It’s been a very long week. How many different emotions we have experienced, from the shock and horror of the bombings on Monday, the profound sadness and grief for those who lost their lives or were so terribly injured, to the growing anxiety as the police identified the two suspects, and then the days of tracking them down, culminating in the weird, almost surreal experience of Friday’s lockdown of the city, and the final relief when the second suspect was arrested on Friday night.
You will each have your own thoughts and experiences of Friday: being locked down, unable to go out. What I remember most vividly was having to lock the door of the Chapel. And then all though the day, the Brothers and our guests worshipping here together, with the door locked – and always just audible from outside, the eerie, unsettling sound of sirens.
I thought of those disciples, after the terrible, violent experience of seeing their dear Jesus crucified, how they gathered together in lockdown – shocked, anxious, they stayed off the streets, stayed indoors. “The doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear.”(Jn 20:19)
All of us who live in this city probably felt some fear, some anxiety on Friday: a sense of uncertainty, vulnerability. Thinking perhaps of what we had seen – the pictures of the bombings on the TV shown over and over again. And probably the disciples kept describing again and again to each other what they had seen – the scene on Calvary: his words from the cross, his final giving up of the spirit.
Violence is such a terrible thing. It can tear and break and shatter not only individuals but whole communities. As we remember those who were murdered this week in Boston, and hold them in our prayers, so we remember all those whose lives have been shattered by violence during this last year. Individuals and whole communities, in places such as Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, but also in Wisconsin, Colorado, Arizona, Connecticut – and even closer to home, the senseless murder of children and teenagers here in Boston, in Lynn, Brockton, New Bedford. The violence which is everywhere in our country profoundly touches all of us.
In some of these places, lockdown is a daily experience: places where at night, and even in the day, you lock your doors and don’t go out. Violence can kill individuals, but it can also deaden whole communities where fear locks down their spirits, and imprisons their hopes and dreams. That is especially tragic for those who are young.
Our Gospel reading for today from the Gospel of John is unsettling, full of menace: redolent of approaching violence. Throughout John’s Gospel there is a succession of confrontations between Jesus and the religious authorities. These confrontations take place, symbolically, at a succession of Jewish festivals. At the climax of each confrontation, there is anger and stones are picked up to throw at Jesus. He escapes each time, but there is a growing sense that they will eventually get him, as they make their plans to put him to death.
Today’s reading describes the confrontation which took place at the festival of the Dedication. By now, the level of impending violence and hatred is very high, and John, with consummate skill, simply and laconically states: “It was winter.” Jesus was walking up and down in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. They were waiting for him. John says, “They gathered around him” – like a gang. ‘Are you the blessed?’ one says. ‘You’re a blasphemer,’ says another. ‘We’re going to stone you,’ says another.
How frightening it must have been for Jesus. But Jesus looked deep within them – and saw their wintry, frozen hearts, which froze out God’s love. His voice could not penetrate the hardness of their hearts. And with great courage, Jesus confronts them with a highly provocative word of truth: “You do not believe because you do not belong to my sheep. My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. No one will snatch them out of my hand.”
“No one will snatch them.” The verb used is the one used for wolves, who creep up and snatch a vulnerable sheep. But the good shepherd is always looking out for his sheep, and they are always listening to his voice, for they know and trust his voice, to guide them and lead them.
That seems to me to be a powerful metaphor for so much of the violence that is happening in our nation, especially among young people. What is happening when mainly young men are shooting people dead in schools, in movie theaters, in our inner cities, on Boylston Street.
What voices are they listening to? Jesus says, ‘I am the Good Shepherd and my sheep hear my voice.’
But there are many, many other voices, loud, strident, persuasive voices in our society. Voices of violence. And these voices can snatch our young people, like a wolf. Violence in our movies, violent games and websites all over the internet. Gun laws in this country which are so lax, but for political reasons, scandalously cannot be reformed. Violent voices, violent organizations, which grow and flourish and take root especially where there is little family support, unemployment, poor education. With these voices of violence so loud, it is our responsibility as Christians to stand up in Jesus’ name and speak with his voice of peace.
When I was ordained a priest these words were spoken to me by the bishop. I think they are true for each one of us who are called to live the way of Jesus.
“You are called to be servants and shepherds among the people to whom you are sent. You are to tell the story of God’s love. You are to search for his children in the wilderness of the world’s temptations, and to guide them through its confusions, that they may be saved through Christ forever.”
These words have always been close to my heart. They say to me now, “How are we being asked to actively face up to the voices of violence in our land, and witness to Jesus’ voice of peace, in our cities and beyond?”
In September 2012, 19 year old Jorge Fuentes was murdered while walking his dog outside his home in Dorchester. He was a remarkable young man, an active and beloved member of St. Stephen’s and St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Boston. Since then, our diocese has been committed to taking meaningful action to alleviating some of the root causes of violence in our communities.
I encourage you to find out more about this, to visit the diocesan website www.diomass.org where there are many suggestions, challenges and invitations to take part in this response to violence. For example, on Sunday, May 12, there is to be a Mothers’ Day walk for Peace in Dorchester. One of many opportunities to say NO to violence. Underpinning it all, is a call to pray – pray for peace, for an end to the violence which destroys lives and communities.
When Jesus set his face to Jerusalem on that final journey, for that final confrontation, on that final Jewish festival of Passover, he walked right into the heart of darkness. The voices of violence surrounded him on every side. “Crucify him, crucify him!” But in the midst of the violence and terror, Jesus’ gentle voice, the voice of the Good Shepherd, spoke: “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
We who love Jesus are called to speak courageously with Jesus’ voice, to bring hope and peace to places filled with violence and hopelessness. What part will you play?
The voices of violence may seem loud and overwhelming, but we are a resurrection people. “Fear not,” says Jesus, “for I have overcome the world.”
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