. Fear stalks the land...’
The letter highlights the increase of violence against Christians, Dalits and Muslims from 2014. The Church leaders are called upon ‘to act before it is too late ...to reflect and lead the community in the path of truth, love and justice.’ It is pertinent to note the concluding para: ‘In unison with members of all faiths, ideologies we should marshal India’s tremendous spiritual resources in consolidating peace, resolving conflict infusing a sense of values in the body politic.’ It is indeed a call inspired by Christian fellowship and the best of human and spiritual values enshrined in different paths of faith and belief.
The recent national outcry, #NotinMyName, was not just a cry in wilderness. It sent ripples also over other continents, and people all over the world began to sit up asking what was happening in India. More such outcry should well up to shake the conscience of those who have bartered it to evil forces of hate, vengeance and vandalism. That is where the Church of Jesus Christ can play a constructive role in mobilizing humane forces, in collaborating with men and women of good will to become a national force to reckon with, and in defending the defenceless by word and deed. But, for that, the Church has to shed its calculated hesitations. It needs to break its hard shell of complacency. In order to be true to the teachings of Jesus Christ it has to clean up its own backyard first.
The recent nurse’s strike in Kerala had cast a dark shadow over its justifications of running ‘charity shows’ in its multi-special hospitals. Murky arguments to deny the nurses even the minimum wages as directed by the Supreme Court of India revealed the face of a pretentious church. No wonder, a lay person’s remark on social media went viral: ‘It is time for Jesus Christ to come with whip in hand to overturn the tables of the pharisaic money doublers.’ The Church authorities running those institutions should have shown sense and sensibility and a modicum of Christian charity to respond to the demands of the nurses. Instead, they chose to connive with other private money spinning hospitals to let the nursing staff struggle for their human and fundamental right to a just wage.
In Pope Francis’ prayer during the Way of the Cross Prayer at the Colosseum he urges us to see the ‘Cross of Christ...raised up in our sisters and brothers killed, burned alive, throats slit and decapitated by barbarous blade amid cowardly silence,...in unfaithful ministers,...in the hands of arms dealers and corrupt officials,...in those who store up treasures leaving Lazarus to die of hunger at their doorsteps.’ But he also encourages us to see the Cross in the work of the good Samaritans who bring a flicker of hope to light up the darkness of people’s lives.
That is where an inward looking and self-polishing church has to come out of its dark cave to present itself as capable of lighting the dark caves of people’s lives. That is where the Church will prove its authenticity as the genuine Church of Christ. It has to join hands with all men and women of good will and clean conscience to say ‘NO’ to all forms of evil pervading in our country. It is not enough to meet ministers and politicians with memoranda only when the Church’s interests are affected. Its sense of fellowship should extend to situations where innocent lives are destroyed by fanatical forces prompted by religious fundamentalism or cultural terrorism.
The Church in India should read the signs of the times. It has suffered a lot when its followers were persecuted or its churches were burnt or destroyed. But, instead of licking its own wounds, it should open its eyes and see how other people, other minorities, and other communities are also being targeted, lynched, raped or destroyed. Sinister attempts to turn this secular nation into Hindu Rashtra should be resisted. Strategies to thwart the sacred Constitution of India should be exposed. Terror tactics to force citizens to cow down to the diktats of vigilante groups should be confronted legally and constitutionally. Making educational institutions subservient to Puranas and tantric rituals should be questioned and blocked. This independent India for whose freedom our fathers and forefathers sacrificed their lives should not be sold out to peddlers of Hindu rashtravad.
India has to recapture that stage when every citizen of India can hold his head high and say we are proud citizens of this secular nation. The Church like every other sensible institution should help prepare that atmosphere by injecting courage and determination into every fellow citizen. Come out Church, stand up with the affected, speak up where the voice of the downtrodden is stifled, lend your voice to the voiceless, hold the hands of the terrorised in fraternal fellowship and human solidarity. In this hour of need do not disappoint the nation! Stand up, speak up and pay up if need be!
(Published on 31st July 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 31)