Pressure cookers belong on the kitchen stove. Ball bearings are to reduce friction. Nails are for building. But on Monday they were part of a bomb that killed three people and injured hundreds on a day of athletic achievement and celebration. The search for the guilty brought Boston to an unprecedented standstill.
Being fairly new to the area, I have listened to what people around me tell me about what Patriot’s Day means in Boston, and what the Marathon means—how it is part of the way Boston welcomes the world. I am especially struck by how it has always been such a good day: a time to get together with friends, a day to watch the Red Sox or the historic Boston Marathon—and if the weather was good it was a perfect day. People have told me that they were there—at the Marathon—or had just been there, or had almost been there, or were there last year. Parents who took their children home early that day sent them to baseball camp this week with children who were there when the bombs went off. We are all so connected, and we feel shaken and vulnerable. We struggle to make sense of what happened, and to try and explain it to our children. We want answers: why? Why did they do this?
Even if the surviving bomber tells us why he and his brother did what they did, it will be no answer at all. There is only one answer explaining acts of cruel destruction—the answer is that there is evil in the world.
The Gospel proclaimed this morning is part of a chapter in John called the Good Shepherd discourse. Jesus said “My sheep follow me.” He said, “I give them eternal life.” “No one will snatch them out of my hand.” Who wants to snatch the sheep? The wolf. The wolf is the image of the evil destruction. Jesus is the Good Shepherd, the Wolf is Evil Incarnate, which for better or worse leaves us as the sheep.
Last week, I was thinking about sheep. I have preached on the Good Shepherd before, but I confess that most of what I know about sheep comes from the internet. Most of us don’t know much about sheep—I’ll never forget the young man in our youth group who said that the Bible stories didn’t mean much to him because WE AREN’T FARMERS. It dawned on me that there are sheep in Hingham, at Weir River Farm; and I know the farmer.
I had heard that there were new lambs up at the farm, and I went up to see them and to ask Meg to tell me about sheep. Right off the bat she said: “People think sheep are dumb because they move as a flock. They aren’t dumb. They live a life shaped by their fear. They are afraid of predators. They are vulnerable.”
Meg, who has a young daughter herself, said lambs are just like babies: “You think you have the house baby-proofed and safe, and in no time at all the baby gets into something. Lambs can get wedged between a bale of hay and a wall in just seconds, and then we hear them crying for help. Loudly!”
She pointed out the lambs climbing up on their mother’s backs, “See, the sheep are tired from giving birth so they are lying down. The lambs are standing on them because their instinct is to be up high—it’s safer if they have a good view. The moms are watching us to see if we are a danger to the lambs. When they see that we are safe, they go back to resting.” She said, “Sheep are very good mothers, and fiercely protective of their lambs.” The more she talked about sheep and lambs, the more I thought that sheep are a pretty good metaphor for people.
Now, if you are willing to imagine yourself as a sheep, you follow Jesus, the Good Shepherd, who is protecting you from the Evil Wolf. Evil is not just our enemy, it is God’s enemy too. Jesus did many deeds of power during his life, but the greatest of all was when he conquered evil and death and rose again. The greatest gift of the Good Shepherd was laying down his life for the sheep. Now—in the middle of the Easter season—we have a close up view of the Resurrection and it helps us to see how God is at work in the world. When you look at the films and photos of the bombing, you can see God at work, even when it doesn’t look like it. What you can see is Grace.
The thing people talk about the most, when they talk about the moments right after the bombs went off, was how many people ran toward the sound of the explosions. Many of them were first responders, trained for moments like that. And many of them were ordinary people who turned to help: to lift the barricades, to stop the bleeding. One man, Tyler Dodd, has been recognized as a hero among the many who rushed to help. He was a block away, not even watching the race, when he heard the bombs. He ran toward the sound, and on the strength of his previous mass trauma experience, he was waved in. He braced himself for what he knew he would see as he headed into the center of the carnage, and he quickly began to bind up wounds and comfort the injured. During an interview later, he was asked the standard question: how were you able to go into that situation and do what was needed? But he didn’t give the standard answer: that he was trained for it. What he said was: “Every morning I pray to God that he will use me as an instrument.”
Tyler Dodd was an instrument of God’s Grace that day, but he was not the only one. There were many examples of Grace, thank God. It is Grace that helps us to transcend ourselves and act with love and goodness, even when self-preservation would have us head in the opposite direction. Grace is what made it possible for some people to turn toward the danger, not away from it, and to help in the rescue.
In the days since last Monday, I have heard people reflect on how the bombing has affected them. Everyone is dealing with feelings of vulnerability, their own or those they love. One person said that cleaning out the closets seemed much less important, and she was going to spend the day planting flowers. Does that sound odd? Or maybe it’s brilliant. It is an incarnational response–a way to show that life is precious and we get to make a choice about what is truly important.
You can be an instrument of Grace: by planting flowers, making peace, caring for a sick friend or a sad child. And if you are fearful and hurting, you can just be a little lamb and climb up into the safety of the arms of Jesus, the Good Shepherd.
The pot has returned to the cook, the nail to the builder, and the ball bearings to the engineer. And we do what we are shaped to do; we gather and we pray for healing and peace. And all will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of things will be well.