Today and tomorrow in Bahrain are public holidays. On Tuesday, Muslims around the world will remember Ashura (عَاشُورَاء). For Shia Muslims Ashura coincides with the battle of Karbala and the martyrdom of Hussain Ibn Ali ². Consequently in that community Ashura is a day of mourning. For Sunni Muslims it marks the day that God delivered the prophet Moses by parting the Red Sea ³ (cf. Exodus 14). For Shia, Ashura is not a festival to be celebrated but a death to be remembered and mourned. For Sunni, Ashura commemorates God’s victory given to Moses.
If you live in Bahrain, as I do, you may well have heard or seen both views of the date being brought to life. You may have heard the marsiya ⁴ being recited . You may have seen the processions through the villages bedecked in black along with the cries of “يا حسين” ( Ya Hussain). From my own personal experience I have found that whilst Ashura is a time of mourning and sorrow for Shia, the people partaking in the traditions could not be more welcoming and willing to share with guests their beliefs and behaviours. It’s a wonderful opportunity to deepen friendships and relationships with those who subscribe to a different worldview to you.
At the core of Ashura, for many, is the memory of a martyrdom and the holding dear of a death. As a Christian you cannot help but read the Bible and see martyrdoms and deaths. Take, for example, Abel in Genesis 4: killed because his offering to God was accepted where his brother’s was not. Or, in the New Testament, take John the Baptist in Matthew 14: killed for speaking out against those living immoral lives. We cannot read Scripture without seeing those who gave their lives for a cause they believed in wholeheartedly.
The Gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John also detail a death. They tell us of the death of Jesus; life given in sacrifice (Isaiah 53.12), life given to save others from the impending death they deserve (Romans 3.21-26, 6.23), life given to take away the sin of the world (John 1.29). Whilst there are many similarities between what we read in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John and what we will observe this week, there is also a significant difference:
“Now on the first day of the week, at early dawn, the women went to the tomb, taking the aromatic spices they had prepared. They found that the stone had been rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men stood beside them in dazzling attire. The women were terribly frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them,
“Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has been raised! Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.“
(Luke 24.1-7, NET, emphasis added)
The accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John do not end on the cross or in the tomb. And, for you and for me, the truth that Jesus was raised to newness of life having given Himself as a sacrifice for many gives us tremendous hope that there is life beyond death for all who believe in Him:
“…Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died.”
(1 Corinthians 15.20, emphasis added)
“…the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a loud command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will be the first to rise.”
(1 Thessalonians 4.16, emphasis added)
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he gave us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, that is, into an inheritance imperishable, undefiled, and unfading. It is reserved in heaven for you, who by God’s power are protected through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. This brings you great joy, although you may have to suffer for a short time in various trials.“
(1 Peter 1.3-6, emphasis added)
The next two days are hugely important to many around the world: the death of a loved one is important and is rightly remembered (1 Corinthians 11.24). How grateful we are that for Jesus, and for each and every one of us who believe, physical death is not the end of the story.
- Morrow, John Andrew. Islamic Images and Ideas: Essays on Sacred Symbolism. McFarland & Co, 2013. pp. 234–36. ISBN 978-0786458486
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