I. OH MY GOD
Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God. That was the cry that day. In the immediate aftermath of the explosions. At the Finish Line. On the sidewalk. Amongst the blood and severed limbs.
In the presence of carnage, slippery blood and grievous pain, human beings don’t curse. Have you noticed this? No one, I mean no one, says the F word.
Instead, in the company of horror and death—with snakes let loose among us, and the very earth a-tremble—a more elemental cry escapes: unbidden, instinctive, plaintive: Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God.
Something in the evil of that day, in the extremity of agony, sent us all Godward. Sent everyone Godward. Sent the godless Godward. And so it was that the city turned to houses of faith and within days of the bombings the nation went to church with the President of the United States.
With tears streaming down our cheeks we said it and sang it and prayed it together: Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God.
II. THE ROLE OF THE CHURCH
It is not every day that an entire city cries out, Oh my God, so when it does, the Church had better have a word from On High to offer, some good news to counter the wretched news, a Holy Presence to fill the unholy absence of goodness and mercy.
When evil and death have kidnapped the world’s attention, when justice and mercy are on the tips of everyone’s tongues, the Church had better be ready … had better have life and hope to offer, healing and comfort to tender.
When hearts and bodies are broken and bleeding, get the Balm! Fetch Gilead’s Balm and be quick about it! Uncork it, and bring it round to homes and hospitals, sanctuaries and street corners, kitchen tables and coffee shops. Pour out Gilead’s Balm with the words of the psalmist:
God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.
The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.
The explosions scattered us. The terrorists sent us running. It is the Church’s singular vocation at such a time to enable re-gathering and opportunities for communal grief, healing and resolve.
Gilead’s Balm is the open doors of a sanctuary … and comfort dogs and hot coffee.
Gilead’s Balm is pews equipped with Bibles and Kleenex.
Gilead’s Balm is poured out in outdoor worship, on the street, among the people, at the site of explosions.
Gilead’s Balm is Christian comfort-food served to worshippers and passers-by (hunks of sweet challah bread and an ever-flowing cup).
Gilead’s Balm is carried aloft, in their air, in our voices … in the lullabies of Let There Be Peace on Earth, This Little Light, There is a Balm, Precious Lord … for as we sing, “hearts grow brave again, and faith grows strong.”
Gilead’s Balm is the holding of hands, and the swaying of our bodies and the shedding, together, of tears ... outside, in public, with strangers.
Gilead’s Balm is poured out in almsgiving … in gathering funds with which to the wrap the injured in healthcare and relief.
Gilead’s Balm fills the air in the solemn tolling of Church bells, once for each of the dead, including the older brother. It fills the air with Christian arithmetic: counting as those commanded (of whom it is demanded) that we love our enemies … even, especially when they are anything but lovely.
Carry Gilead’s Balm to the site, the very site, the very spot at which evil broke loose: to the Finish Line. Pray over the Finish Line, Church: exorcise the demons, reclaim it.
The Church is not surprised by evil. Others might be but we are not. We are acquainted with hell and harrowing pain. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil.
The Church is not surprised by evil. We have lifted the cover and seen its fangs, and smelled its foul breath and shuddered at its slither. And, not uncommonly, we have climbed in next to it. We are acquainted with evil, we are not surprised by it and much of ministry takes place side by side with evil.
In fact, do you want to know what is surprising here? Do you know that the Boston Marathon is the world’s oldest, peaceful, international competition. How great is that?
There is no armor here. No weapons. Not even shin guards. It is a foot race and it needs only the spare form of the human body … and hearts with heart.
Evil does not surprise us, but this is surprising: the winners of the Boston Marathon often hale from among the poorest nations on earth. How great is that?
Many of the runners are running for a cause. They are not even running to win. They run to raise money for cancer, MS or HIV/AIDS. Six months ago, some were running for the victims of the Newtown shootings. How great is that?
Do you know what else is surprising? The way citizens rushed toward the explosions, charging into the fray, into the danger, to help others, making of their own bodies sacraments of mercy. How great is that?
And, when the race had been halted, and runners were backed up along the route … their hearts racing, muscles stiffening, skin shivering and minds wretched with worry over loved ones waiting for them at the Finish Line, then this: those who live along the route welcomed in the runners, flung wide the doors of their hearts and the doors of their homes. They provisioned runners with warm clothing, hydration, phones to make calls and rides. How great is that?
Evil, by contrast, is contemptible. Shriveled. Evil coils under rocks. It is furtive, stealthy. Evil slithers.
Goodness lives in the light.
IV. THE VULNERABLE
With the injured being treated in hospitals and the grieving grieving and the man-hunt underway, two groups emerged as especially vulnerable: Muslims and the unhoused.
As the hours ticked by, with the nation glued to television and computer screens, and as the word Muslim was yet again linked with terror, our Muslim friends and neighbors felt increasingly threatened.
Indeed, sensing from them a primal fear, Jewish and Christian clergy worshipped with Muslims at local mosques to give witness to friendship and trust; to stand in solidarity, to risk wrath … to declare that another’s hate will not make haters of us.
At the same time, the ten-block crime scene in the heart of Boston displaced homeless men and women from familiar haunts: from places where they hung out with friends, panhandled, bantered with shop-owners, foraged and slept. Already fragile, some were literally at their wits’ ends.
The Church fanned out—the followers of Jesus fanned out— sought out homeless neighbors, engaged them with soft fist-bumps and asked simply: How are you?
There is no conclusion. There will be an anniversary. We will mark it. There will be next year’s Boston Marathon on the day after Easter. That’ll preach.
The Church will do tomorrow what we do today, what we did yesterday, what we did in the aftermath of the Marathon bombings … in the aftermath of Oklahoma City and Columbine and Newtown and Danvers and … and ... and: we will take into our own hands the mysteries of life and death, good and evil, time and eternity, mercy and justice.
Handling such things is a high and holy privilege, a sacred trust. It will hurt like hell but we have access to Gilead’s Balm. We are acquainted with grace, privy to the psalms, steeped in prayer, equipped with hope, armed with Gospel, saturated in liturgy. We are stewards of sacred space, and sacred words, and sacred acts. We will take these up. With them we will tear all eyes from the evil coiled under the rock and point God-ward.
In the company of horror and death ...
with snakes let loose among us, and the very earth a-tremble ...
when an elemental cry escapes unbidden Oh my God. Oh my God ...
when all the people are turned God-ward ...
go get it: Gilead’s Balm. Be quick about it.
Uncork it. Pour it out with abandon, prodigally:
the joyous, glorious reckless effusion
of GOD’S GRACE.