Hope in Tragedy

Tuesday, March 13, 2012 — Week of 3 Lent

James Theodore Holly, Bishop of Haiti, and of the Dominican Republic, 1911

Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 955)

Psalms 78:1-39 (morning) 78:40-72 (evening)

Genesis 45:1-15

1 Corinthians 7:32-40

Mark 6:1-13

[Go to http://www.missionstclare.com/english/index.html for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

“I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life.”

From time to time I meet people who share stories of great loss and tragedy which has turned into blessing.

What Joseph’s brothers did to him was horrible. To sell your own brother into slavery is unspeakable. Joseph suffered enormously. It would be hard to overestimate the grief and misery he endured. And yet, with the very present help of God and his own perseverance, the evil that was done to him became the catalyst for an unimaginable good. By the time he is reunited with his brothers, not only is forgiveness possible, but he can be grateful for the evil circumstance that produced such blessing. It is the means for his family’s survival from famine.

I’ve heard that Joseph story over and over from other people. Our congregation heard a similar story when Paula D’Arcy visited us and shared her journey from death to life, from darkness to light. In her twenties an automobile accident took the life of her husband and her child, leaving her injured physically and spiritually. She was also pregnant. Through the struggle of depression and survival she experienced the reality of God in such a profound way that she looks back at that accident today and would not change history if she could. That humbles and amazes me.

I’ve known people who have lost relationships, jobs and dreams only to find that their loss became the means for an experience of freedom that opened a door to unimagined new possibilities.

I’ve also met people whose circumstances have broken them. Sometimes we experience loss so profound that its wounds will not heal. Some people will carry lifelong bitterness and resentment.

What is the difference? I want to take care not to be facile here, for some tragedies can break us, and none of us can judge another’s story. But the great difference seems to be a courageous kernel of hope combined with the felt experience of God. Theologian Paul Tillich had a famous sermon titled “The Courage to Be.” The combination of trust in God and courageous hope can produce miracles.

God spare us from great tragedy. “Save us from the time of trial,” we pray in the contemporary version of the Lord’s Prayer. But should we face such a time, grant us hope to trust enough in God’s present help that we may experience a Joseph-like resurrection.

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