In my part of the country the mornings are resplendent during spring. The sky announces the break of day with soft yellows and pinks that filter through the tender leaves. The air is filled with the first hint of humidity and the sound of birds calling from housetops to feeders fills the airways. Often the ground is covered with the slightest skim of misty fog.
Monday through Friday, I send my newly minted teenage daughter off into the world to meet her school bus, confident that I will hear from her in the afternoon when she returns home. I have little concern when I say goodbye to her in the morning, trusting she will have a good day.
Goodbyes are an ordinary part of our human experience. They are as expected as the sunrise.
On Monday, April 16, no one expected that saying goodbye would have such a profound impact on the Virginia Tech campus that is protected by the mountains of Virginia. By the end of the day, families found themselves faced with staggering grief because they had not expected to say goodbye to their loved ones.
At day’s end students and faculty members could never have anticipated the loss of roommates, friends, students or colleagues. When the first responders in our community left the security of home to barrel up the road to the campus in Blacksburg they had no idea what waited for them. They became unwitting participants in a series of excruciating goodbyes.
As you might expect, life in our ordinarily quiet community has been torn like the temple curtain by the cries of profound and unimaginable grief. The community is wrestling with survivor’s guilt. Unanswerable questions and pain will endure for the foreseeable future. No one expected to say goodbye to 33 people or to the sense of tranquility on our beautiful campus.
Even as our voices are raised in lament and our hands are lifted in supplication, they are filled by the Spirit of hope. The Gospel lesson from John 16:12-33 speaks of the departure of Jesus. The disciples could not comprehend the meaning of the crucifixion, the resurrection and the subsequent departure of Jesus. In that moment Jesus had much to say and so little time in which to say it. This is the universal problem when goodbyes are exchanged. But he promised the presence of the Spirit to comfort, guide and sustain the early Christian community.
That same Spirit is present in our community and in yours. The Spirit has united us so we might tenderly care for one another, encouraging one another to offer our best gifts as we seek healing. The work of the Spirit is evident in your community by the cards, banners and prayer shawls that have been sent to us from across the nation. These are tangible reminders that when the community of faith suffers, all brothers and sisters in Christ feel the pain.
Our gracious God knows our suffering and grief. Our wise God lights our path to restoration. Our loving God upholds us with hope. Although these weeks of Easter have been bleak in our community, we are still lifting our voices to shout: “Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia! Alleluia!”
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