Toronto was brought into the house of mourning this week. Shattering a blue-sky spring afternoon, a rented van careening down a Yonge Street sidewalk brought horror, terror, and a collective wound to our city. We’ve watched similar events play out in other cities but now Toronto is part of a club we never asked to join.
As a church that loves this city, our most basic response is tears: we weep with those who weep. Our heart’s break for those where death has crashed into their family. We mourn with a city whose civic fabric of trust and good will has been attacked. We grieve over the violent, hateful motives that plotted and fuelled this attack. There is much to weep and so we first simply cry and grieve over all that is lost and broken.
As we mourn, how do we do so in a way that doesn’t harden into hatred? How do we keep grief from mutating into an anger that demonizes others? The answer that the cross and resurrection give us is to mix in hope with our tears and grief. We need to locate the events of this week into a wider story that makes sense of it all. And the Christian story tells us that God entered our brokenness, in Jesus Christ, to bring life, healing, and flourishing. We are now in the season called Eastertide, the ongoing celebration of Jesus’ resurrection. What does that resurrection mean for us in a broken world, for this week in our bruised city?
The resurrection of Jesus Christ tells us that God is at work in this world to renew good and undo evil. It is the promise that one day everything sad going to come untrue. In The Brothers Karamazov, the novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky puts it like this:
“I believe like a child that suffering will be healed and made up for, that all the humiliating absurdity of human contradictions will vanish like a pitiful mirage … that in the world’s finale, at the moment of eternal harmony, something so precious will come to pass that it will suffice for all hearts, for the comforting of all resentments, of the atonement of all the crimes of humanity, of all the blood that they’ve shed.”
This fierce, precious hope of the church – rooted in the resurrection of Jesus – is the fuel which moves us into broken, tragic, violent places with grace and love. We join God in the undoing of evil, the remediation of all that is broken.
And what evil there is to undo. This week we learned that the alleged perpetrator harboured misogynist views, a poisonous swill brewed in dark corners of the internet that poured out violence on our streets. This violence and the dark belief that denies all humans are sacred image-bearers of God form an anti-gospel, a lie of the enemy.
These tragic events and the evil that motivated them provide us with, among other things, the call to repent, to unflinchingly ask: “how have we been a neighbour to others?”, to examine our own hearts, asking God to humble us, purify us, to and wake us up. May it lead us to urgently ask God to make us a people of patience and gentleness, people who surround and support the hurting, the weak, the rejected, who speak peace and build bridges, who seek truth in all online forums. Being a neighbour means reaching out to hear from and mourn with women in the wake of this hate-fueled attack. It also means reaching out and embracing socially awkward and isolated young men within caring community.
So let us take up our call to be good neighbours with hope, the Spirit-given hope that gives us the power to be Christ to our broken city. Because, as Teresa of Avila notes:
“Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”
A theologian once asked a critical question, especially important for us in Toronto this week: “In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it?” This Sunday, come to church and worship the living God who suffers with us. Enter the story of the risen Jesus and join in the undoing of evil.
And to prepare yourself for worship and your witness, two things: a) consider joining the City’s #TorontoStrong vigil today at 7:0 p.m. in Mel Eastman Square, and b) watch this beautiful video performance of “Christ has no body now but yours” by Porters Gate. Let’s make it our prayer for the church in Toronto.