Three years ago I set my BBC newsfeed to send me alerts for any events in Kenya. And then on 2nd April 2015 I sat by my hotel pool and with a strange sense of detachment read the unfolding narrative of the tragic, scary and barbaric events at Garissa University. My initial response was one of anger - anger that groups like Al-Shabab even exist, that they have the temerity to walk into a building that is meant to bring about change in people's lives and change the lives of 148 people and their families forever. But surely anger isn't enough.
Anger wouldn't bring back those souls that were snatched from their families. Anger won't resolve the conflict that rages on in Somalia and Kenya. Anger won't bring healing. As I sat by the water slide in Antalya I couldn't do anything, much as I might have wanted to but what I do know is that many of those 148 people who suffered and died three years ago would have spent that day remembering the death of their saviour.
April 2nd 2015 was Good Friday - the day that many of those Christians would have been remembering that beautiful scandalous night when Jesus died just under 2000 years ago. As Jesus hung and died on the cross he cried seven 'words' from the cross, perhaps words that those 148 would have rejoiced in today had they still been with us, but words that they would have lived through those terrifying and tragic hours as the five gunmen separated Christians and Muslims and brutally cut short the lives of those they had captured. Surely as the events unfolded they must have cried out to God wondering why this must have been happening to them.
'My God, my God why have you forsaken me?' Jesus asked. Words which mean that though the 148 might have felt forsaken, God never will have left them, even as they took their final breath. I'm sure many of them would have felt the physical anguish of the situation and longed for safety, comfort and normality. Jesus cried 'I thirst' from the cross, a cry those at Garissa might have echoed as they faced the agony of death.
I'm sure many of the 148 died thinking of the needs of others, of their friends and loved ones (what about the 5 police officers killed?). And what about Jesus, who in his moment of agony could point to his mother and provide care and comfort for her? As Jesus died, he cried out two seemingly conflicting things. 'It is finished' and 'Father, into your hands I commit my spirit'.
Finished, only in the sense that the awful work of his death was finished. Finished only in the sense that it was the dawn of a new kingdom, a new hope a new chapter in the history of this world. As the 148 were killed at Garissa surely those words were in their minds. Their earthly lives were ended, leaving emptiness for those left behind, but as Dietrich Bonhoeffer said as he walked to his execution 'this is the end. For me, the beginning of life'.
What would have been much harder for the 148 to say would have been what Jesus first said as he was nailed to the cross: 'father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing'. Words which I don't know I could have said, but words which show me that whatever I have done, I can find forgiveness in the death of Jesus.
But the words which stick in my mind from that Good Friday, words which can bring comfort, words which remind us that we don't simply remember a martyrs death but also a saviours death - 'today you will be with me in paradise'. Garissa was a tragedy - 148 people cut down just as they were ready to make a difference in this world.
But those 148 brothers and sisters remind us that extremist opposition to Jesus and His people will never win. The gunmen ended their lives. What they don't realise is that the words 'well done, good and faithful servant' would have been heard by the 148 instead.
“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.