Moment of silence for the 17 lives lost in the tragic and senseless violence in Parkland Florida last Wednesday.
The irony is not lost on us, I am sure, that Valentine’s Day, the day when we celebrate love, will now only be remembered as a day of hate and violence to those who lost someone they loved. And the coincidence of this massacre occurring on Ash Wednesday compels us to reflect on how we spend this Lent, this year.
Just about the time that many of us were gathering right here on Wednesday afternoon for our Word Service, the shooter was entering Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. And shortly after that, a teacher, two coaches and 14 students had been taken from this life. And while panicked students texted their parents, or fled in terror from the school, I was signing foreheads with ashes and saying, “Repent and believe in the Good News”.
Could our need for repentance be any clearer to us? As long as we see all of the evil in the world as something that happens “over there” or is perpetrated by “others” we will not see our role in it, we will avoid having to ask for forgiveness, we will refuse to see our need to repent.
Jesus’ call to repent means that we have to have a “change of mind”, we have to re-think what we have assumed that we know, we have to earnestly plead to God like the psalmist says, “Teach me your ways, O Lord!”
We need to repent and re-turn to God’s ways and God’s direction. We need to repent of our habit of not paying attention and only seeing what concerns us directly. We need to confront the evil we see and not be afraid – to rely on God’s strength to deal with what we see before us.
Pope Francis once said that, “No evil is infinite, no night is without end, no hatred is stronger than love.” Jesus faced the wilderness and the wild beasts, and came out declaring the time of fulfillment. He heard about JBap’s arrest and knew the consequences for himself, and still declared the reign of God. He faced being tested by Satan, and called for belief in the Good News!
Rabbi Abraham Heschel wrote a book on the prophets, and he pointed out that when the prophets spoke of the need for repentance, they spoke to everyone, from the king on down to the lowliest peasant. As Rabbi Heschel pointed out, when the covenant is broken, “few are guilty, but all are responsible”.
We are responsible when we see a tragedy like Parkland and say that it is too complicated to really do anything about it. We are responsible when we shrug our shoulders and chalk it up to how things are in the world. We are responsible when we don’t raise our voices in pain, and in frustration, and even in anger.
The “Good News” is that Christ has won the battle; as the letter from Peter says, he has suffered for sins once…the righteous for the sake of the unrighteous, that he might lead you to God..
Lent is the beginning of a change in the rest of our lives – to make a difference in ourselves that will last way beyond Easter Sunday. Our opportunity to repent this Lent is to open ourselves up to God’s work within us, to stand in Jesus’ name against the power of evil, and to challenge ourselves by asking: WHEN?
When will we not be so indifferent to suffering?
When will we be uncompromisingly impatient with cruelty and falsehood?
When will be adamantly concerned for the dignity of every person?
When will we choose love over fear?
When will we choose the common good over our own self-interest?
When will we choose life over death?