Originally published in the San Antonio Express-News, March 27, 2005
by Susan Ives

I’ve always thought that Easter morning must have been a mixed blessing for Jesus’ 11 remaining disciples. They spent all day Saturday weeping and grieving and were at it again the next morning.

Mary Magdalene, fresh from her encounter with the angel at the empty tomb, rushes over and announces, “He’s back!”

The Bible says that they didn’t believe her. Risen from the dead? Get over it, woman. Dead means dead. But I’ve always suspected that in addition to their natural skepticism they were also squirming with embarrassment and fear.

Let’s face it: The disciples behaved badly. While the women were holding vigil at the foot of the cross, the guys were nowhere to be seen. Their rabbi was being tortured and executed, and they ran away and hid. Then there were the three times when Peter denied even knowing Jesus — not his proudest moment.

How could they look him in the eye? And why did he come back? To chew them out? To get revenge? Oh, why can’t the dead stay dead and leave us alone to wallow in our hard-earned grief!

But when Jesus comes back he doesn’t yell. He doesn’t retaliate. Instead, he shows up, blood still oozing from his wounds, and says, by some accounts, “Peace be unto you. Do you have any fish? Let’s have breakfast.”

What a relief! He forgives them and reminds his disciples they, too, have the power to forgive.

This is the meaning of Easter: That just as God forgives, just as Jesus forgives, we, too, can and must forgive. Forgiveness is the promise and the duty of the resurrection.

I know that to forgive doesn’t mean to condone. I know that to forgive doesn’t mean to forget. Still, I have a hard enough time forgiving even the smallest slights: How can a mere human be expected to forgive torture and murder?

We all have a chance to find out Wednesday at 7 p.m. when Adrien Niyongabo, African coordinator for the Friends’ Peace Teams Trauma and Healing Nonviolence Training speaks at St. Philip’s College.

In 100 days between April and June 1994, an estimated 800,000 Rwandans were murdered. Most of the dead were Tutsis. Most of those responsible for the violence were Hutus. In Burundi similar massacres occurred, with the Hutus as victims.

Last year, on the 10th anniversary of the genocide, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan asked, “Such crimes cannot be reversed. Such failures cannot be repaired. The dead cannot be brought back to life. So what can we do?”

Niyongabo has an answer. We can heal, and we can forgive.

A survivor of the Burundi massacres, Niyongabo leads weekend workshops in Africa in which 10 Hutus and 10 Tutsis come together to practice healing and reconciliation.

At the beginning of the three-day workshop, each group sits apart and avoids eye contact with the others. They learn together how to create a safe space. They tell each other their life stories. They practice listening skills.

The last exercise is a “trust walk.” Each Hutu participant is blindfolded and led around by a Tutsi. Then the roles are reversed. One Rwandan participant recalled, “Each time I tried to find something to hold onto my friend told me, ‘Don’t worry, I see for you.’ And I believed.”

David Zarembka, coordinator of the African Great Lakes Initiative of the Friends Peace Teams, wrote:

“By the end of these workshops people who only three days before would have stayed out in the downpours of Central Africa rather than seek shelter with their opponents, who would have refused to ask for water if they were thirsty because they were afraid they would be poisoned, leave talking and laughing with each other inviting each other over for dinner.”

If the Hutus and Tutsis, who hacked each other to death with machetes and displayed the skulls of their enemies in gruesome piles, can invite each other over to dinner, maybe we can learn to forgive as well.

Let’s start with this: Do you have any fish? Let’s have breakfast!

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