News travels fast., they say, and bad news travels really fast; and these days, not only are the difficult events themselves news, but so are all the yearly anniversaries. They show up regularly in newspapers and on-line news sites. And our own personal histories get replayed randomly on Facebook, as the algorithm pops up that says: Here are your memories from one year ago today, with a little border around the photo you shared last year at this time, askng if you would like to share it again.
This weekend is one of those anniversaries; it’s been three years since the bombing at the Boston Marathon, and there has been much talk about who is running he race this year, what the security will be like, and interviews with people who were there on the day.
There was a quotation that surfaced in the hours after the bombing that seemed to give many people solace and encouragement; it was from Fred Rogers, of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood fame. Many people know he was a pioneer in quality children’s television; you may not know that he was a faithful Christian and an ordained Presbyterian minister. The quote was something he often told children on his TV show about times when he was a boy and would see scary things on the news: "My mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.' To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother's words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers — so many caring people in this world."
And, of course, right after the Boston bombings the news showed multiple pictures and video clips of people – whether bystanders or staff on duty – running toward the sound of the explosions; they were nurses, doctors, police, EMTs, fire-fighters…. anyone who thought they could be of service in an emergency. So many people do respond when’s there’s a tragedy – in the moments and hours after the event, and sometimes in the days and even weeks following. There seems to be a basic human response to want to help, to do something, an impulse towards empathy, exactly what Fred Rogers was talking about.
But what happens when the incident is not something so public, where the victims are merely innocent bystanders and everyone wants to help? What if it is the tragedy of addiction, or divorce, or losing a job, or having a very public fall from grace and loss of face, or being diagnosed with a debilitative condition? That is often much harder, and it goes on for a long time – moving past the point of first aid or what a first responder can do; people tend to move away from the crisis, and stay away, feeling they don’t know what to say or do, or they get worn out when they can’t improve or change the actual situation.
Our first Scripture reading today was from the Book of Acts, as it always is during the Easter season; we hear the stories of the formation of the earliest Church, those first Christian communities who gathered together in the light of the Resurrection and the power of the Holy Spirit.
There was a Jewish Christian community in the town of Joppa, on the Mediterranean coast of Judea, and a woman named Tabitha was part of that community. She seems to have been a skilled and creative seamstress, and was known for her generosity to the poor and for her many good works. Tabitha died – we don’t know how or why – and in their grief, the disciples at Joppa sent to the town of Lydda (eleven miles away) where they knew Peter was visiting. We don’t know what they expected of Peter, but they wanted his presence and strength; they wanted to honor Tabitha’s life and to draw comfort through being together.
And then God, through Peter’s faith and prayer, restored Tabitha to life; Peter showed up for their grief and distress, and God worked through that presence and compassion and faith, and made a way for life where there had previously been no way. And that is a very large part of what it means to be part of Christian community, a community of faith in Christ, followers of Jesus walking together in his Way.
When there is a tragedy, a challenge, a concern, the whole community rallies around (or at least large parts of it) in one way or another – even if we don’t know the person - with meals, rides, prayer (lots of prayer), a listening ear, companionship, perhaps advocacy when it’s needed, a ministry of presence. I think most of you know that kind of work and care is not easy.
When I was doing chaplaincy training, as all Episcopal clergy do, my supervisor told us that if we were called to the emergency room, or some other difficult and painful situation, and we felt at a loss for words – our response was just about right. Because so much of care for one another in difficulty is about presence, about just showing up, not leaving the person or the family alone; we walk through the difficulty with them because that’s what Jesus does, and in those times and places, we are there on Christ’s behalf, being the human hands and face of God, a conduit for the Holy Spirit. The Christian community – our community – is at its best when we remember this, when we move towards one another, towards pain and hurt and sadness and brokenness, and don’t let ourselves be immobilized and separated by it.
This morning we are having a baptism: Tyler Edward Schroeder; and in a few minutes Tyler’s parents and godparents will make promises on his behalf to live his life as a follower of Jesus, to receive the love and grace of God – a gift through and through. And we, all of the rest of us, will promise to support Tyler in his life in Christ, to be that community that gathers in good times and in bad, that looks beyond our own daily concerns and pressures to “seek and serve Christ in all persons”, as our Baptismal covenant says.
This afternoon at our diocesan cathedral in Newark, five of our parish teens will be Confirmed: Julia Celeste, Max Kosempel, Kenzie McNulty, Logan McNulty, and Sarah Sullivan. They will be making a more mature affirmation of the faith to which they were given in baptism. As they kneel before the bishop, and he lays his hands on their heads and prays for them, they will be responding to the grace given them in baptism, claiming for themselves a path through life, a commitment to the way of faith in Jesus.
And all those gathered in the Cathedral this afternoon from many different parts of our diocesan church family, and those of us who gather next week to celebrate these newly Confirmed, will again offer our love and prayers and support for them as they continue to live their life in Christ every day. Because that is what we do as Christians: we show up for one another, and for others outside our community of faith who need us.
We gather because, as Jesus said, whenever two or three are gathered together, I am in the midst of you; our being together in faith and prayer and witness and service provides an opening and a way for God – perhaps a way that was even closed off when we were isolated and alone.
Our baptism calls us to make Jesus’ character the model for our own character, and in Confirmation we reaffirm this. We are here because we are committed to following Jesus – however well or badly we currently do that – and to get better at it, so that it becomes the core of our being, individually and collectively.
Our faith is always lived and expressed and experienced best in community, the Body of Christ; we are not alone, we have God and we have each other. And for that, we give great and heartfelt thanks.
Let us pray.
Dear Lord, thank you for calling us to be you People, your Body, your community. In this Easter season, help us to renew our faith and our living of it, that we may reflect your joy and hope into the world. May we always be people who run to the service of others in need. In Jesus’ Name we pray. Amen.