By The Rev. Sherry Crompton
May 8, 2011
Earlier this week we heard the news of Osama bin Laden’s death. It marks the end of a chapter. As someone who was in Manhattan at the time of 9/11 and helped out with the rescue efforts, I found myself having very mixed emotions about the news. Later, I read a reflection of Barbara Crafton’s that sums up some of my own ‘hard to label feelings’ and I share it with you.
END OF CHAPTER (reflection by Barbara Crafton – Almost Daily emo of May 3, 2011)
I lay awake with my earphones on after President Obama’s announcement of Osama bin Laden’s death, listening to reaction around the world as the news spread. I found it hard to label my feelings — after all this, all those deaths, all that ruin, after that pile of rubble rose hundreds of feet above ground that smoked for months, after all those funerals — is this IT? Is he really gone? In front of the White House and at Ground Zero, crowds gathered, singing, chanting, dancing: a party.
There was a time before Osama bin Laden became what he became. He came into the world as we all do: an innocent child. It was not God’s intention for him to become a dealer in horror and death, and it seems not to have been his wealthy family’s, either– they distanced themselves from his terrible career long ago. Already, Arab activism seems to be moving on from his brand of hate — the revolutions currently in play in several countries of the region are the product of younger, more humane hearts, more eager to connect with the world than to separate themselves from it.
How strange: had Osama lived on, he might have lived long enough to become irrelevant. We have seen it before: affable elderly men, beloved by their friends and neighbors, who turn out to have been torturers in Nazi death camps in their youth. Decrepit dictators brought to trial long after they fell from power, unable anymore even to participate in their own defense. Look at him, their lawyers say, pointing at their stooped clients, he couldn’t hurt a fly!
Osama can’t hurt us anymore, that’s for certain. Others can, though, and some want to — not everyone has bought into the new spirit of the Arab Spring. I listened to the chant — USA! USA! Lots of young people out there, people who were nine or ten when it happened and are now young adults. They may not remember what it was like for us in those days, how imminent another attack seemed to us, and how wounding it was to see film footage of young people dancing in the streets half a world away, rejoicing in our pain. It was a fearsome thing to me the other night, hearing that chant coming out of the radio in the dark — it will provoke a response, I thought uneasily. But maybe not. Maybe I need to move on, too.
Those of us whose hearts still skip a beat when we see a low-flying plane — we are a little quiet. That he is gone yields a grim satisfaction, but it is something other than joy. A certain symmetry has been achieved, but not a single one of the 3,000 innocent will come back to us because Osama has died.
The ending of a sad chapter is not necessarily happy. Sometimes it’s just the ending.
Sometimes, it’s just the ending. As Cleopas and the others were walking down the road to Emmaus, they were also thinking about an ending. It was the end of hope, in a sense, as they say to this stranger on the road, about Jesus, “we had hoped he was the one to redeem Israel”. We had hoped. Hope in the past tense. We believed things might really change, but we were wrong. We had hoped. It’s one of the saddest comments we can make. We had hoped. He died. It is over now. No more fairy tales, no more dreams, no more illusions. Back to business as usual.
“That is when their walking partner explodes at them. “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart!”. Or, in other words, you idiots! If you had read your bible, none of this would come as a surprise to you. It is right there: The Christ is not the one who wins the power struggle; he is the one who loses it. The Christ is not the undefeated champion; he is the suffering servant, the broken one, who comes in his glory with his wounds still visible. Those hurt places are the proof that he is who he says he is, because the way you recognize Christ—and his followers—is not by their muscles but by their scars.
This is a story that has no ending, only new beginnings. Jesus becomes known to them in the breaking of the bread. It was in Jesus’ characteristic behavior of giving, of feeding, of caring for his sheep–whatever way you want to describe the blessing and distributing of bread–that they knew him. Suddenly. Fully. Jesus spent a lot of time in Luke’s gospel eating with people of all sorts. Jesus becomes known to them in the breaking of the bread. It’s about the bread. What is it about the bread?
Major Charles Winchester, one of the doctors in the hit TV series “M*A*S*H,” hid behind a sophisticated shell in a futile effort to ward off the pain and emptiness and suffering and death that daily haunt him as he lives amid the horror of war. In despair at one point, perplexed by the mystery of death, Winchester abandons the operating room and goes to visit the wounded as they’re first brought to the “M*A*S*H*” unit. He is called to the bedside of a dying soldier. The soldier says, “I can’t see anything. Hold my hand.” Winchester replies, “I am.” “I’m dying,” the soldier moans, and the doctor’s suppressed questions right come to the surface, “Can you see anything? Feel anything? I have to know.” The dying soldier doesn’t answer those questions but, instead, simply says, “I smell bread.”
And what does that mean? I think it means that the soldier is going home.
Jesus comes to the travelers on the road to Emmaus. He comes to wounded people on that long, lonely road to Emmaus. He comes to them to give them hope again, to say, no, this is not defeat, this is a new beginning.
In our own brokenness, Jesus also comes. Jesus comes to us on our own road to Emmaus. Jesus works with broken people, with broken dreams, in a broken world. If someone hands him a whole loaf, he will take it, bless it, break it and give it, and he will do the same thing with his own flesh and blood. Because that is the way of life God has shown him to show the rest of us: to take what we have been given, whether we like it or not, and to bless it—to say thank you for it—whether it is the sweet satisfying bread of success or the tear-soaked bread of sorrow. To say thank you, and to break it.
“Walking together”–-not in despair now, but in hope and joy, filled with the presence of Christ! Walking together, as brothers and sisters, to announce good news to the world. Walking together, Christ is present. Walking together, as the late French philosopher Albert Camus–though not a Christian–said so well:
Don’t walk in front of me; I may not follow.
Don’t walk behind me; I may not lead.
Walk beside me and be my friend.
And as we walk together, there is One in the lead–one named Jesus–who is trustworthy and can be followed with confidence and joy. In him, we are made church and invited to walk together–not only as friends, but as brothers and sisters in the Lord.
Walking together, following Christ, nourished by Christ, we are God’s church. We are God’s church. We are God’s church. We are God’s church. Amen.
.Brett Blair, ed., Sermon Illustrations for April 6, 2008, adapted from George Bass, The Tree, the Tomb and the Trumpet: Sermons for Lent and Easter, CSS Publishing.
.Quoted in Brett Blair, ed., Sermon Illustrations for April 6, 2008.
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