In these tumultuous days, so many people are grieving. And for them, the skies above are dark, starless, devoid of any promise of hope.
In California, wildfires that are still burning have been called “the greatest tragedy that California has ever faced.” At least 40 people have died and more than 200 people are missing. An estimated 217,000 acres have burned, more than 5,700 structures have been destroyed, and approximately 75,000 people have been evacuated. Evacuees are returning home to a heartbreaking new reality.
The Las Vegas mass shooting reminded us that any community, any event, any neighborhood can become a place of grave danger.
In the September earthquake in Mexico, 255 people died. More than 44 buildings were completely destroyed and another 3,000 were severely damaged, forcing thousands of people to evacuate and leaving countless more mourning their tragic losses.
The 2017 hurricane season has been catastrophic. Hurricane Harvey killed 75 people, mostly in Texas, while Irma killed 87 people in the U.S. and its territories. As of yesterday, 48 people have died in Puerto Rico as Hurricane Maria left so many people without shelter, clean water, electricity or hope.
At least 500 people are believed to have been killed or seriously injured in Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, in one of the most lethal terrorist acts anywhere in the world for many years. The death toll from yesterday’s attack, which was caused by a truck packed with several hundred pounds of explosives, stood at 276 today as more bodies are removed from the rubble spread over an area hundreds of miles wide.
Perhaps some people feel abandoned by God, lost in their grief, not knowing where to turn. Perhaps some people look upward to find comfort and find instead a starless sky that speaks only of sadness and loss. Words of consolation seem empty. Sermons are never enough comfort. Sometimes prayers are not enough either. And yet our faith offers us the image of one who comforts and who understands our deepest sorrows. This comforting presence is beautifully portrayed in the poetry of Ann Weems. These are her words.
In the quiet times this image comes to me: Jesus weeping.
and in his weeping,
he joined himself forever to those who mourn.
He stands now throughout all time, this Jesus weeping,
with his arms about the weeping ones:
‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.’
He stands with the mourners, for his name is God-with-us.
‘Blessed are those who weep, for they shall be comforted.’
Someday. Someday God will wipe the tears from Rachel’s eyes.
In the godforsaken, obscene quicksand of life,
there is a deafening alleluia rising from the souls of those who weep,
and of those who weep with those who weep.
If you watch, you will see the hand of God
putting the stars back in their skies
one by one.
– From Psalms of Lament, Ann Weems
If we have anything at all to share with the thousands of our brothers and sisters who mourn today, it is this image of a weeping Christ who “was acquainted with grief” and who always — always — puts the stars back in our darkened skies, one by one. That is hope. Amen.