She was writing about the Boston Marathon and the bombs that were planted to maim and cripple runners, the damage focused on their legs. She was writing about the friends and families of runners who were crowded near the finish line ready to cheer and rejoice.
The bombs aimed at joy. Those who planted them thought they would kill joy and hope. In some cases that may be true. We must remember those who lost loved ones; of the lost potential of young people and the contributions they had planned to make to our community life. Perhaps in some cases, the bomb makers/planters accomplished their goal. But if they meant to make a major statement, they failed. What they did instead was highlight compassion, courage, and the bonds between and among people.
We have faced a great deal of trauma lately in our country, beginning with Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma City bombings. You can name them for yourselves, the times when our confidence has been rattled, our joy has been attacked, an attempt has been made to destroy our humanness.
In the Psalms of Scripture that David, the shepherd who became king, wrote is this line of assurance: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me. Your rod and your staff give me comfort.” And in the biblical book Revelations, we read: “There will be no more hunger, no more thirst, no more scorching heat. The Lamb on the Throne will shepherd them…God will wipe away every tear from their eye.”
It’s a promise for the future, and we in the United States have always been people who look forward to the future, trying to do what we can, in most instances, to make things better and to prepare a world for our children in which they can live in safety. But that’s something that must be left in God’s hands, because in our human and limited world, broken things happen. There’s a scripture that tells God: Only in you can we dwell in safety.
In the Gospels Jesus tells us: Do not fear those who can kill the body; instead fear the one who keeps body and soul. We are more than we think we are. The marathon runners are more than legs. The people who lost limbs have had their lives drastically changed, and we grieve with them, but they are not lost themselves and they are not alone.
Broken things break into the lives of innocent people, and surprise them with pain and death and the planting of fear. We are right to mourn and grieve, and to look fear straight in the face. Broken, twisted, wicked people are still lurking in the dark corners of life, but we are called to be children of light.
Holy things happen, too. People are open hearted, ready to rush in, to do what they can in the midst of chaos, to forget fear and remember compassion, to offer comfort and a kind voice and a hand to hold.
In the Gospel, Jesus tells us no one can snatch us out of his hand - not mourning over friends and family, not terrible injury, not even death itself. God has promised to never lose us, “I have carved you on the palms of my hands” he says.
In the midst of it all, in spite of all the evidence, God’s promise will hold true. We know it because we have a history that shows us he keeps his promises and he has the power to do that. “My words will not return to me empty,” he says through his prophets. In the meantime, as we live in the brokenness that is our life in this world, it is up to every one of us to grieve with the broken heart of God, and to do all we can to mend, to build up, to offer hope, and to have courage.
I close this column with the ending of a prayer for mercy that is said every Sunday in the church where I serve: “Help, save, comfort, and defend us, gracious God.” Amen.
Rev. Dr. Marcia Dorey is pastor of the Halifax Union Society.