glory of god

glory of god

Sunday, April 21, 2013

On Terror, Hope, and Resurrection: A Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Easter

Last Sunday morning, when we gathered here for worship, none of us could have imagined the week that would unfold before us.  Do you remember what you were thinking about then, last Sunday?  School vacation week maybe, or watching the Boston Marathon?  Finishing up your taxes, possibly a Monday off from work, maybe a spring clean-up of your yard, or even a trip somewhere? Taxes were certainly on my mind—I knew I owed some, but wasn’t sure how much and dreaded finding out for certain—plus I had a lot of concern that my second box of completed thesis copies, which I copied and sent the day before, would make it to Toronto without incident, unlike the first box that got waylaid along the way. (It did make it, by the way, on Wednesday as scheduled).  I was also thinking about meetings to come and pastoral concerns and who knows what else.  

Well, the two homemade bombs at the Marathon changed all that—for most of us in a less profound way, mainly—but for others far more permanently, as they lost people they love and as some were injured unbelievably.  Since Monday afternoon we’ve all been on an uninvited and unwelcome roller-coaster of emotion: shock and fear, then a degree of resolve, inspiration and hope, and then more shock, more fear, more anxiety, and finally, Friday night, some sense of relief. 

My mother called me on Saturday morning, saying that I must feel good that it’s all over.  And I do.  Or at least I feel relief that the two suspects can’t hurt anyone else.  But of course, it’s really not all over.  There’s so much that we don’t know and don’t understand yet, if ever.  Unfortunately, it may be quite some time before our many questions are answered, the most important of which is simply: “Why”?  Why would anyone want to disrupt something as joyful and innocuous as the Boston Marathon?  Why would anyone want to indiscriminately hurt and kill people he or she didn’t even know?  Why here?  Why now?  Just, why?

And then when the photos and the identity of the suspects were revealed, we might have wondered, too, and we might wonder still, why young men like those we presume did these horrible acts—with their futures ahead of them—would want to throw their own lives away for seemingly no reason, along with those they hurt and killed.  A few moments of attention is all they got out of all of this, and even that wasn’t so glamorous.  Certainly they didn’t become heroes of anything or anyone.  The younger brother, especially, seems to have really had a lot to live for: a graduate of the Cambridge Rindge & Latin School, with a college scholarship, recently made a U.S. citizen, lots of friends, great sense of humor, even a nice disposition.  But the older brother, too, about whom the deeper concern is centered, had some good things in his life, too—extraordinary talent as a boxer, also talent as a musician, a family that loved him, even it seems, a wife and a two-year old baby.  Why throw all of that away for nothing good?

Surely these brothers didn’t think they could just return to their normal lives on Tuesday morning, without notice, as if nothing had happened.  And the presence of several bombs and explosive devices in their apartment would suggest that they didn’t really expect to, either.  Or at least one of them didn’t.  Maybe over time we’ll get answers, at least partial, to some of these questions that still hang over us.  Though, we’ll probably never really, totally, know.  And we’ll never totally be the same as we were on Monday morning, either. 

But in the meantime, we go on with our lives, because we have to.  Not the same.  Not untouched.  Not unchanged.  But still moving along, moving ahead.  I thought about that on Thursday morning—before the extraordinary dramatic events of Friday—when I was in downtown Boston following an early budget meeting at the cathedral.  Usually after these things I just head home on the subway—diocesan budget meetings are exhausting, especially when they start at 8 a.m.  But Thursday was an especially beautiful day and I didn’t really have to be anywhere in particular for a while.  So, I walked leisurely through the Boston Common and then down Charles Street on Beacon Hill—one of my favorite streets in the city.  It was so gorgeous that bright spring morning.  In fact, it seemed even more gorgeous than ever.  Flowers were starting to bloom, birds were chirping, I paid special attention to the unique majesty of Beacon Hill’s architecture.  It all was like a special gift from God.  Like I was in the most beautiful city in the world, or if not the world, then certainly the United States.  I’m not sure Boston is quite as beautiful as Stockholm, but it’s close.

In fact, I was so inspired by the day that I had decided to spend a bucket load of money at a Scandinavian antique shop I had stepped into the week before, to buy something I wanted but really didn’t need, to heck with my shrinking checking account, and thankful to be alive and able to enjoy life in this gorgeous city and determined not to let terrorism stop me from doing what I wanted.  As it happens, though, the antique shop was fortuitously closed.  So, instead of spending a small fortune that morning, I enjoyed a much less expensive coffee and almond croissant at the cafĂ© next door—that seemed like an economical tradeoff.  And while I sat there, sipping my coffee, with a pretty tulip in a bid vase on the table, and looking out the window onto the bustle of Charles Street, I thought to myself, no bomb and no terrorist is strong enough to take any of that away from me, from us.  

Of course, that all was before the later drama of Thursday and Friday: President Obama’s visit and the inspiring Interfaith service, then the FBI’s release of the pictures of the suspects, followed just a few hours later by the murder of the MIT police officer, the carjacking, chase, horrible shootout in Watertown, and then the lockdown, manhunt, and finally capture.  I admit that some of that the joy, inspiration, and resolve I felt on Thursday morning on Charles Street was tempered again by a degree of anxiety and fear as I watched what was going on in Watertown, and I wasn’t even in the lockdown area.  Those of you up here in and around Wakefield were even further away from the nexus, but I imagine there was a good degree of anxiety here, too.  How could there not be?  I can’t begin to imagine what the people of Watertown must have been feeling through it all: hearing the gun fights, explosions, and opening their homes to SWAT Teams, to say nothing of the man who found the younger suspect in his boat.  The very thought of that discovery makes me absolutely ill. 

But even on Friday, as our doors were locked and we watched SWAT teams and armored trucks roar through city streets, streets we know and have visited, where friends and family live, we found ourselves struggling against fear and paralysis and struggling toward life.  I was heartened, in particular, by emails, text messages, phone calls, and Facebook posts from friends and family all over the country and the world, checking up on me, to see if I were okay.  I suspect that you had similar experiences of friends and family reaching out in love and concern.  I had wonderful, thoughtful messages from people I hadn’t heard from in a very long time.  Even in a time of stress, anxiety, and fear we find the hope of new life, abundant life, Easter life breaking through and breaking in.

Because, of course, that’s what Easter is all about.  It’s about hope that breaks into fear, joy that overcomes sadness, and life that is stronger and more powerful than death.  And that, surely, is what we have experienced here in Boston this week—hope, joy, and new life.  It doesn’t make the marks of the crucifixion go away—they never will totally go away—especially for those who lost limbs, or much worse, beloved family members and friends whose lives were torn away.  But even they, too, who were most affected by the bombings and the horrible aftermath will smile again—not because the suspects have been apprehended, that’s only a small part of it, as the families of the victims have said so eloquently and painfully—but because they have to, because we all have to, we all have to smile again, because God is always taking that which is dead and broken and transforming it into something new, something hopeful, something alive.  Because God is always taking us and transforming us.  Because God is always taking every day turning it into Easter.

You know, just as the people of Watertown, Boston, and Cambridge were in their locked homes this past Friday, on the very first Easter morning some 2,000 years ago, after Jesus’ crucifixion, the disciples, too, were locked away, afraid that the authorities would come after them.  They feared any knock on the door.  They feared that they would be next.  The world as they knew it seemed to be crumbling around them, turning to madness.  Of course they were even more isolated, since they didn’t have TV, Internet, Facebook or Twitter to keep them updated on what was happening outside.  But even so, into their fear, into their locked rooms and into their locked hearts, the resurrected Christ appeared.  He said to them “Peace be with you.” He said, “Do not doubt, but believe.”  And he said, “I am the Good Shepherd.  I love you.  I’ll be with you.  I’ll hold you.  I’ll care for you.  And I will raise you up.  I will give you eternal life, and you will never perish.  No one will snatch you from my hand.  And I will wipe every tear from your eyes." And as he breaks into our locked rooms, and into our locked hearts, and into our locked lives, he says the same to us: Peace, Love, Care, Life.  Thanks be to God. 

To whom be the glory: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

© The Rev. Matthew P. Cadwell