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Saturday, April 7, 2012

Cruel Month

Those who know me well know that I am rather addicted to listening to NPR, so it's nothing new to hear that I listen to the news every morning as I get up, brush my teeth, make coffee and eat my breakfast.

But very slowly, in the last few days, I've noticed something as I have had the familiar hum of news in the background... April is indeed, as T.S. Eliot called it in his classic poem The Wasteland, "the cruellest month":
  • Martin Luther King Jr was murdered on April 4, 1968
  • The siege of Sarajevo, a horrible civil war, began on April 5, 1992
  • The Waco tragedy at the Branch Davidian complex ended tragically on April 19, 1993
  • The genocide of Tutsis in Rwanda started on April 7, 1994
  • The Oklahoma City bombing was on April 19, 1995
  • The massacre at Columbine High School was on April 20, 1999
  • The slaughter at Virginia Tech was on April 7, 2007
  • This strange and horrible recent shooting this week in Oakland occurred on April 2
I would imagine that most who will read this post live comfortable lives. We rarely, if ever, go hungry or lack for a warm bed and shelter. There is money in our checking accounts, we own computers, we go to college, we are not threatened with slaughter and attack. It is easy -- a given, really -- that we will go "soft." In our ease and safety it is actually a challenge to recall why we need salvation.

Certainly, as we face the pains of this life -- death, disease, loss, betrayal, depression, physical suffering, among others -- we are reminded of the weight of this life, and our own participation in its heaviness. But slowly and surely, we usually pick up the pieces and get on with things.

Because of our day-to-day responsibilities, the global, universal, horrendous gravity of sin over centuries sometimes escapes us. This list above is a quick reminder of the unique capacity of humankind to destroy ourselves and others. These agonies described, which are sadly a mere smattering of the ways we have devolved over time, radiated waves (and continue to this day) of torment and misery through so many lives.  I will not even pretend to be able to capture their implications in words.

Last night at my church's Tenebrae service, where we recounted the story of the crucifixion, I sat still long enough to ponder the cross, its tragedy, pain and shame. What I find most powerful in Tenebrae is not just facing the reality of my own sin and brokenness... but the collection of verses, readings and songs build in me a miniscule taste of the immense suffering of the heart of Christ:

Man of Sorrows! what a name
For the Son of God, who came
Ruined sinners to reclaim.
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Bearing shame and scoffing rude,
In my place condemned He stood;
Sealed my pardon with His blood.
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Guilty, vile, and helpless we;
Spotless Lamb of God was He;
“Full atonement!” can it be?
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Lifted up was He to die;
“It is finished!” was His cry;
Now in Heav’n exalted high.
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

When He comes, our glorious King,
All His ransomed home to bring,
Then anew His song we’ll sing:
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Another song at the end was a song of gentle hope:

Life is full of light and shadow
O the joy and O the sorrow
O the sorrow

And yet will He bring
Dark to light
And yet will He bring
Day from night

When shadows fall on us
We will not fear
We will remember

When darkness falls on us
We will not fear
We will remember

When all seems lost
When we're thrown and we're tossed
We remember the cost
We rest in Him
Shadow of the cross

I left, in the darkness at the end of the service, with the reminder that while the abominations and monstrosity of sin have torn each person in different ways over millenia, the hope of the gospel can also glimmer and take hold, bringing healing and transformation. May we shout this hope, tomorrow and every day. That is our job, and our utter delight.

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