Monday, April 22, 2013

Remembering Boston

I was horrified by the explosions of evil at the Boston Marathon just one week ago today.

Today, I remember the three people who were killed in that attack and the more than 170 others who were wounded. I also remember the police officer who was murdered in the line of duty.

How could such evil be perpetrated against innocent people?

The alleged bombers' motives are unknown, although one of the suspects is reportedly communicating with officials from his hospital bed. We might learn more about what drove these two alleged bombers to wage their slaughter at the marathon and then to kill a police officer and grievously wound another.

Did the violence in Chechnya, a country to which the suspects were connected by family, or elsewhere, somehow contribute to their alleged murderous rampage? Was the brothers' separation from family a reason?

Had the suspects become insensitive to the deadly consequences of bombs and bullets because they'd watched too many terror videos and because they were immersed in America's culture of violence?

Why did the older brother turn to violent forms of his religion, according to media reporting? Where were more moderate forms of his religion, and why didn't representatives of the same reach out to him?  It's ironic that the older brother's boxing gym was a less violent community for him than his own online religious community.

Whatever the reasons for these cruel, calculated and deadly attacks, there can never be any legitimacy for them. Nothing can ever justify the murder of three people at the marathon, one an eight-year old boy, and a police officer in his squad car. There is no justification for the wounding of so many others. Nothing can excuse the terrorizing of Boston and the nation.

And, also ironically, these two suspects, one dead and the other in hospital now, were allowed refuge in this country, educated in American schools and received scholarships to American colleges. The younger brother had become a U.S. citizen. The older one had married an American woman and had a child with her. What had America ever done to harm these two men? Why did they hate us so much?

Yesterday was Good Shepherd Sunday. Someone asked me, "If you had preached yesterday, what would you have said, especially in the context of the Boston Marathon bombings?" Actually, I'd been thinking about that question all last week.

Thinking about Jesus, the Good Shepherd, I'd have said we should not live in fear but should go on running our marathons, sending our children to school, living our lives as normally as possible in a culture of bomb and gun violence; I remember how those brave Londoners kept calm and carried on while Hitler's Luftwaffe bombed them nightly.

I'd have said that the Good Shepherd was there with the Boston victims at their deaths, holding them and comforting them as they were being born anew into everlasting life. And the Shepherd was--and is, even now--with the injured, working for their restoration.

I'd have said that I was not afraid. I believe that, no matter what happens to me, I am alive always  in the Living God; and that nothing--not a terrorist's bomb or bullet--will ever separate me from the love of God for me in Christ Jesus. It is the same for all those who belong to God in Christ Jesus.

And, inspired by the New Testament reading from Revelation yesterday, I'd have said that I saw the innocent--the four victims of Boston's week of horror--standing before the throne of the Lamb of God, robed in the white of the resurrection, rejoicing because they had come out of the "great ordeal....

"And the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them. They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes."

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

A sacred moment at Starbucks

It was early morning right after my workout. I was enjoying my daily routine of coffee at Starbucks and reading The New York Times. I looked up and saw a young couple standing in front of me at the table. He was smiling. She was smiling, with a hint of anxiety in her eyes.

I knew them as one of our many young couples and families from church. We shook hands and exchanged some pleasantries.

"We're on our way to the hospital," she said, "to be induced. And we hoped you might say a prayer for us."

This was no random meeting. They knew where to find me at that early hour, because I have had occasional conversations with her husband at Starbucks when he picks up his coffee on his way to the office.

And I believe the Spirit led them to me that morning.

I thought, There is no better way to undertake some consequential event--like the birth of a child--than by prayer and with God's blessing.

I rejoiced that this young couple felt such a deep desire for God at this moment in their life together. They wanted God with them, and prayer would bring them into the awareness of his presence.

We joined hands there, with a table full of workmen looking on, and I prayed for the two of them--for their unborn baby and for a safe delivery. And then I made the sign of the cross on their foreheads--the same sign of the cross that one day I will mark on the forehead of their baby--and we hugged.

"I'll be by the hospital to see you this afternoon, " I said, adding, "This has been a week of births."

Just two days earlier, when I found out about the birth of a child to church members, I visited the baby and the family in the hospital and said prayers of thanksgiving and blessed the baby. (I would have held and kissed the baby, but the grandmother was not going to let him go.)

Preparing for new life to come into the world and welcoming that new life--resurrection moments--are among the blessings I receive as a priest of the church.

As such I am in a unique position. I am sharing with people in hard times and in happy ones, expressing, I hope and pray, something of Christ's loving presence.

When God called me to the priesthood, he had this sacred work in mind for me. Thanks be to God.

Priest or layperson, may you find sacred work to do every day.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

An Easter story

You are free

One day in April 1945, Captain Hershel Schacter of the U.S. Third Army drove his jeep into Buchenwald, the Nazi death camp in Germany that American soldiers had just liberated.

He saw hell on earth: corpses everywhere; chimneys belching black smoke and the ashes of hundreds of prisoners who had been incinerated; and many hundreds of survivors--hollow-eyed and emaciated with starvation and disease, just a breath or two from death.

Captain Schacter, a Jewish chaplain, shouted, "Jews of Buchenwald: You are free!"

As he walked through the camp, he detected something stirring behind a mound of corpses. He found a survivor, a boy of seven. The child shook with terror, believing this uniformed man would kill him.

The chaplain coaxed him from the corpses, and he and the boy talked. He told him he was safe now, free.

Chaplain Schater and another Jewish chaplain helped take care of the Buchenwald survivors, ministering to their physical and spiritual needs for sometime to come, eventually resettling many of them in Palestine, now Israel.

There, the survivors began new lives.

(Among them was Elie Wiesel, author, humanitarian, activist, and Nobel Peace Prize winner.  About 15 years ago, I met and talked with Wiesel at length after a lecture at Missouri State University. I found him to be a gentle, loving, and Godly man. I felt as it I were in the presence of saint.)

That seven-year old from Buchenwald grew up in Israel and became a rabbi himself, Yisrael Meir Lau.  He went on to become the chief Orthodox rabbi of Israel and to write a wartime memoir, Out of the Depths, in which he tells of his meeting Rabbi Schacter.

At an event in Israel honoring Holocaust survivors, Rabbi Lau told President Barack Obama about Rabbi Schacter and thanked America for saving him and so many others.

In Holy Week, I first read about Rabbi Schacter in his obituary in The New York Times.  He had died at age 90 after a long and faithful ministry as an Orthodox rabbi in New York City.

In Buchenwald, Rabbi Schacter had seen the horrendous evil that humans can inflict upon one another--the cruely, violence, suffering and death. After the war, he continued to devote himself to serving God and humankind.

His story, and especially that of the orphan Leluk who became Rabbi Lau, is one of resurrection--of life coming out of death, of freedom coming from slavery.

As Rabbi Schacter said to the Jews of Buchenwald, "You are free!" so Jesus says in his resurrection on the third day, "You are free."

God is the victor. For the millions of people who perished in the Holocaust, to quote Isaiah, "suffering and sighing" are no more, for they are now with the God of life.

And one day we shall be with God, too, as one people sharing in our common Creator's eternal love.