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Whenever I thought of the Roman soldier at the cross, I cannot help but think of this picture.
(M) How many of you have seen this photo of Sister Ann Rose Nu Tawng kneeling in front of the police?
“On Sunday, I was at the clinic. I was giving treatment on that day as the other clinics were closed. I saw groups of people marching by. They were protesting.
Suddenly I saw police, military and water cannon following the protesters.
Then they opened fire and started beating the protesters. I was shocked and I thought today is the day I will die. I decided to die.
When they reached the Banyan tree, I was calling them (the authorities) and telling them: ‘Please kill me. I don’t want to see people being killed.’
I was crying out loud and they stopped for a while.
One came to me and said: ‘Sister, don’t worry so much, we are not going to shoot them.’
But I told him: ‘They can also be killed with other weapons. Don’t shoot them. They are just protesters.’
In my mind I didn’t believe that they were not going to shoot them, as in many places I’ve seen they have shot people dead.
I brought (a protestor) to the clinic and gave him treatment. The police almost captured another one as he had fallen down. I stopped the police and asked them not to continue. That’s why the police didn’t. Otherwise, they would have arrested him and dragged him from there.
I feel like they (the military) are not the guardians of the people as you have seen what’s happening to the people.
People are not safe and there are brutal night arrests.
I felt really sad when I saw the video of a mother of a young one crying next to a dead body.
I also saw an ambulance was destroyed and medics were beaten with a gun.
They are supposed to protect us but our people have to defend themselves. It’s not safe. They (the security forces) arrest and beat those who they don’t like. They kill them.
There’s no one to protect Myanmar people.
People have to defend themselves and help each other.”
Sister Ann Rose Nu Tawng didn’t just do it once – she did it twice. Once, on 28th Feb. And again on 8 March.
Right after this picture when she fell to her knees, as she was begging for restraint, the police started firing into the crowd of protesters behind her.
“The children panicked and ran to the front … I couldn’t do anything but I was praying for God to save and help the children,” she said.
She saw a man shot in the head fall dead right in front of her – then she felt the sting of teargas. “I felt like the world was crashing,” she said. “I’m very sad it happened as I was begging them.”
(M) What do you see here? * I wonder what was going on in the minds of the police who were talking to Sister Ann Rose. Two of them were kneeling too. I wonder how they felt.
We featured 7 characters during our Holy week services for Good Friday and Easter Sunday – the Roman soldier at the cross, one of Jesus’ female disciples, the disciple who finally realised the meaning of Jesus’ surrender on the cross, the Samaritan woman by the well, the Gerasene whom Jesus freed from demon possession, the disciple who lost his faith, and Mary Magdalene, the first witness to Jesus’ resurrection.
All of them have something in common.
They all encountered Jesus.
But what happened AFTER that encounter?
Is it possible that after encounter Jesus, people returned back to their old ways?
What do you think happened to the Roman centurion at the cross, the one who exclaimed, “Truly he was the Son of God” in Mark 15:39?
Did he continue to follow orders, and fulfil his duty as a Roman soldier? Did he continue to maintain order, even when the order is built on injustice and violence?
We don’t know.
I know at least of one character in the Gospels who went back to his old ways – the rich young ruler who went away grieving when Jesus told him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” (Mark 10:22, Matthew 19:21, Luke 18:22) He didn’t want to change, he just went away grieving.
I see Christ in Sister Ann Rose, and I see the 2 policemen having an encounter with Christ through her. I think the two of them would feel torn. Torn between duty and conscience. Torn between what they have been taught, what they are trained to do, and what they are experiencing.
*Behind all this is a struggle between two ideas – Domination and Liberation.
*What do you understand by domination and liberation?
*Domination is all about having power and control over. Liberation is about using power to set free, empower and lift up. The power of domination and the power of liberation are two very different kinds of power. And I would say, one is the power of God, and the other isn’t.
The police, the military, the solider, the centurion represents domination. Sister Ann Rose Nu Tawng represents liberation.
What have we been taught? Power matters. You dominate or you get dominated. You control or you are controlled. That is the way of the world. Is that the way of the Kin-dom of God?
I don’t need a question on Mentimeter here. I hope all of you see it clearly.
Through his actions and his teachings, Jesus showed that liberation is the way of the Kin-dom of God.
It is us human beings who seek to dominate – because we fear, because we are insecure about ourselves, because we are afraid of uncertainty, because we know we are mortal and limited, so we try to control – control our environment, control other people, thinking that having control will make the fear go away. But control is an illusion. There is way more things that are beyond our control than the things that are within our control.
God isn’t about control. God isn’t interested in controlling us. God is interested in our flourishing and our well-being. God is interested in us becoming the best versions of ourselves, God is interested in us becoming fully alive. Salvation is about liberation, not domination.
This is what it means to surrender. Surrender doesn’t mean giving up. Surrender means we embrace the reality that we are not in control and trust in God.
That is what Sister Ann Rose did. She surrendered when she decided to die. And when she did that, she no longer feared death. She couldn’t control what the police would do, but that did not matter. And that is when God’s power shone through her – the power of love. This power isn’t controlling, but is instead liberating. It empowers. It lifts up.
This is the same power that Jesus demonstrated on the cross. Jesus’ most powerful moment wasn’t when he healed Bartimaeus of his blindness, or when he fed the 5000 with 5 loaves and 2 fishes, or when he brought Lazarus back to life, or when he calmed the storm or when he walked on water. Jesus’ most powerful moment happened when he was most vulnerable – when he hung on the cross. In that moment, he liberated us from the shadow of the power of domination.
*The cross – and crucifixion – was a representation of dominating power. The power of the Empire over you, the power to take away your life, the power of death. God, through Jesus’ death and resurrection, reclaimed the cross and made it into a symbol of God’s love, of hope, of new life, of liberation. * This is represented very well in two of the tiles in our stained glass installation.
Perhaps at this time you get it, just like the Roman centurion who declared “Truly he was the Son of God.” But getting it, doesn’t mean we will be transformed by the experience. While I may be standing here trying to preach about the difference between dominating power and liberating power, and that God’s power is not dominating but liberating, that doesn’t mean that surrendering will come easily to me. I don’t know if I will have the same courage as Sister Ann Rose if I found myself in her shoes. I don’t know if I would decide, like her, to die.
Domination and liberation doesn’t just play out in military vs civilians scenarios. It also happens in our daily lives. How many times have we been told, or have we said “that’s the law” or “that’s the way things are done?” even when the law or the way things are done don’t make sense, or are unjust, or harm people?
I have, on many occasions, prefer to keep quiet than to speak out on certain issues, out of fear that I would get into trouble. While many of you may think that I speak out often about social justice issues – you don’t see the times when I lacked courage to speak out or do what was right.
Just because the Roman centurion declared “Truly he was the Son of God” didn’t mean that he became a follower of Jesus. He could very well continue being who he was – a military officer of the Roman Empire that was oppressing the Jews. He could even persecute followers of Jesus because “he was just following orders and doing his duty.”
Just because we witnessed or experienced resurrection, doesn’t mean we would live a resurrected life.
I do understand how the Roman centurion, the Myanmar soldiers, and even how some of us struggle with living out our beliefs and following orders or doing our duty. After all, isn’t that what the soldiers in Myanmar were doing when they shot at civilians? Following orders?
They had to.
One of these soldiers, Shing Ling, felt guilty and ashamed since the coup on February 1. When he heard about the violence in Yangon’s North Okkalapa township, he deserted his post and joined the anti-coup movement.
He said, “I was stationed really close to North Okkalapa, so it would be my gun that shoots unarmed people. I couldn’t let that happen. That’s why I decided to join.”
He was very candid about what will happen next. He says he knows the junta will eventually find him. “I expect the worst,” he adds.
Section 30 of the military law states that the punishment for desertion is the death penalty.
He, too, decided to die when he joined the anti-coup movement.
Perhaps it is easier for him to make such a decision because he is an orphan, and so he has no family that could be targeted for retaliation. I am saying this not to belittle his courage, or what he has done – but to acknowledge the reality of the situations many others in the military find themselves. What they do will impact their loved ones. Many of the police who crossed the border to India for asylum because they refused to shoot civilians escaped with their families.
It is unlikely that we will find ourselves in such dire circumstances. But there will be times we have to choose. And because things may not be life and death – maybe it is about profits and financial gain, maybe it is about keeping quiet so we don’t get in trouble with those in power, or even as simple as using the correct gender pronoun for someone – we don’t realise that we are choosing between liberation and domination, between the ways of the world and the ways of the Kin-dom of God.
Like the Roman centurion, we often tell ourselves that we are just doing our job. We are just following orders – even though there are times the orders don’t make sense, and even though there are times the orders are wrong.
Will we speak up when things are wrong – even though we have nothing to gain, and everything to lose?
*Pic of the nun.
Sister Ann Rose had nothing to gain, and everything to lose, right?
Well, there is something that we can speak up for.
*Last month, there were two accidents within 4 days involving migrant workers being transported on lorries. 2 of them died. Many were injured. Kuik Shiao-Yin former NMP, said: “We would never put up with a lorry transporting our children, our students, our own workers this way. This was an accident waiting to happen.”
These are the people who build our homes for us. The people who build this building where we worship. The places where we work. The places where we play, relax, enjoy. The least we can do is advocate and fight for their safety and well-being.
When the issue was about Covid-19, the government was fast to impose restrictions – 1m apart on lorries, just because it impacts the rest of us. But when 2 of them died in an accident within 4 days of each other, NOTHING HAS BEEN DONE TILL NOW. I want to invite you to think about what you can do about the situation and participate in the liberation power of God.
*If we are to live a resurrected life, then we must first die. We must first choose to die to ourselves, to surrender, to let go, and to allow God to transform us into liberators, healers, advocates, peacemakers just like Sister Ann Rose Nu Tawng.
If we really believe in Jesus, if we really follow his teachings, then we would follow the commandment to love our neighbours as ourselves, and seek to liberate instead of dominate.
If we see the face of God in each person, then we are going to treat them very differently from now on – and truly live out resurrection.
May we remember that the God we worship – the God who gives us new life, the God who is love – isn’t just the God of Sister Ann Rose Nu Tawng, the God of Shing Ling, the God of the civilians, but also the God of the soldiers, the God of the Rich Young Ruler, the God of those who choose domination instead of liberation – the God we worship is the God of us all – the God of the moon and stars and the God of the greatest and the least.
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