Christians in Sri Lanka gathered to celebrate an empty grave this Easter Sunday. Devastatingly, at least 290 graves will be filled after a string of terrorist attacks targeted churches during morning services on April 21.
Explosions hit three churches, three hotels, an area near a zoo, and a residential area. It is thought the attacks came at the hands of suicide bombers. An undetonated bomb was discovered and disposed of near the international airport of the nation’s capital, Colombo.
More than two hundred people were killed, and some five hundred were wounded. St. Sebastian’s Church in the city of Negombo had the highest number of casualties, with 102 reported deaths.
Thousands around the world are grieving with this small island nation.
For Followers of Christ, Death Is Not the Victor
A photo taken by the Associated Press captured the crimson carnage the bombs left behind. The photo shows the blood of the congregants of St. Sebastian’s Church splattered across a statue of Jesus and the church’s pale-yellow walls.
For Christians, by grace, death is not the finale. It’s not the snuffing out of a life well-lived since we will live on with our Lord in eternity, who overcame death on our behalf. Death will never be the victor for those who are in Christ, for Jesus’s own death and resurrection defeated death once and for all (1 Cor.15:12–23; 54–55).
“Death will never be the victor for those who are in Christ.”
For us, to live is Christ—to carry on in the work of the gospel, and to die is gain—to be in the presence of Christ (Phil. 1:18–24).
This, however, does not diminish the atrocity and tragedy or assuage the suffering and agony. Nor does it pardon sinful, deadly actions. Justice is needed, and our voices join with those who’ve been slain for the gospel to cry out for its completion (Rev. 6:9–11). We weep with those who weep (Rom. 12:15) and mourn the early departure of the men, women, and children who were ripped so violently from this earth.
Sri Lanka: A Brief History of Faith and Politics
Why the attacks took place remains unclear at this point, but those who inhabit the island nation are sadly no strangers to such violence. A quick look at its history reveals a number of rifts around both politics and religion that have historically immersed Sri Lanka and its people into war.
Currently, less than 8 percent of Sri Lanka’s population of twenty million are Christians, and the majority of those are Roman Catholic. Buddhists account for 70 percent of the population, Hindus 12 percent, and Muslims 10 percent. Christianity is believed to have been introduced to Southern India by the apostle Thomas in AD 72. After Thomas landed on the West Coast, he reportedly travelled to the East Coast where he was later martyred. The gospel is thought to have then traveled to Sri Lanka, while Roman Catholicism was introduced to India and Sri Lanka in the 1500s by Portuguese explorers.
Buddhism existed on the tropical isle since the second century. A seedling from the banyan tree Buddha is said to have received enlightenment under was brought to Sri Lanka during this time period. Sri Lanka has the longest history of Buddhism of any country with a predominant population of Buddhists. Islam was introduced by Arab traders around the seventh century.
Sri Lanka drew the attention of colonial powers for its location along the Maritime Silk Road and it was a Portuguese, then Dutch, and lastly a British colony before regaining its independence as a sovereign nation. The years since the nation gained independence have been fraught with unrest and violence.
Hundreds of thousands of lives were claimed during twenty-four years of civil war and insurgency from 1985 to 2009. The civil war centered around nationalism and ethnicity and had its roots in British colonial rule. The British were thought to have favored the Tamil people group, who are a minority, and this angered the Sinhalese people, who were the majority. Tamils are largely Hindus and Sinhalese are predominantly Buddhist.
After independence from the United Kingdom, Sinhalese politicians formed the majority government and made Sinhalese the only officially recognized language for the government. This angered Tamils, who saw it as an affront and threat to their culture, history, and language.
You may have heard of the Tamil Tigers, an insurgent group known for their suicide bombings and attacks pre-2009. The Sri Lankan army fought back and in 2009 launched a military operation that killed the Tamil Tiger leader and defeated the group. The United Nations estimates forty thousand civilians were killed toward the end of this conflict alone.
In the decade since, Sri Lanka has largely been at peace and has become a popular tourist haven. Over the past few years, there have been altercations of varying degrees between religious groups in Sri Lanka, but none to the extent or degree of Sunday’s attack.
Proclaim Jesus’s Victory over Death
We may or may not know the perpetrators or motivations of Sunday’s attacks any time soon. But they stand as a grim reminder of the need for the gospel in a broken world. The juxtaposition of such deadly actions against Christ’s utter defeat of death—on Resurrection Day, no less—is palpable. We Christians felt the pang of death, and we continue to grieve with brothers and sisters whose lives are at stake for the sake of the gospel each day.
“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore.”
But we grieve with hope, and we proclaim a gospel that offers the same hope to those who would place their faith in Christ—hope of victory over death and eternity free of brokenness and suffering. For “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4 ESV).
So let us not tarry in proclaiming that Jesus is alive, his tomb is empty, and in him there is life eternal.
We can also pray for those who grieve and weep.
- Pray for those who have lost family members to be comforted by the God of all comfort.
- Pray for those who are injured to receive needed care.
- Pray for those who are unable to locate family members to be reconnected.
- Pray for believers to be the hands and feet of Christ during this time of disaster.
- Hearts are hurting. Pray God would use this situation to draw men, women, and children to himself, for his glory and honor.
Caroline Anderson is a writer and Media Specialist with the IMB. She serves in Southeast Asia.