April 16, 2013
A friend wrote me last night with a question. She had just heard of the massacre at the Boston Marathon and asked: “Oh my . . . we need God’s help. . . what will you say from the pulpit this Sunday?” I wrote her this note in reply:
I will say this — I will say that what happened on the streets of Boston today was an attack on joy, a raid on the human spirit, an assault on the goodness of life itself. That’s quite different from what I had planned to talk about this coming Sunday. Before the violation that took place today, I was going to preach on Dorcas, the only woman given the title ‘disciple’ in scripture, Dorcas, that “gazelle” of a spirit who lived her life caring for others, who made beautiful things and gave them away, who built a community of hope among the dispossessed. (Acts 9:36-43)
Now, however, I look at the other texts assigned for this Sunday and find myself asking, what do these almost too-familiar words really mean in the shadow of yesterday: “The Lord is my shepherd,” (Psalm 123) and “I know my sheep . . . and they follow me . . .I give them eternal life and they will never perish . . . no one will snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:26-30) What do they mean in light of the evil that we witnessed on Boylston Street on Marathon Day, 2013?
For me, growing up in Massachusetts, the Boston Marathon, with its morning baseball game and local remembrance of colonials breaking free from old tyrannies was always a symbol of sweet hope and courage and of the deep-down goodness of things. With Marathon Day came the shaky but welcome conviction that New England’s always-too-late-arriving spring would finally wrest the world from heartless winter’s tenacious grasp. I saw the famous marathon as fleetness incarnate with its early spring flutter of human legs and feet seeming to become running wings of every shape and color — wings for Kenyans and for next-door neighbors and for almost anybody willing to run for the joy of it.
But today, to see the people who had come to cheer and encourage and exult in such magnificence on the streets of our beloved city, to see them cut down at the legs, to see their feet slipping through puddles of blood — to see all this is to weep for a world that ought to be far better than it is.
And then to hear, among other horrors, of the child who had just congratulated his dad for running the race for him and for the child victims of a massacre in Connecticut, to hear of this boy murdered and of his little sister whose leg was blown away, whose running has now come to an end even before it had really begun — when I see and hear of these things I grieve for this world with Yeats’ lament:
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned.
But I also saw running of another kind in the streets of the city today: I saw goodness running toward evil. I saw bravery running to the rescue, compassion running to console. I saw skilled caregivers with healing in their wings running to make the broken whole again even as the smoke and smell of horror still hung heavy in the air. Seeing these things, I know that whatever words I must say must not be about treachery only. No, I will bear witness to goodness in its life-and-death struggle with evil. I will speak of the heart-breakingly far-off but ultimate triumph of a Shepherd who promises that we will not be snatched away, we will not perish, even in the face of horror and perfidy.
I will speak of all these things, but in the end, all I can do is to issue an invitation, an invitation to join in a leap of faith surrounded, as we are, by the darkness of these days. I will not make some facile, solid declaration because I cannot proclaim with unflinching confidence those sweet, uplifting things that are, in times like these, so hard for any of us to believe.
Edward R. Dufresne © 2013