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Our Burdens Are Lifted at Calvary: A Good Friday Homily

By: Rev. Kyrsoibor Pyrtuh

Off late, during our conversations about our school days, Rev. Moody Alan Wood Lyngkhoi, my schoolmate and long-time buddy in Synod English School, reminded me of how our hearts were trembled and melted away the moment Ms Eilene Pariat, our school pianist, played on the notes to the song “Burdens Are Lifted at Calvary”.

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A brief background of the song, it was written and composed by Rev. John M Moore, the Baptist Minister in Glasgow. As quoted from the hymnstudiesblog, “Moore was born on September 1st, 1925, in the town of Kirkintilloch in Dunbartonshire, Scotland, of humble Scottish parents. At the age of sixteen he began his apprentice-ship as an engineering draftsman. However, he decided to become a Baptist minister and was educated at the Evangelical Baptist Fellowship Bible College in Glasgow, Scotland, after which he became an assistant superintendent at the Seamen’s Chapel of Glasgow…”

The song tells us about the encounter between the songwriter and the seaman. Rev. Moore who was working in the Seamen’s Chapel in Glasgow visited the young merchant seaman who was critically ill in hospital and thereafter wrote the song in 1952. While conversing with the young man at his bedside, John Moore gave the young seaman a tract about Pilgrim’s Progress and showed him the picture of the Pilgrim coming to the cross with a great burden on his back. He told the young seaman the story of the Pilgrim and said that the Pilgrim’s experience was his experience too. Further he explained to the young man that when he (John Moore) came to the cross of Christ, his burden was removed. He asked the young man, “Do you feel this burden on your back today? and the young man nodded his head and John Moore had the privilege of leading him to the Cross.

Nonetheless, the above story relates to the private life of the young merchant seaman and his encounter with Rev. John Moore. However, the narrative about the Cross at Calvary transcends beyond the domestic and private. The Cross at Calvary was the manifestation of the public and political affairs of the era and Jesus was publicly hanged to death for the cause he stood for. At the same time the Cross signifies the possibility of hope in the peoples’ struggle for an alternative and better community. It is important to remind that the death of Jesus at the Cross at Calvary is not the end, rather it is the beginning of the new community which is rooted in hope, peace, justice and equality. Throughout his ministry till Calvary, Jesus carried on his back the burdens of the weak, the battered, the sick, the oppressed and the exploited.

According to St. Mark, Jesus began his ministry immediately after his experience in the wilderness. Metaphorically speaking, in the wilderness Jesus was in quest for truth and justice, for fullness of life and freedom, for light and wisdom and these would become his values and principles in the larger struggle for a just and equal society. Jesus’ idea of a new community is reflected in the good news about the coming of the Kingdom of God and for him the kingdom is not the institution to be established, rather it is the realization of the kingdom values and the fullness of life. In a way, the wilderness had become for Jesus the preparatory ground for the events that would be unfolded in his life and mission. After forty days of intense conflict and struggle in the wilderness Jesus learned and realized that the purpose of his mission was to lift the burdens of the suffering masses and to preach the Good News which encompasses truth, freedom and abundant life.

In the Gospel of John 10:10 Jesus vehemently proclaimed the Good News of living life to its fullness- “I have come that they may have life and have it to the full”. The original Greek word is “perisson” meaning to live life abundantly. Rev. Father Sngi Lyngdoh had very well exegeted the Greek word in his Khasi Bible commentary and expounded that, it is more than people could imagine or dream of or its beyond expectations. It is a complete life encompassing the human and divine characteristics believed to be embedded in humans. Further it can be interpreted that “to live life to the fullest or abundantly is to be living in a nation or society where the environment is clean, its air and water are fresh and pure to breathe and consume. Where seasons’ cycle flow without any distortion, where climatic conditions are balance and not disturbed by any abnormal forces, where rains fall sufficiently. Where the farmers grow and produce crops without fail, people have access to food, shelter, clothing and health. Where the economy is sound and people are secured of their jobs/works. Where there are no disparities, people live as equals and experiencing happiness and freedom.” Thus, life is not just to survive nor a mere existence, rather it is to share and sustain the wealth that God has bestowed from generations to generations. Anything that negates abundant life is sinful and ungodly.

According to the Gospel stories, in the course of establishing the kingdom values based alternative community, Jesus performed numerous miracles, signs and wonders. These signs, miracles or wonders are the reflections of the purpose of Jesus’ mission to remove the burdens of the commoners and to stand shoulder to shoulder with the people in their struggle to attain an abundant life. The stories about healing the sick and feeding the hungry cannot be understood literally, but have to be set into context as they were the manifestations of the larger socio-economic and political conditions of the people at the time. Then, people were denied access to basic necessities like health care, food, shelter and clothing. Taxes, especially temple tax, were levied exorbitantly and unjustly, corruption and greed were rampant and people were impoverished. Therefore, the miracles performed by Jesus were not magical works to hallucinate people, rather they were the socio-political actions to confront and challenge the prevailing unjust system. To top it all, Jesus did great wonder by defending the Samaritan women in the first century patriarchal Jewish society.

As I gaze at the Cross and ponder on the burdens which Jesus was said to have lifted, if Jesus was alive today, he would have stood and defended the young girl from the State who is living in Bengaluru and who is now being subjected to trolls and vituperations of all hues. Dear friends, you are entitled to disagree with what she said and did or you are also free to think that she has hurt yours or “collective” feelings, but you have no moral right to abuse her and even to “sneng” and “kraw” (counsel/teach/moral police) her what to do. The girl in question and many other girls/women are created in the image of God and they are to be treated with respect and let them live life abundantly.

To conclude this homily, let me rephrase and put into our own context the Good Friday song penned by S. J Samartha, the great Indian theologian, which is titled Saturday People- “Between Good Friday and Easter Sunday lies the Saturday people. The Saturday people are the unemployed youths, unpaid and underpaid school teachers, students whose parents couldn’t afford to pay exorbitant school/college fees, contractual workers, migrant laborers, hawkers, ASHA, Anganwadi and Domestic workers. People who couldn’t afford a decent housing and have no access to health care, the girls and women who are constantly trolled and abused. These and many Saturday people die and suffer without experiencing the Resurrection”. I stand and fight alongside the Saturday People.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest”

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