The tragic news out of Aurora, Colorado has cast a long shadow over this summer weekend. Aurora joins a sad list of places whose names have come to symbolize senseless violence and loss. Places like Columbine, and Fort Hood and Virginia Tech.
Late Friday, the bishops of Denver issued a statement. “For those who were killed, our hope is the tender mercy of our God,” they said. “‘Neither death nor life,’ reflected St. Paul, ‘can separate us from the love of God.’ For those who were wounded — physically, emotionally and spiritually — our hope is in their recovery and renewal. To them we offer our prayers, our ears to listen, and our hearts to love.”
I think they touched on something profound, and profoundly human.
Shortly after the attacks in the movie theater, a Lutheran pastor whose church was nearby dropped what he was doing and went to Gateway High School, where survivors and their families had gathered. The Rev. Michael Borgstede said victims and witnesses need a “listening ear.”
He walked over to the school, he said, to provide whatever counsel he could. “I’m just hoping to sit with them,” he said, “and pray.”
Sometimes, that’s all we can do – to be there for others.
Very often, when we suffer our own grief and loss, and find ourselves searching for answers, we are given new hope by a sympathetic ear and a friendly face and a consoling hand to hold.
We need someone to take us in when we are frightened, to comfort us when we are hurt, to help us make sense of a senseless world.
We need someone, in other words, to be Jesus.
All of which helps shed light, I think, on this Sunday’s gospel.
Trying to take a break, Jesus suggested to his apostles that they go away to a deserted spot. But they couldn’t. The crowds followed them. Not only did they follow them, they “hastened” to the other side of the Sea of Galilee and met them at the shore. The gospel presents a poignant picture of what Jesus found waiting for him:
“When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd,
his heart was moved with pity for them,
for they were like sheep without a shepherd;
and he began to teach them many things.”
I think one of the things he taught them is something we all need to be taught – especially during these troubled times. It is this: God will not refuse anyone who seeks him with a sincere heart.
He knows our anxieties. Our hurts. Our hopes. And he will not deny us what we need for our salvation.
Just as Jesus was there for the people waiting for him on the shore – people who were seeking him, wanting to be with him – so he is there for us today. In our loss. In our confusion. In our grief.
I’m reminded of that beautiful moment of the Transfiguration, when Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here.”
I can’t help but think the followers of Jesus who “hastened” to see him and hungered to hear him felt the same way. And perhaps Christ himself – sharing that moment of community, that moment of shared hope – thought the same thing, as well. Surveying the crowd as he climbed out of the boat, maybe he said to himself:
“It is good that we are here.”
And it is good this Sunday that we are here, to be reminded once again: God does not refuse those who seek Him. He is there for those who are waiting for Him.
We seek Him, and wait for Him, in so many ways. I imagine it was that way on the seashore that day. There were people who were sick. Frightened. Worried. There were those whose hearts were burning from something Christ had said. There were those seeking answers to questions maybe they couldn’t even put into words. But something compelled them to hasten to hear him.
And when he saw them, as the gospel puts it, “he began to teach them many things.”
He is still teaching us, if only we are willing to listen.
He is still available to us, if only we are willing to make the journey.
It is good that we are here today—to seek him, to talk with him, to receive him, and to carry him within us out into the world.
It is a world that is broken, and hurt, and angry. It is a world desperately in need of peace, and the Prince of Peace. This weekend, we pray for peace for all those who have been scarred by the events of Aurora – the victims, their families, and the gunman. We pray for consolation in their pain, compassion in the suffering, healing in their heartbreak.
We pray that they will remember the beautiful truth revealed to the nameless men, women and children who lined the shore of the Sea of Galilee all those centuries ago: to all who seek Him, all who wait for Him, all who hope for Him…God will never say no.