‘Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.’ Romans 12:16-18, NRSV
This Friday, on the far side of the globe, a white Supremacist killed 49 people gathered for midday prayers at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, and injured at least 20 more. It was a deliberate act of terror that had been announced via social media. The gunman even life streamed the murders on social media via a camera attached to his hat. The terrorist took pride in his hateful deeds – and intended to spread the terror far beyond the city of Christchurch.
These attacks are shocking and despicable, especially because they happened at a time when the victims were most vulnerable: the time they came congregated to worship in peace. Of course this is nothing new: Just this past October, 11 people gathered for worship and study at ‘Tree of Life’ Synagogue in Pittsburgh were killed in a similar cowardly terrorist attack. In 2015, a white supremacist belonging to a church of the ELCA murdered 9 people attending a Bible study at an African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina. These are but a few examples of violence perpetrated against worshipping communities. Throughout the world, people gathered for worship are – and have always been – a preferred and easy target of acts of violent terror.
This is the world we live in: a world where we are far from ‘peace on earth’, a world where religion and misguided beliefs again and again lead to violence (especially against the most vulnerable), a world where it is easier than ever to spread ignorance and hate. It is a broken world. It is the world Christ came into to reconcile, heal, and mend divisions.
The season of Lent reminds us that this world is broken, that we are broken. The season of Lent reminds us that God is not out to divide and destroy – for God so loved the world that God sent the Son. The kingdom of God is a realm of love – a kind of hard and difficult love that includes the love of the enemy – and a realm where the important and hard task of reconciliation has been done.
It is so easy to be tempted to think of fellow human beings as the ‘other’ and to dehumanize them if they don’t look or live or believe like us. It is so easy to look down on others and to deem ourselves better than them. It is so easy to find fault with others and blame them for all kinds of misfortune in this world – and if we could only get rid of them or keep them behind walls, out of sight and out of our consciousness, everything will be better.
The teachings of Jesus Christ challenge us to not give into that temptation, but to defiantly seek reconciliation with those whom we consider to be ‘the other’. The Apostle Paul repeatedly admonishes the young Christian communities to follow the teachings of Christ: ‘Live in harmony with one another…and if possible, as far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.’
We pray for the victims of the terror attacks in Christchurch. We pray for the perpetrators. We pray for all victims of hate crimes in this world. And we pray for ourselves, that we may be witnesses in word and deed of God’s love for the world.
Kyrie eleison – God, have mercy.