Violence against the innocent…

In our culture, it is common to complain about rising violence, and perceived dangers – especially in “big cities” – but it is rare for an instance of violence to touch us personally. When it does touch us – as with the death of Amber Kirwan,

or the steady stream of news from the Tori Stafford murder trial,

or, this past week Raymond Taavel,

our ideas of safety, of justice, and even our faith are challenged.

 

It is violence and the death of the innocent that brings out in us the highest emotions –

the sharpest sense of the need for justice (or vengeance).

While every death is a cause for sorrow,

the violent death of the innocent and the hands of the powerful

sharpens our sorrow into action and outrage.

 

But we feel powerless, don’t we…no amount of worrying, no amount of vigilance,

not even hundreds of prayers and pleas for peace, healing, deliverance or justice –

nothing seems to change the fact that those individuals (or institutions) intent on doing harm

will eventually have their way.

We dream of another reality – we long for a better world for our children and grand-children –

but the urge to oppress is to strong – prejudice is too deeply rooted –

the ‘us versus them’ pattern is too much a part of the “way of the world” to ever be overthrown –

and so the innocent continue to die – old prejudices are re-ignited – new fears are formed;

all because the world we inhabit fails to live up to the world as we imagine it should be.

 

The answer for some is to stop dreaming.

 

They argue that since my actions, my prayers, my desires seem to have no influence, I accept defeat.

With this attitude, neighbours ignore neighbours –

parents cloister their children – schools become fortresses –

the blame is dispensed among government agencies

and the general notion that “the world is changing” becomes an excuse for inaction.

 

We who would follow Christ have no such excuse.

That the world is changing is precisely the message that Jesus brought to his disciples in life –

and his resurrection confirms his teaching.

There is no going back – no hiding behind old prejudice – no running from the truth

in this changed and changing world that is revealed in the gospel according to Luke:

“And Jesus stood among them and said to them ‘Peace be with you.’

And they were startled and terrified and thought they were seeing a ghost.” (Luke 24:36b)

 

We cannot really understand the sense of astonishment that Luke is trying to convey.

Dead is dead, after all. And particularly violent death, like Crucifixion, brings mortality into sharp focus.

But to these gathered disciples, the idea of mortality has been torn to shreds.

Jesus lives – he should not, but he does.

Walking – talking – eating – comforting and yes, still teaching.

Jesus returns to a world gripped by violence – captive to an attitude of fear and resignation –

and calls us to reach out – to touch his risen body – and claim the dream of a world changed for the better – a world changed by the power, grace, and mercy of God.

 

That is the lesson of the resurrection.

Jesus , Luke says, opened their minds to understand the scriptures.

He showed them that the way of the world was no match for the persistent grace of God –

revealed in the faith of their ancient ancestors, and the proclamation of the prophets –

But most importantly, Jesus affirmed the triumph of Divine love

over human tendencies to selfishness, violence,and hate.

 

That is a lesson that we are especially ready to hear.

We have been beaten down by the seemingly constant stream of stories of human despair.

The current wisdom advises us to keep our heads down, our noses clean, and our own safety and best interests at heart – isolation is the only safety; that is what our experience in society tells us.

But our experience with Christ should tell us something else –

our willingness to live lives that are open to hurt and honest about pain and fear

will lead us to an experience of the living God – whose activity was not deflected by the violence of the cross, or the lonely finality of the tomb.

Our willingness to be involved in what the world calls lost causes –

things like the battle for equality – the fight against racism, sexism –

the ongoing struggle to come to terms with diversity of thought, lifestyle, religion,

and the urgent need for compassionate care for the mentally ill –

all of these things will put us in harms way –

but our devotion to the gospel of Christ compels us

to open ourselves to harm, ridicule and difficult personal choices, that God might be revealed.

“Thus it is written that Messiah is to suffer…”

to show us the way to the grace-filled kingdom of God –

that is found, not on some lofty cloud in some distant dream –

but in the midst of this hurt and harm.

 

The violent death of an innocent person –

in Jesus case, it galvanized people around the power of God.

It moved disciples and friends to speak out in favour of repentance, forgiveness and love,

in spite of threats and persecution and ridicule and death.

Jesus death and resurrection opened a new conversation about the ways of God

that has continued – unstoppable – for two thousand years.

Which is why, in our current cycle of distress within the institutional church (about our future)

and the questions from outside about the usefulness of the church,

we need not fear.

The conversation that followed the horrific death of Jesus of Nazareth is still going strong.

His story still inspires – and God still moves people who hear it to lives of service and devotion.

This story is still able to change lives – to encourage repentance and renew faith.

It is our story, and it will continue to calm fears and open eyes

to the glorious possibilities of God’s promise.

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