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This Week's Sermon !

April 15, 2018, - Easter 3

1 John 3: 1-7
Psalm 4
Luke 24: 36b - 48

Seen in the Wounds

Even though it has only been two weeks, Easter Sunday seems like it was a great deal longer ago than that. So much seems to have changed in the past nine days.

It is not an exaggeration to say that our entire country has been in shock and mourning since the news of the bus accident near the town of Tisdale, Saskatchewan, travelled from coast to coast to coast.

As we all know, around 5 pm CST on Friday April 6, near Tisdale, a tractor trailer loaded with peat moss collided with a bus carrying 29 people headed for a hockey game in Nipawan. With the death, in hospital, of the team’s athletic therapist, the death toll has risen to 16 and several players are still in critical condition.

Many of us watched the coverage for hours, constantly or flipped back to it again and again as last weekend wore on. It was just so horrific, so unbelievable, and somehow even though Saskatchewan is hardly next door, it hit us all so very close to home.

Most of the dead and injured were young men, boys really. They were HOCKEY players!

Only a few years ago, my youngest nephew was playing in the “Q,” (the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League) living with a billet family, spending hours on a bus travelling to “away games”, dreaming along with most of his team-mates that all of this could, possibly, some day, maybe, with a lot of hard work and a little bit of luck, lead to a spot in the NHL. Along the way he was making great friends, seeing lots of new places, doing what he loved to do and trying not to spend too much time in the penalty box or end up with another broken limb!

Almost everyone in Canada has a connection with hockey. If it’s not our own family, we all know a family that has kids in hockey.

How many times have we come across an entire team of noisy, chattering, exuberant kids in a local restaurant and wished for their energy and enthusiasm or the patience of coaches and parent chaperones!

Our dedication to hockey is more sobering since last Friday. Our worst fears have been realized. We have changed - because tragedy has struck - and it is almost as if - as if these members of the 2017-2018 Broncos were our family.

Times like this shake us to our core. They shake our assumptions about the world being a safe place. In this instance, we fear for our own young people travelling on busses and want to keep them safe by keeping them home; but we know that this is not possible.

We want to do SOMETHING! It’s too far to send a bag or rolls and a pan of lasagna! I have send my condolences to the United Church minister in Humboldt whose congregation lost one young member, Brody Hinz, the team’s statistician who was also one of their Sunday School teachers. The West Hants Ministerial, has sent its condolences through the ministerial in Humboldt, to a town in mourning from the town “where hockey began”.

The last time I checked, yesterday afternoon, the GoFundMe campaign has seen over 11,329,500 donated to help the players injured and the families of those who have died. Tim Hortons is selling donuts with yellow and green sprinkles on Thursday in Hantsport couldn’t make them fast enough. The Chronicle Herald has promised to donate all profits from the sale of Wednesday’s poignant political Cartoon to the GoFundMe campaign.

Across the country people have put out hockey sticks of every size and quality - to remember those who lost their lives. On Thursday people wore hockey jerseys to work - (and in some cases even very expensive “collector’s item” jerseys that they never intended to wear!)

And, of course, all of Canada asks why? It’s not just the kind of “why” being asked by the RCMP, the Saskatchewan Ministry of Highways and Infrastructure and the provincial auto insurance corporation. It’s a much, much deeper “why” than that!

At the end of the day, the reality is that there is no real “answer” to that, “Why?” There is no answer that really satisfies that deep sense of loss and emptiness.

What I WILL say, without any hesitation whatsoever, is “It was not in God’s plan”. “The crash that has taken 16 lives was NOT the will of God.” God does not need more hockey players in heaven! It may turn out to be a true accident. It may turn out to be the fault of one of the drivers. But, to group this with other tragic events, I will say that God does not crash buses or planes. God does not cause teenagers to shoot other teenagers. God does not will tragedy and death and destruction. God did not cause this to TEACH anyone, anything.


Where IS God then, in the midst of such tragedy? A number of years ago, The Rev William Sloane Coffin, minister of Riverside Church, in New York City, lost his 24 year old son Alex when his car left the road and crashed into the harbour in Boston. Ten days later, preaching from his own pulpit, he said, “My own consolation lies in knowing that it was not the will of God that Alex die; that when the waves closed over the sinking car, God's heart was the first of all our hearts to break.”

The Christian message, the message of the incarnation, is that God not only shares our joys, but also, in times like this, weeps with us, walks with us in our pain, and holds us as we cry.

As I was reflecting on the tragedy I thought of a line in a song written by the Common Cup Company, that goes like this: “Love has no moments harder than this. No times when we are closer to meaning’s abyss.”

Our Christian faith proclaims that we are not alone, even in this most unthinkable of situations.

We know that no one set out last Friday to kill half a hockey team. We turn on the tv and newscasts are filled with stories of violent deaths that were indeed, in some way or other, deliberately caused, and we also ask, “Why?” We ask, “How can such evil exist?” Or “What would cause someone to do something like that?” Why does God allow these things to happen?

We may be living with other difficulties such as illness or family conflict and ask, “Why?”

We come to this event, to these many events, as Christians, in the season of Easter and wondering if Easter has anything meaningful to say in this kind of situation. Can Easter give us answers to very real-life problems such as this?

Today you heard one of the “resurrection appearance” stories. The disciples had gathered together in fear and bewilderment. They were, no doubt, asking, “Why? What had Jesus done to anyone except to help them? He did not deserve this. Were they going to be next? That’s what the Roman Empire was good at; rounding up the friends of the people they killed to make sure the others knew they meant business!

In this story Jesus appears among them, but if we are not reminded, we sometimes don’t really notice that he has not appeared, “all in halos” and “surreal glowing light”, but in his very human hunger and his wounded-ness. Like a hungry hockey player, between a practice and a game, Jesus asks, “Have you got anything to eat?” We still see the scars from the last time he had to go to the dressing room for stitches!

Even after his resurrection he was able to relate in every way to the human condition. Yet he was also able to proclaim the power of God’s healing presence even in the midst of the worst possible devastation.

I believe that all too often we want easy answers, we want to offer easy answers. Sometimes we feel that if we had “more faith” the answers would be easier, our way through that dark valley, less painful. We feel that our faith should help us to feel “better”, and “strong and full of faith.”

Yet, I think that this is a misunderstanding about what faith is about. It is not about taking away our pain and our very human struggles but it is about having someone to accompany us on the way. If you are familiar with the story of the walk to Emmaus, another of those resurrection appearance stories, you will see that Jesus came among a group of his followers shared their fears, sorrow and disappointments. They finally recognized him in the breaking of the bread.

When we are staring into the abyss at a grave-side, or at our TV screen showing the mangled remains of a tour bus, we come face to face with the power of overwhelming loss.

When the disciples looked at the power of the military might of Rome they were meant to quake in their boots, but Jesus life, death and resurrection, said something quite different to them. It said to that power, to all the powers of sin and death and darkness and sorrow, “you will not win” God is a God of life, love and hope.”

The power of right, justice, and love, the power of God, will not let these other things win. God has other plans. When Jesus appeared to the disciples this was God’s proclamation that the way of love would win out BUT it was not a proclamation that sin, suffering and death were never going to be present in the world.

In the aftermath of the Humboldt tragedy a local church and the rink were opened so that people could gather - even if the people who came just wanted to sit by themselves, in silence.

There was comfort in being together and sharing their pain together - there was comfort in knowing that others were also in mourning. There was comfort in knowing that almost every Canadian cried with them and wanted to help in meaningful ways.

The Humbolt event reminds us that we are a broken people. As humans we are all finite, frail, and vulnerable people. There are no true quick fixes that are truly fixes but, as Christians, we are a people who do not walk the lonely path from wounding to healing alone.

There is comfort in the food that arrives in the days after a loved one has died. There is comfort in the gifts to charity. There is comfort in the offers of practical help.

Yet, we need to avoid one temptation! There is a tendency in humans to want to rush to too quick a resolution - it’s hard to walk with someone else down that lonely road . We want to say to someone in grief: “There, there don’t cry, it will be OK.” What we need is someone, or several someones, who say and mean it when they say, “I’m in it with you for the long haul, no matter how long it takes.”

In times like this we are accompanied by the community of faith; in times like this we are the community who accompanies others. We are the a community of those whose lives are lived following the one who walks on wounded feet, reaches out with wounded hands and loves us with the love of a heart that has known deep wounding and betrayal. We are accompanied by the one who transforms and gifts us with abundant life.

As a community of faith this is our promise and our commission.

I wish to close with a verse and chorus of a hymn that has been very meaningful to me in a time of tragic loss. The title is, “Be Not Afraid.”

Be not afraid.

I go before you always.

Come follow me, and

I will give you rest.

If you pass through raging waters in the sea, you shall not drown.

If you walk amid the burning flames, you shall not be harmed.

If you stand before the pow'r of hell and death is at your side,

know that I am with you through it all.


1995- 2018 The Rev. Beth W. Johnston.

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