John the Baptist and Newtown
December 15, 2013
Bonnie A. Perry
Create in me a clean Heart o God
Renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from you presence.
John the Baptist is in prison. Last week he was out in the wilderness, “Preparing the way of the Lord.” This week we jump ahead eight chapters in Matthew’s Gospel and we find John in jail. It seems that all that preparing and proclaiming, got him in trouble. Typically, insecure people of power, dislike being compared to a writhing pile of snakes. “You brood of vipers,” said John to the Sadducees and Pharisees, “Who warned you to flee? I tell you even now the ax is at the root of every tree that does not bear good fruit.” Put pastoral lines like that with a fellow who has no real respect for earthly authority, joined by vast crowds of restless people gathering and well—the fact that John the Baptist is now in jail is not all that surprising.
Here’s the interesting part, at least to me. John who was the one, proclaiming the coming of the Lord…John who was the one who baptized Jesus, John who was there, John who said, “It is you Jesus who should baptize me.” John as he sits in prison appears to be having doubts. Second thoughts. He sends word via his disciples to Jesus’, “Hey,” he says, “Are you the one? Are you really the one or should we wait for another?”
As theologian Mark Yurs says, “What a relief, when the one who is supposed to know the answer doesn’t know. Makes the rest of us not feel so bad for not being sure ourselves.”
It’s like that sometimes isn’t it? We don’t necessarily realize what we have when we have it. John had Jesus—right there. Now he wonders. Now he has doubts. Most of us, as we float along in our lives, have no visceral sense of just how transitory everything can be in our world. As we look forward and look back and miss now. It is the now that we will need as the foundation for the future.
Is that day of Jesus’ baptism not just seared into John’s brain. Or is all a blur: a pixilated collage of images that he is unable now to focus?
Yesterday, as we know, was the first anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School slayings in Newtown, CT. I offered a remembrance at a memorial service yesterday evening. As I was writing that piece I came across a remarkable interview by Tovia Smith that aired on NPR’s morning edition.
Tovia Smith interviewed Nelba Marquez-Greene. Mother of Ana Grace age 6 who was one of the 28 people who was killed by a bullet shot by a gun on that wretched
day. One of the 20 first graders murdered.
“As much as December 14th will forever be a day of unfathomable grief, December 13th will forever be one of unending gratitude”, said Ana’s mom, Nelba. “I will never forget that day,” she said.
Instead of rushing to activities and errands and worrying about the dishes and the laundry, even cleaning the mess on the floor, Nelba ignored it all. Even the crèche set—that little Ana had knocked over that morning. Apparently before Ana left for school the day before the shooting, she managed to knock the entire nativity scene off the piano and onto the floor. The baby Jesus was still in little pieces all over the floor when Ana came home from Sandy Hook elementary school that day.
Nelba said, “I just ignored it. For some reason that she does not understand, Nelba corralled son Isaiah, Ana, and her husband Jimmy and insisted that they all go to dinner at the Cheese cake factory. Where they had their final time as a family of four.
Nelba remembered, “It was the greatest gift—we were sitting there taking goofy pictures, making faces. We had a second dessert and like three plates of pasta. I’m so grateful we had that.”
We need the moments of now for the future. Not because doom is impending, but because our time together is precious, Holy and deserves to be treated with reverence and reveled in. We need moments of meaning etched onto our souls in the present—to carry us through those dark places and dark times in the future: to remember that God who was with us then, will be with us now and always.
Where in this overwrought season of rushing are you stealing space and forging time for remarkable moments of meaning?