“Why Do You Seek the Living Among the Dead?” Praying the Resurrection with U2
“Love endures beyond any earthly power to extinguish it.”
“Mothers of the Disappeared” is the final track on Irish rock band U2’s 1987 album The Joshua Tree. Inspired by lead singer Bono’s experiences of traveling through Nicaragua and El Salvador in 1986 during a period of brutal civil war, the song has been described as a deeply moving “hymn to human rights,” and “a simple, plaintive lament of stunning beauty and sadness.”
Midnight, our sons and daughters / Were cut down and taken from us.
Hear their heartbeat / We hear their heartbeat.
In the wind we hear their laughter / In the rain we see their tears.
Hear their heartbeat, we hear their heartbeat.
Centered around a drone-like melody in the key of A, the hypnotic arrangement washes over the listener like a funeral lament. Lead singer Bono’s lyrics, sifted through the unutterable grief of Las Madres de las Desaparecidos, suggests that the dead are not dead. As is proclaimed in liturgies throughout Central America, in our remembrance and in our communion they are “Presente!”
In a recent homily during Holy Week this year, Pope Francis invited us to contemplate not only the familiar, if still unsettling, reality of Jesus as he is dying on the cross. Francis invited us further to see in Jesus the “too many who are crucified in our time.” Among the many suffering cruelly today in our world, who are those that hold a special place in your heart? Whose plight would you most wish to place before God, before the whole world, in prayer?
“Before the image of the crucified God, we will bring, in prayer, the many, the too many who are crucified in our time, who only from Him can receive comfort and meaning in their suffering. And nowadays there are many: do not forget the crucified of our time, who are the image of Jesus Crucified, and Jesus is in them.”
The passage with Jesus through the Triduum opens the eyes of our hearts to this unutterable mystery of God who suffers in us and with us, without reserve. It begins in a garden outside Jerusalem, when the friends of Jesus came to anoint his crucified body and were astonished to find the body gone. “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” they were asked. To say that the dead “are not here,” in this earth, this place of burial, may be to suggest in the very same breath that they are here. We simply need to know where to look, and how to listen.
It is to follow our deepest intuition, as night cedes to dawn, that life reverberates beyond death, and that love endures beyond any earthly power to extinguish it. So suggests U2 in “Mothers of the Disappeared.”
The song will be my prayer through Holy Week and beyond. I invite you to let it be yours.
Author’s Note: this post was substantially revised from an original entry first published in April 2017.
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