Committing Ourselves to Love (in the wake of the Boston bombs)

Today we are remembering Alphege, an 11th Century Archbishop of Canterbury and the first Archbishop of Canterbury to be martyred. 

Alphege was in office during a time when the Danes were overrunning England. He was captured and held for an exorbitant ransom. He knew that his people could not afford such a high cost to buy his freedom, and he refused to allow them to do so.  

The angry Danes ended up throwing things at him after a dinner party - bones, plates, perhaps even an animal head, and last of all an axe, which killed him.

What strikes me is not so much this saint's manner of life and death, interesting as they are, but the collect and scriptures assigned for todayThe collect speaks of violent death and refusal to give in to calls for extortion as well as a call to pattern ourselves after the Good Shepherd, who laid down his life for the sheep.

We hear again today in the reading from Revelation these unforgettable lines: Who are these robed in white? They have come out of the great ordeal, and God will wipe away ever tear from their eyes.

And then there is the Gospel, in which Jesus reminds us that God knows even the number of hairs on our heads and that not even the sparrows are forgotten in God’s sight.

All of this is good to hear, I think, during a week in which we have witnessed more violent death in our world; we have seen another ordeal, which leaves us fearful and grieving.

Many of us can’t help but wish for vengeance in such a time as this. We can’t help but want punishment to be meted out to those who care so little for the value of human life, who destroy for the sake of destruction, who are trying to hold all of us captive to fear. We focus a great deal of energy on the perpetrator or perpetrators. That is a natural response to our pain and anger. We want to strike out at those who hurt us.

And yet, I invite us to consider another focus - a focus on God as our strong rock and our redeemer, who values us greatly and knows the number of hairs on our heads. I invite us to think about the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep and let that knowledge comfort us.

Jesus says, don’t fear those who kill the body. God will sort that out. Leave that alone and think instead about what it means to have a God who suffers with us, who suffers for us, who doesn’t abandon us in our own times of trial and tribulation.

Think about what kind of world God wants for us and think about the wiping away of tears and be glad for those who were able to be there in person to wipe away the blood and the tears, to hold people close, to attend to their needs.

We often get all caught up in things that are going on in our world through our heads. We think about things a lot. I know I do. I live in my head a lot. 

And so do my resentments and my indignation and my ideals. We can’t escape that, nor should we. We’re not everywhere, and we shouldn’t keep our heads in the sand, either.

But I think as Christians, it is also important to allow ourselves to focus on the incarnational aspect of what happens in the world. We all can’t be there. We want to do something but often we can’t.

But let us not let our frustrations keep us focused on our frustration and anger instead of looking for God moving among the wounded, counting the hairs on their heads, touching them, caring for them, wiping away their tears. 

When bad stuff happens, we need to look for God, to see what God is doing in the middle of it all, for God is always in the middle of the things that are so terribly broken. Not as a cause of them but as the one who is there, has been there, caring for the sheep, binding up the wounded, suffering and yet also deeply present, abiding.

God is there through the hands and feet of all sorts of people - doctors, nurses, police officers, fellow runners, family members, people who offered their homes and meals to the stranded. 

God is love. And there was a great outpouring of love in Boston on Monday as well as explosions of hate.

Martin Luther King, Jr., said this:  "When evil men plot, good men must plan. When evil men burn and bomb, good men must build and bind. When evil men shout ugly words of hatred, good men must commit themselves to the glories of love.”

Let us commit ourselves to love. Let us not be the ones who shout ugly words of hatred. Let us be love, even through the great ordeal, even in the face of evil.