Amazing Grace


30 Apr 2015

Shortly after midnight on April 29 on the Indonesian island of Nusakambangan eight prisoners were taken out to be shot. They went out together singing Amazing Grace; their arms were tied to a cross bar; they died with their eyes open.


It was almost as if they were children acting out the words of the hymn they sang:


Amazing grace! (how sweet the sound)
That sav’d a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.


Of course they were acting out the hymn – but in dead earnest, not in play. This was the story of their lives told for the last time. Through their time in prison we know that the two Australians, at least, had recognised the wretchedness of their past lives, had found themselves, and had come to a new vision. They and their companions could look their killers in the eye.

The manner of their killing was bitter. But manner of their dying did indeed have a sweetness in it. They were brave and accepted their mortality. In yielding their lives so graciously they showed both how precious a gift life is, and how irreducible is the dignity of each human being. On seeing how they died we can see how monstrous it is so coldly to take away a human life.

Especially sweet was that that they left this life together and not withdrawn, in hope and not in despair. The style of their dying recalled the stories of the early martyrs who amazed their executioners and the watching crowds by their generosity of spirit and the exuberance of their faith.  Their hope in the darkest of times was a light to their fellow Christians.

And so for us light shines through these men. Their change of life and the strength they found in the face of rejection and death invite us to ask ourselves what matters so deeply enough to us that we would set our lives by it. It  encourages us to trust that, like them, we may sing together and mean the later verse of the hymn with which they went to their death:

Yes, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease;
I shall possess, within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.

Fr Andy Hamilton SJ is editorial consultant at Jesuit Communications
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