This week’s news has been hard to bear. On Saturday, 16 year old Gabriel Magalhaes was siting quietly at a bench on the lower level of Keele Station in Toronto just before 9 pm when he was stabbed thrice by a homeless man who was wanted in Newfoundland for aggressive behaviours. I listened to Gabriel’s mother speak in the midst of inconsolable sobs that her little boy was never to come home again, and found it hard to hold back tears of my own. And then in just three days, on Monday, three 9 year old children along with 3 adults in a Christian school in Nashville Tennessee were brutally murdered by a woman who shot her way into their school armed with handguns and assault rifles. Details about the woman who was a former student at the school, confused with her sexual identity and angry with the church are still emerging from the murky information waters of a disturbed mind. But the fact remains that in the three months of 2023, the US has now counted 19 mass shootings in schools or universities, and many fear that the carnage will continue.
I could not help but think of Matthew’s comment in the shadow of a massacre of innocents 2,000 years ago in the streets of Bethlehem, “Weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children, refusing to be comforted because they are no more” (Matthew 2:18). The thought sinks deeply into the mind – “they are no more”, “he will never come home again”. The tragedy of death is that it acts unyieldingly like a rift in the fabric of our lives that separates us from the people we love because we can no longer change with them what we had opportunity to do when they were still alive. I have thought much about death and discovered a quiet calm in its eternal significance – that death of the body means the release of the soul to the healing care of God the Creator, and for fellow believers, only a brief while before we see each other again before the Throne of Grace. But the fact that those who are dead are now inaccessible to us in this life, and the needless brutality as in these cases that causes the death of a child still cuts deeply. Death is a sober reminder that what we do with each other in this life matters. As I write this, I have a friend who sits by the bedside of her dying mother. She had resisted the gospel most of her life, but in the last few days, she has shown a focused interest in what her daughter had to say. “Pastor Tim,” she said to me, “every moment that mom returns to me from her cycles of agony and unconsciousness, I whisper the gospel that Jesus loves her. And she smiles and fades away. I sit for hours to grasp at every second.” That is the thought that is needful for us – grasping for every second in the opportunity for the gospel of grace and for godly connection that matters for eternity. And may the sadness of this week’s news not spur us only to grief but indeed to action. Forgive quickly. Love unyieldingly. Build each other up. Live graciously. Every second matters.