Note: I did not write the following sermon. Our seminarian at St. Philip’s, Ginny, Wilder, from Virginia Theological Seminary, preached this very fine sermon this morning. In fact, she preached it better than I would have today–despite the fact that I had been wrestling with this issue all week long, in much the same way as she has, during my devotional morning time.
On Ginny’s final Sunday with us before summer break, she hit this one out of the park. We are blessed to have her among us at St. Philip’s:
On that same day two people were waiting on the platform for the Metro in order to ride into the City of Washington DC, about seven miles from Alexandria, Virginia and each was talking with the other about the event that had taken place. While they were busy discussing this news a stranger came up to them and said, “What are you talking about?”
They stood still looking at the stranger and asked, “Are you the only Stranger in Alexandria who does not have access to CNN, the internet or Facebook??” The stranger replied, “What news are you speaking about?” One of the companions said to the stranger, “The news is all over every major form of media- How can you not know that Osama bin Laden has been killed? He was an evil man, responsible for the tragedy of 9/11 and the 3000 deaths that took place at the World Trade Center, at the Pentagon, in the air plane crashes and has continued to wage war on us through Al qaeda. He was a terrorist, an evil man whose main goal was the demise of our country, our pride, our freedom. We’ve been after him for years and now he is dead, shot through the eye and dead, gone, good riddance. We have been hoping for this day, a chance to redeem America- the United States of America.”
The stranger spoke to them and said, “Why is his death a good thing? Is he not a child of God? Is he not your neighbor?” And after he said this he began with Moses and all the prophets. He interpreted to them things about himself in all the scriptures. After departing from the Metro Station and walking towards the White House where a large crowd was gathered, the stranger walked ahead of them. The two companions from Alexandria asked him to stay with them, to gather with them at the White House and the stranger said come with me, I am hungry. Let’s get something to eat. The three made it to a restaurant nearby. A bread basket was placed on the table and the bottle of wine opened. The stranger took the bread from the basket, blessed it and broke it and gave it to the two companions. In that moment the eyes of the traveling companions were opened and they recognized the stranger for who he was- Jesus. Our Savior. The Son of God. The one who died, was buried and rose again. The man who died once for all of us. The one who told us to love our enemies. Gone. Disappeared. Vanished.
One companion says to the other, “Were not our hearts and minds warmed? Were not our souls quieted while he spoke? We should go tell others what has happened.”
It was about 10:30pm on the 8th day of this resurrection season when I began to see postings on Facebook about the death of Osama bin Laden. I have close to 600 friends on Facebook- people from various backgrounds, upbringings, political stances, religious beliefs and the variety of postings reflected this in one beautiful human tapestry. There were joyous shouts, great thanksgivings for our armed forces, courageous exclamations about our president, fear of what might happen next while other postings declaring they could not share in the celebration of a person’s death while other postings mentioned a continued prayer for peace.
I was, for the first time in my life, grateful for the death of a person. Now I have prayed for peace and quick death for people who have suffered long term illness or who were in great pain but this was the first time I had ever actively thought to myself, “I’m glad he’s gone.” How do I justify that? How do I make peace in my understanding of Christianity? How do I look at our great teacher who died for all of us and still be glad that this evil man is dead? Is this justice? Is this mercy?
Now, I will not stand here and say, “This is how you do that. This is how you justify that thought.” I don’t have the answers. I don’t know if I will ever have an answer to this theological dilemma. I am still trying to figure out where I am on this Road to Emmaus. It just seems so strange to me to be rejoicing in the resurrection of Christ- of Christ overcoming death and in the same breath, the same heartbeat to feel a different kind of rejoicing that an evil man has been dealt with in a way that brings a sense of permanency with it. The man is dead. Shot through the eye. Buried at sea. Gone.
I will admit that in a few minutes, the joy I felt about the death of bin Laden soon gave way to guilt, uncertainty and grief. A deep solemn sadness set in. So, I went looking for some help- some help to figure out how to feel about this- or at least try to put these feelings into words. Some of these statements were posted on the internet: There is the prayer for our enemies found on page 816 in the Book of Common Prayer that reads: “O God, the Father of all, whose Son commanded us to love our enemies: Lead them and us from prejudice to truth: deliver them and us from hatred, cruelty, and revenge; and in your good time enable us all to stand reconciled before you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
Or this one:
“Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” From The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s speech, “Strength to Love” delivered in 1963.
At one moment we grieve the loss of life- the countless lives ended too soon at the hands of this one man. It is clear that the only way to rid the world of his evil was to do exactly what happened- end his life. We give thanks for the bravery of our service men and women who have continuously risked their lives to protect our freedom. And now, let us use this time as a time of reflection. How best to move forward and embrace the peace of Christ that our souls yearn for. We cannot be the hands and feet of Christ if we are gloating, boasting and creating divisions of Us, Us, Us and them, them, them. Because, as Jesus taught the two companions on the road to Emmaus- life is so much more than this present moment. Life is so much more than fear. The gift of Life is so much more than creating divisions.
We have a chance to move forward extending our hands in love and in peace. Whether you are glad Osama is dead or not, we must use this opportunity to be the body of Christ- to be like the one revealed to us in the breaking of the bread. The one who said when he appeared to his disciples in that locked upstairs room “Peace be with you. My own peace I leave with you.”
On Monday morning of this week, I attended our noonday Eucharist at school and in the prayers of the people we actively prayed for the repose of the soul of Osama bin Laden. At the Offertory, we sang “He’s got the whole world in his hands.” I wept. I wept while singing this song I have known since my childhood because I wanted nothing more in that moment than to feel the comfort of being held in the loving hands of our creator. I wanted the peace that passes all understanding coursing through my soul, mind and heart. And I wanted to believe that the “Whole World” meant exactly that- “He’s got you and me brother, in his hands. He’s got you and me sister, in his hands. He’s got you and me together in his hands- he’s got the whole world in his hands.”
Regardless of where you are in the world. Regardless of what you do for a living. Regardless of how you pray- God has the whole world in his hands.
Our Liturgy continued and we were using the Eucharistic Prayer 1 from Enriching our Worship. These words struck me:
“Blessed are you, gracious God, creator of the universe and giver of life. You formed us in your own image and called us to dwell in your infinite love. You gave the world into our care that we might be your faithful stewards and show forth your bountiful grace.
But we failed to honor your image in one another and in ourselves; we would not see your goodness in the world around us; and so we violated your creation, abused one another, and rejected your love. Yet you never ceased to care for us, and prepared the way of salvation for all people.”
Somehow, some way, this road to Emmaus for me includes figuring out how to include an evil human like bin Laden into that phrase of “salvation for all people”. I’m still walking on this road- but I don’t believe I am alone in this journey. Amen.
© Ginny Wilder
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