Earlier this past week, I suppose– like most of you– I was fixated on pancakes and Ash Wednesday. I found it jarring and distressing to come home Wednesday evening to learn that there had been another school shooting. This time Parkland Florida.
One reaction was, “Thank God it wasn’t here.” But then again, it very nearly happened here a few years ago, and it is only a matter of time before it happens again. Why should we be different than anywhere else? After all, Wellsboro has troubled youth just the same as anywhere else.
But the other reaction I had was even more troubling. It is another school shooting. They say Parkland, Florida was the 18th thus far this year in a year that is some 45 or 50 days old. It’s just another one. That disturbed me even more.
How long before we become entirely desensitized to such events? “It didn’t affect me.” Been there, seen it, done it. Heard it already. How long before we as a culture become totally indifferent to it?
I know that there are no simple answers, and that people seemingly have a great deal of difficulty listening to long-winded, complicated explanations for which we have no patience. And so we line up on sides of the issue: those for Second Amendment rights, and those who opine that those Second Amendment rights need to be curtailed. There are those who suggest that there be more stringent background checks.
But as they say in the investment business, “past performance is not an indicator of future performance.” The complicated answer would have to include our culture’s endemic fascination with violence, and it would also have to include indices of good mental health. Because individuals and societies who solve their problems (and persist in solving their problems) with violence or with drugs are not exhibiting indices of good mental health.
A component of good mental health is spiritual health. Here again we have a Gospel that seems familiar. We’ve heard about the Baptism of our Lord in Advent, and in Epiphany, and again this week for the 1st Sunday of Lent. It is a lesson that we’ve heard, except that this week we’ve the added detail that as a consequence of his baptism, Jesus was driven into the wilderness to wrestle with demons.
Does that resonate? For our very culture is in the wilderness, and wrestles with demons at this present hour.
Jesus overcame temptation by confronting the devil. Will we be able to do the same? Will we find the grace of God in the midst of all the brokenness that surrounds us on every side?
In the last analysis, Ash Wednesday is not about the personal dynamic of sin. We, of course, have made it very self-centered as though it is strictly about us and how we fall short as individuals. But there is a corporate dimension to Ash Wednesday and to the general confession of sin. There is a corporate dimension to the penitence of Lent. When you and I enter into it, we shed tears for the whole human condition. We shed tears that ours is a culture in which today there is a youth in our community who will try to find happiness by sticking a needle in his arm, her arm. We shed tears that there a youth out there somewhere whose mental estate is such that he takes a gun in his hand and dreams of settling a score. We shed streams of tears that as a culture we have not done well modeling the good, and showing the compelling nature of grace.
Benjamin Bedomme was a well-known minister of the Gospel who lived in the 1700’s. He was renowned for his preaching and for his hymn-writing. One of his hymns was popularized by the late folk-singer, Doc Watson. We sometimes sing that hymn on Saturday nights.
“Did Christ o’er sinners weep?
And shall our cheeks be dry?
Let floods of penitential grief
Burst forth from every eye.”
Weep therefore with Christ; are there not plentiful reasons that we should raise a flood of tears with Him in divine sorrow?