Look around and you will see it. You will see it printed on bumper stickers, sweatshirts, baseball hats and billboards, and for a long time it was on that digital screen on the front of the Boston city buses, the one that tells where the bus is headed. Look around and you will see it. It’s practically ubiquitous. You will see those two words — “Boston Strong.”
“Boston Strong” Just saying those two words is powerfully evocative for me. Yesterday, I was waiting in line at Starbucks on my way to the Thanksgiving dinner and there was a man wearing a sweatshirt a couple of people in front of me. As he turned around, I saw the words “Boston Strong” printed across the front of his sweatshirt. And immediately I felt a reverence, a split second nod of remembrance towards all the terrible things that happened that day. Have you had that experience too?
It’s amazing how those two words touch something deep within us still. They carry resonance. Encoded in those two words is not only the pain and terror of that awful day of the marathon bombings, but also I think a defiant hope that refuses to allow devastation to define us.
This very real need of ours to hold tight to Boston Strong, this need to remember the pain while refusing to be defined by it is not, I believe, something unique to us scrappy Bostonians. I think that even now somewhere in the wake of the devastation in the Philippines there is a cry arising in many a heart: “Philippines Strong!” Or “Illinois Strong” in the wake of last week’s tornados. Or “Sandyhook Strong” as the anniversary of that terrible day at the Elementary school approaches.
This deep human cry is not unique to our time, either, but it is one that flows out of the long trajectory of human experience and that is given voice throughout the biblical witness. It is the cry of the prophets and psalmists, a cry that refuses to capitulate to destruction and instead insists on and tenaciously strains towards hope.
I think of the prophet Jeremiah who when the Babylonian army was storming the city gates of Jerusalem, not only runs out and buys some land in Jerusalem but then shouts to anyone who will hear “Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land!” Or to translate those words into modern parlance, “Jerusalem Strong!”
There is a quote from the poet Adrienne Rich that has always spoken to me and in these recent times more than ever. She says “I draw hope from those who with every reason in the world to despair, refuse to do so.”
But the question on my heart has been “From where does this refusal to capitulate to despair come from? From what wellspring does defiant hope arise?
Now I am not a native Bostonian and (true confession) I am not much of a sports fan so I readily admit that I am a bit of an outsider looking in, but for us here in Boston it seems like this defiant hope has a lot to do with our love of our sport teams. There is something in the collective psyche that we are a bunch of tenacious underdogs that will keep on fighting until we win. Until we come out on top!
We saw that after the World Series, when that win became for the city a kind of redemption.
Do you remember the spread in the Globe on November 3rd the day after the victory parade? There was a picture above the fold on the front page that showed the World Series trophy cup with a Boston Strong jersey draped over it, placed right at the Marathon finish line. When that trophy was placed on the finish line people said they felt a sense of completion, of closure and of healing.
The article quoted a long time marathon volunteer who was at the finish line on April 15. She returned to that spot on the day of the victory parade wearing her blue and yellow marathon jacket and as she gazed at the cheering multitudes she said “This shows that we can celebrate here again.” The horror was finished, something new had begun.
The narrative seemed to be that the victory of the Sox was evidence of “Boston Strong.” But I don’t think that is actually true. I think something much more powerful that Big Papi was at play. The wellspring of defiant hope arise came instead, I believe from what happened not on the field, but what happened in the stands and on the streets of the city in victory’s wake. And I think it has everything to do with the psalmist cry for today.
“Though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult there is a river whose streams make glad the City of God. God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved; God will help it when the morning dawns.”
When that trophy was placed on the finish line, I believe something powerful happened that had everything to do with God being in the midst of the city. For when that trophy was placed there it became a communion cup. Not a sign of victory but an embrace of solidarity.
Paul in his letter to the Colossians write “May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from God’s glorious power.” Jesus came into the world not to win the World Series for us, but to show us the way to live life for and with each other, for and with our God. It is a life lived together, shoulder to shoulder, in times of terror and in time of sweet victory. The strength to touch our pain and yet to reach with defiant hope towards a new day comes not from worshiping heroes set apart, riding on those duck boats, or worshiping a distant God that we cannot touch, but the strength comes from a God who is with us, in the city, standing beside us, holding our hand and singing out “every little thing gonna be alright” right along with us.
Yesterday, in our vestry, at our thanksgiving meal, I experienced something of heaven. Shoulder to shoulder we sat at tables that not only were overflowing with food but also with solidarity, love, communion. There was much conversation, laughter and even some singing.
As I was driving home, I thought to myself that while “Boston Strong” was good maybe “Together Strong” would be even better!
Thanks be to God that is not to be worshiped from a far but that is to be experienced in the love and care we have for each other. In that, our strength lies. Thanks be to God. Amen.