You have loved them

Seventh Sunday of Easter: Acts 16:16-34; Psalm 97; Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21; John 17:20-26

We face this week remembering the 19 children and 2 teachers who died in a school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, as well as the 10 who were killed at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York two weeks ago. Their families are in our hearts and prayers. Each time the news tells us of another mass shooting, my heart breaks, not only for the new victims, but those who suffered a year ago, or two, or ten or twenty. And not just the families of those who died, but the children who survived, often watching friends die. A twitter thread this week reminded me that the survivors of 1999’s Columbine massacre are now parents themselves, watching their children be trained to protect themselves from the kind of shooting they had survived.

We all hope that we do not have to face what families in Uvalde and Buffalo have faced in recent weeks. But all of us will face grief. When people die, we grieve; our grief is intensified when death is unexpected. The death of children is particularly painful, as we imagine the lives they might have led. Watching a parent grieve the death of a child is the most painful thing I have ever seen. It’s not surprising that Michelangelo’s Pietà is such a powerful sculpture.

Where does this leave us in Easter season? As we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, what do we do with our human grief when those we love and care for die? What, if anything, can today’s readings offer us? The Psalm reminds us (v. 10) that “The Lord loves those who hate evil”. It doesn’t say anything about those who are evil, but it asks us to hate evil deeds.

The story of Paul and Silas reminds us that suffering is not new. The account we read in Acts provides a graphic account of how they were beaten before being thrown into jail. The story of Paul and Silas singing in jail inspired those arrested on freedom rides and sit ins in the 1960s. It also, like so many of the passages from Acts we have read this Easter season, reminds us that the core of the Gospel, for Paul at least, was simple: “Believe on the Lord Jesus”. His jailer and his whole household are baptized immediately.

Revelation also keeps it (somewhat) simple this week: “Let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.” Jesus’ prayer in John 17 insists that “[you] have loved them even as you have loved me”.

We are not promised that nothing bad will happen to us. Certainly Paul’s life and that of the other disciples demonstrates that following Jesus was not an easy path. And grief is a part of that: John’s gospel tells us that Jesus addresses his grieving mother from the cross. There is a long tradition of art and poetry focused on Mary and her grief: we see our own pain in hers. But there is also another offer: that we are loved as God loves Jesus, and that anyone who wishes may take the water of life as a gift. There is grief, and there is God’s love. We hold on to the love to carry us through grief.

Michelangelo, Pieta (Photo by Juan Romero, CC BY-SA 4.0) https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Michelangelo%27s_Piet%C3%A0,St_Peter%27s_Basilica(1498%E2%80%9399).jpg

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