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Tonight, as many young families dress their little ones in costumes to continue the longstanding tradition of “trick or treat,” there are families in our own community and neighboring communities who are preparing for the solemn procedures that follow tragedy—the mournful tones of the funeral music, the sob of a mother’s heart torn asunder, the near silent cry of a father’s shattered world, the minister’s words of comfort that fall short of easing that pain that can engulf our world, the smell of flowers that will always bring a reminder of the solemnity of a funeral parlor and the beauty of the tender roses plucked all too soon from the garden of life.
It is not for us to understand tragedy such as what occurred on a lonely Carroll County road Monday afternoon. The scene of a crumpled school bus evokes memories in those of us old enough to remember of other bus tragedies on an interstate highway in Carroll County in May 1988, or on Madison’s hilltop in the autumn of 1973 when young lives passed from this existence into the eternal realm. It is human nature to question why the innocent suffer and why should their lives be snuffed out at such a tender age.
It is difficult to see the good in such Scripture verses as Romans 8:28 where it says: “And we know that all things work together for good.” It doesn’t say all things are good, it says: “All things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”
When bad things happen, we often look for a positive outcome, as if putting a positive spin on tragedy will, somehow, soften the blow. A funeral director once said concerning the death of a child, “You know, God picks the most beautiful flowers for his heavenly bouquet.”
Somehow, I don’t find that to be a very comforting thought. Still another explanation as to why bad things happen to good people is that life is a mystery, and although there are reasons why bad things happen as they do, those reasons are not always known to us. Our view of life is like looking at a tapestry from the back side. Seen from our perspective, life is a jumble of knots and threads and loose ends protruding in every direction. If we could only see the tapestry from the other side – from God’s perspective – then we’d see that it has perfect form and symmetry and balance. As the Apostle Paul said to the Corinthians: “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, even as I was also fully known.” (1Corinthians 13:12)
The ups and downs of life are described succinctly in a well-known biblical passage from the third chapter of Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament:
“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
“A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
“A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
“A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
“A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
“A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
“A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
“A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace…”
Now is the time when we as a community – the extended family of humankind – are to wrap our arms around the bereaved, pointing no fingers, echoing no calls for blame, but sharing our hearts with those who mourn and suffer, and pray for God’s peace, the only peace that passes all human understanding.
The season for many other things—laughter, singing, dancing, going about the busy-ness of everyday life—those things can wait for another time. Now is that time to pause to weep, to mourn, a time when we must embrace, a time to build up those who are broken, a time to love.