(Easter Message from the Moderator of the Church of South India)
It is interesting to note that Easter, this year, falls on April 16, 2017, which in fact is the 'World Voice Day' established as a special day of awareness, recognition, and celebration of the human voice. On this day, in order to share the excitement of voice, various global choral concerts and talks are organised. The physiological significance of voice in effective and healthy communication is demonstrated by bringing ‘global awareness to the need for preventing voice problems, rehabilitating the deviant or sick voice, training the artistic voice, and researching the function and application of voice’. However, today sociologists and theologians understand voice not only as a physiological phenomenon but also as an integral part of a sociological self of an individual or community. In a world where many voices are silenced and suppressed within various power structures, I believe Easter, as well as the 'World Voice Day', have a unique message for us: 'Easter: Celebrating Risen Voices.'
In Palestine, during Jesus' time, there were mainly two categories of people: the dominant and the dominated. While the dominant few included the politically, religiously and economically powerful, the rest of the population, who were the majority in number, comprised of the poor craftsmen, rural priests, farmers, fishermen, day-laborers and socially marginalised groups. The voices of the latter group were suppressed and silenced by the former, the dominant few, which included the high-priestly clan (controlling the Temple in Jerusalem), the Herodians (ruling Palestine at Rome's order and owning more than half of the land) and a small number of other land-owning Jewish aristocrats. It is important to note that Jesus was born into a community, whose voice was silenced by the powerful, and that He had a definite politics against those oppressive structures that had silenced them. Ultimately these oppressive structures, through crucifixion, tried to 'silence' Jesus Himself; but He emerged victorious over them, and this, we celebrate this victory as 'Easter'.
Easter thus reminds us of the victory of life over death, where death is not just a physiological reality but also a sociological category, vis-a-vis, death of identities, death of voices, death of justice, the death of peace. Easter thus is the decisive turning point of history and reminds us that no powers that perpetuate violence and exploitation could remain ever powerful. The verse, "He is not here; for He has been raised", is a powerful indicator that the power structures could not bury the 'voice' of Jesus that struggled against all kinds of exploitation and injustice. No tomb, no stone, no guard, no army, no power could stop Jesus from conquering death and sin. And this remains as a hope for each one of us to continue our struggle against all kinds of unjust and oppressive structures that deny life, suppress identities and silence voices. It motivates us to ask to the forces of death, "Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death is your sting?"
Further, for Jesus, his resurrection stands in continuation with what he was engaging in during his public ministry, committed as a corn of wheat that falls to the ground and dies, so that life emerges from that 'death'. This reminds us also about the very relation between the life here and now and the life after death. In other words, the life here is detrimental to the eternal life, during which we would be held accountable for what we do and what we do not do. Of course, Lent is a time to correct ourselves and reorder our lives, our commitment and vision. But, this reordering should continue as a dynamic process, or in other words, an ongoing commitment, fighting against the evil within us, among us and around us, constantly 'dying' and 'rising' in Christ.
Archbishop Oscar Romero, just two weeks before his assassination, said, "I have often been threatened with death. If they kill me, I shall arise in the Salvadoran people. If the threats come to be fulfilled, from this moment I offer my blood to God for the redemption and resurrection of El Salvador. Let my blood be a seed of freedom and the sign that hope will soon be a reality." Similarly, the Church of South India has always been committed to struggles against the forces of death and we will continue to struggle. A Church that believes in resurrection cannot tolerate exploitation in the name of caste,
colour, class, gender and sex, rather should vigorously fight against such power structures, so that we experience 'resurrection' of the exploited identities.
Out struggles against ecological injustice too is a fight against the 'death of earth', and it is in this context we need to locate the 'Carbon Fast' we have been observing during this Lenten season. However, I hope that the 'Carbon-Fast' that we have initiated will not remain just as a gesture to say that we care about the environment. It is not a tokenism. Rather, it should take us further to political actions against all ecological injustices, which indeed are more risky and costly than just washing away our 'social guilt'. In all these, we affirm our conviction that Easter calls us towards a 'politics of death,' where dying becomes a costly political and spiritual action, through which we challenge the worldly forces of death that question the very meaning of life. Yes, the Church can no more remain silent amidst evil and violent forces that silence voices of the subaltern communities.
To conclude, I urge all of you that we recommit ourselves during this year's Easter to celebrate the victory of life over death, by engaging in the very political action of fighting against all structures that deny life and silence voices. The impetus for this, of course, lies in the very resurrection of Jesus, which assures us of the life eternal, beyond the death. The open tomb remains as the sign of hope for the church to 'die boldly' so that 'life reigns'. Let Easter 2017 and world voice Day 2017 become an opportunity for the Church of South India to witness the resurrection of many voices, constantly submerged by the dominant forces. I wish and pray for all of you to experience the real power of resurrection that empowers us to continue Jesus' mission, for a transformed world, saying a big NO to the powers of domination and exploitation. Amen.
Most Rev. Thomas K Oommen