Two days ago on Good Friday Pope Francis led the Way of the Cross stations where Ukrainian nurse Iryna and Russian nursing student Albina, who are friends, held a cross at the 13th station, commemorating Christ's death, outside of the Colosseum in Rome April 15, 2022 (Crux by Ines San Martin, April 16, https://cruxnow.com/vatican/2022/04/as-pope-extols-peace-ukrainian-and-russian-women-carry-the-cross-together).
This led to an uproar among many Ukrainian leaders of faith. "It is too soon," they said. "Bombs are still falling upon our land and Russians are committing genocide" (paraphrased). I had to truly stand in awe of these two women who are friends and who wanted to carry the cross together in order to symbolize the power of the cross, the power of the Resurrection. Thinking about this gesture of peace and "good will" made me wonder just exactly how Christ himself and the Holy Spirit would respond to these women.
In Matthew 10:34-39, we see Jesus admonishing his apostles that peace on earth is not God's plan for his followers: "Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn
a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law— a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.
Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it" (NIV).
Wanting to place this Scripture passage in it's proper context, the Apostle Paul asked the Roman believers to live in peace as much as it depended upon them. We can see that Christians were not called to create conflict or act in a violent manner. Even Jesus, himself said in the Beatitudes, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God" (Matthew 5:9 NIV). Yet, the way of the cross leads Jesus believers to take a stand for God's Kingdom that can lie in direct conflict to the purposes of the leaders in this world. As he sent out his disciples to preach the Gospel and heal the sick, he also warned them: "You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved" Matthew 10:22.
Today in his Easter message, the Pope prayed for peace in the world mentioning the atrocities that Ukraine had suffered, pleading for an end to the war, yet never mentioning Putin by name as is his tradition. Surely, we all hope for peace on earth. Yet, we do know we are awaiting our Lord's return. Following his Resurrection appearances, after he had appeared to his disciples over a period of forty days, he was taken into heaven. At the time two angels appeared to his disciples and said, "Men of Galilee...why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven" (Acts 1:11). So, we are waiting for the Son of God to return again and take us home with him. Until then we are left with many eschatological prophecies. No matter how we try to interpret the signs of the times, we are told that Jesus's return will come like a thief in the night. (Revelation 16:15,Matthew 24:43,1 Thessalonians 5:2,1) Jesus also prepared his disciples that before he returns "there will be wars and rumors of wars" (Matthew 24:6). Finally, in the book of Revelation, known to be written by John the Apostle, we are given more eschatological promises and prophecies: One of these is the listing of the four horseman of the apocalypse. These are conquest, war, famine, and death. Revelation 6:4 relays
"Then another horse went forth. It was bright red, and its rider was granted permission to take away peace from the earth and to make men slay one another. And he was given a great sword."
Where does this leave us today? As mentioned earlier, we find ourselves between the Resurrection of our Lord waiting for His Second Coming! So, what does the power of the Resurrection mean for us today? It means we live in a place of hope! We witness miracles every day; and we can recognize His love and power in a world that is full of desperation and sin! The way of the cross leads us down a path of sacrifice, love, and forgiveness. Yes, the Pope and the two friends-one Ukrainian and one Russian- understand that message. Yet, those who are defending their country to the death are in the midst of a what seems an impossible battle. Russian military are destroying their cities, ruthlessly killing their citizens, and forcing the citizens of Mariupol to die rather than allowing for humanitarian assistance. It is no wonder that Christian leaders of Ukraine would reject the symbol of friendship between Ukraine and Russia at the 13th Station, the death of Jesus on the Way of the Cross. Does this mean that the evil of this horrible war will win in the end? No! For these two women carrying the cross together is not a sign of acceptance of this war or the evil that it represents! No, it means that we walk together to bear one another burdens. It means that we are called to find ways to love, support, and care for those devastated souls who have lost their loved ones and have been displaced by the cruelty of an oppressive leader! It also means that we need to pray for those Russians who want nothing to do with this war, who have also lost their sons to a war that grieves their hearts and spirit! Yes, Putin has created a war between brothers, and he and those who stand with him will be held accountable for the genocide and atrocities of an unprovoked war! And yes, most of all we pray for him that his heart will be softened and changed or that those closest to him will stop him.
The power of the Resurrection means that as people of hope, we see the miracles in the midst of the war and the pain! It is a miracle that Ukraine has survived this long - moving into day 54. It is a miracle that this David (Ukraine) is confounding Goliath (Russia) by their sheer faith and determination. The Ukrainians defeated the Russians, pushing them out of the Kiev area. They sunk their mother battle ship! It is also a miracle that NATO is standing beside Ukraine with sanctions and weapons. It is a miracle that thousands have been rescued from the devastation and close to 5 million have fled to safety. It is a miracle that thousands of people with NGOs and non-profits have moved into Poland and Ukraine to provide aid and relief. "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it" (John 1:5 NIV). Yes, it is true the light actually does shine the brightest in the darkness. The power of the Resurrection is the hope that God is God and He has done all He promised through His Son Jesus Christ! He has given to those who believe and follow after Him the promise of eternal life through His Son! And most of all, He has promised his return will bring an end to worldly conquests, war, famine, and death, We hold onto these promises that God is preparing "a new heaven and a new earth" where God will dwell among us, where every tear will be wiped away, and there will be no more death, mourning, crying, and pain (Rev. 21)! We live in the hope of the Resurrection because we have experienced God's grace, goodness, mercy, and forgiveness.