“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:1-2
Monday afternoon and evening many of us were shocked to learn that two bombs had exploded near the Boston Marathon’s finish line. The Marathon is not only a great event for Boston. It is a great event for all of us who are inspired by the endurance and steadfastness it takes to run such a race.
The Boston Marathon is exciting and inspiring. Runners from many countries and religious backgrounds participate. They are there for many different reasons. Some want to win. Others just want to finish. Most want and need a challenge. Some are fighting and have beaten cancer. Others wheel disabled children, wanting them to have a taste of what it is like to participate in such an event.
On Patriot’s Day 2013, the same week as the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s letter from a Birmingham Jail, bombs went off aimed to maim and destroy the lives and futures of runners, and those present to cheer them on. Who did this, and how could they not think about the humanity of their victims, of the lives that would be lost or forever changed?
Two pictures really got to me. The first was of the now deceased eight-year-old Martin Richard holding a sign that said, “No more hurting people. Please.” The second was men and women in Afghanistan holding small, handmade signs that said, “To Boston with love from Kabul.
For those of us in America this is a truly horrifying incident, and something that is fairly rare. For the people of Kabul, explosions like the ones that happened in Boston are a regular occurance. What is it like to live in Kabul, Baghdad, or Aleppo, and to know that at any moment a bomb could kill you and your loved ones? What is it like to live in a constant state of fear and uncertainty? Do you just get numb? Does your fear come and go?
Jesus of Nazareth was born into a violent world. The Romans, while contributing to some helpful engineering advancements like roads and aqueducts, were brutal to the non-Romans they ruled. For those who were not Roman, wealthy, or well-connected, life was, in Thomas Hobbes’ words, “nasty, brutish, and short.”
And yet, despite the violence and brutality around him, Jesus continued to preach a message of love, healing, and new beginnings. He lived a life of reconciliation with God and those around him. He spoke the truth, practiced what he preached, and faced difficult challenges with prayer and courage. He boldly proclaimed God’s Kingdom, the in-breaking of which he claimed was already in peoples’ midst. In this Kingdom Jesus spoke of, men, women, and children from every imaginable background and stage of life were united with one another in a web of love, affection, and encouragement, as they realized that their deep interconnectedness was rooted in God.
In his letter from a Birmingham jail, Dr. King wrote to his fellow Christian pastors who wanted to wait before pushing for civil rights. He told them that he was in Birmingham, “because injustice is here.” Further, he made the point that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” He could not sit idly by in Atlanta when injustice was taking place in Birmingham. King continued, “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
Whether that injustice involves the denial of civil rights, or the denial of a safe, secure environment in which to grow, live and prosper, the Gospel of Jesus asserts that all people are God’s children and thus precious to God. Should not God’s precious children in Boston and around the world be able to play on safe streets, to run in races without fear of harm, to live with a roof over their heads, to have enough food to eat, to get a good education, to have the opportunity to work and provide a living for themselves and their families, to live in communion with and learn from people from many different backgrounds?
At an interfaith service in Boston’s Cathedral of the Holy Cross in honor of those who died, President Obama encouraged those present to “run with endurance the race that is set before us.” Let us continue to pray, and love, and listen, and serve, and give and receive hospitality, whatever we and our loved ones face in the days ahead. Let us fight the impulse to live in fear, to hide, to retreat into our homes, to become a military state. Jesus did not promise his followers an easy life. He did, however, promise that nothing would separate us from the love of God – not tears, not suffering, not discouragement, not difficult questions, not death.