From noon until three in the afternoon the whole earth was dark. At three, Jesus cried out with a loud shout, “Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani,” which means, “My God, my God, why have you left me?” —Mark 15:33–34 CEB
Of all the images that were broadcast during the coverage immediately after the bombing in Boston, there was one that immediately became seared into my consciousness. It was not the bright flash of the bomb going off, or the crowds running in panic, or even the shouts of the runners and bystanders as they ran away from—or the first responders as they ran toward—the site of the explosions. No, it was an image of a woman kneeling on the ground, hands pointed upward and pressed together in prayer, eyes wide open, praying—no, pleading—to God for relief. The image lasted only a couple of seconds but you could see the anguish on her face. And without being able to hear her, the plain meaning of her prayer was evident: Do something, O God. Please, O God, help us!
I know that gesture. I have made that gesture. I have prayed that prayer. And I have heard the same terrible silence in reply. The anguish of a pleading prayer in the midst of pain and heartbreak. Willing God to respond with every last fiber of one’s being. A day that is dedicated to celebrating freedom and an indomitable New England spirit, a day on which the nations gather to celebrate human accomplishment and the spirit of athletics through a world-famous marathon, a day known for a festival atmosphere—that such a day should be marred by a senseless act of violence sends us reeling. That at that same marathon were runners running in the memory of those young innocents gunned down a few months earlier in another senseless tragedy.
In my line of work, whenever I am confronted by a tragedy of this order, I sometimes feel like a PR representative for a disreputable company. Like I’m supposed to stand up here and tell you that in spite of what you may have heard or seen, everything is really just fine. That I am supposed to say words that will make this all better.
But I’m not going to do that. Everything is not fine. And I have no magic words that make this all better. The world is a very broken place, beset by violence and hatred, ignorance and fear. Where innocent people suffer at the hands of senseless brutality and mindless hate.
In the verses from Mark’s gospel that begin this post, we hear Jesus’ last words on the cross crying out in anguish: “My God, my God, why have you left me?” Why have you abandoned me? Forsaken me? From a Christian perspective, understanding these words of Jesus helps us to remember that when we are feeling forsaken, when we feel as if the world is crushing us and God is very far away, we are are sharing in the experience of Christ. And there are profound implications for that. For what that means is that God’s own son should know the alienation and forsakenness that we feel, and in that knowing, in that experiencing there is a powerful declaration of solidarity with us. Paradoxically, we come to understand that in that alienation we experience God’s presence in a powerful way. God is not removed from the suffering. God is in the suffering. God declares solidarity with us through the cross in all the ways we experience brokenness.
On Tuesday afternoon, I heard a remarkable thing: during their evening game in the Bronx, the New York Yankees were going to play Sweet Caroline between innings. For the past decade that song had become a staple during the middle of the eighth inning at Fenway Park in Boston, becoming a ritual that had all the appearance of an ancient tradition. That the New York Yankees, the Boston Red Sox’ most bitter rivals, should choose to sing this song so emblematic of Red Sox baseball and Red Sox fans, is a stunning declaration of solidarity. I am a life-long Red Sox fan and hating the Yankees comes with the territory. But hearing this news brought tears to my eyes. Seeing pictures appearing around New York (and even in Yankee stadium) of slogans like “NY ♥ B” where the ‘B’ is the ‘B’ of the Red Sox’ caps (see image at right) is likewise heartwarming. I was reminded of my own softening of heart for the Yankees in the weeks following September 11th, when I as a Sox fan, actually felt my self rooting for the Yankees to do well, to bring some joy to the hearts of a grieving New York. And now New York has returned the favor. And it is a sign of the Kingdom of God.
For in solidarity is our salvation. Just as God, through Christ, stands with us even in the deepest pits of despair and even unto death, so too are we called to stand with one another in our times not only of celebration but in times of despair and anguish. We need not pretend that everything is all right. We need not come up with any magic words. But when we stand with one another, when we make that declaration of solidarity with one another, we get a glimpse of the Kingdom of God, and we draw very near to the heart of God.