I woke up to the bad news from Brussels, Belgium today. We are so numbed to the violence on our globe, we have to wonder about the ambivalent gift of “information.” There is no time to digest, reflect, pray, consider. We are, instead, an endless echo of bad news cycles, compounded by the “unsocial media” that encourages the worst among us to speak loudly even if it is unworthy to hear. Here is the reflection I sent to my congregation today:
The recurring horror of terrorism is found in the terrorists themselves. They are, finally, demented haters of life, of humanity, of our collective existence—that is the essence of terrorists’ acts. There is nothing in them but absolute despair of hope, and the desire to destroy it in all others for the sake of fantastic delusions of forcing the hand of the universe to bend to their will. There is nothing at the end of
their action except death and blood.
They are not new. Throughout all of history, they have killed, as governments and society seek to kill them in response. On and on the fatal disaster continues, hopelessly. It is into Holy Week that the latest delusion happens. In Brussels the fanatics strike civilization once more, convinced that they will prevail, and destined absolutely to fail.
Of all weeks, this one should comfort those who believe in Christ Jesus. Of all people, we began in a story of unjust death, amid terrorists who led people into the desert (Acts 21:38) and to the top of Masada only to die for nothing and their hopes dashed. Those who waved the palms would flee for their lives—and for what? The emptiness of a lost cause.
And yet, the gospel declares, on the other side was life. Not through the Zealots’ desire to change places so that oppressed could have a turn as oppressor, but through an entirely new vision of life. “I AM the Resurrection and the Life,” Jesus told Martha, standing near the grave of her brother Lazarus. “The one who believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”
I wrote these words six days after 9/11 for this publication:
There is a scene in the movie Barabbas that is unforgettable. It is the imaginary story of what might have happened to the terrorist Barabbas after he was released, his life spared because Jesus was taken and killed. Barabbas, played by the late Anthony Quinn, is haunted by the shadow of this innocent man who died in his place. Barabbas becomes Everyman, searching for the meaning of this Man and this death, even as he runs from it.
He meets Christians who die for the kingdom and yearns to make peace with God. Finally, he is in Rome, by this time a freeman, and hears a commotion. Rome is afire, set by the crazed emperor Nero, but neither he nor the citizens of Rome know. Hearing the rumors in the streets that the fires were started by the Christians (a convenient target created by Nero himself, according to some accounts), Barabbas decides to join in, thinking that to set the world on fire is to bring in the Kingdom of God. He is arrested and thrown into a cell with Christians, including Peter, only to find out that it was not they who started the cataclysm. As always, he has been running in exactly the wrong direction, doing the opposite of the truth, thinking he could find it.
Now he understands that it is not by our own deeds and works that we are saved, but through the very act of embracing the Christ who died for him. Only he knows that this death was not merely the exchange of one physical life for another—it was the work of the eternal God. He embraces Christ and dies on a cross, at last at peace.
Still true. We are most tempted of all to abandon our story when we need it most! Now is the time, most of all, to be more sure of the story of One Who alone understood what it all meant and how to defeat evil at last. “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” And he bowed his head and gave up his life. And then, after the mystery of three days, alone to victory, which God then graciously offered to us all. “I am the Resurrection and the Life.” Remember?
May peace, forgiveness, understanding, the abandonment of hate and war, be our steady dream in the face of rage and revenge. This week of all weeks.