As I stood and sang with hundreds of other Christians, “It is well with my soul,” my heart was filled with hope. I was, along with other pastors, praying for the grace of God to shower our hurting home. In solidarity we were gathered, keenly aware of the presence of God with us. It was a great experience… interrupted. Leaving, I walked through the streets of downtown. An eery hush marked a city known for noise. The place seemed abandoned, except for military and police personnel—like something out of a sci-fi movie. The church meeting felt full. The city felt empty.
This contrasting experience caused me to wonder what the church’s next step should be. Honestly, I felt something like frustration. “Surely,” I wondered, “there must be more Christians can do than pray and sing. Surely we can scatter as powerfully as we gather.” I wasn’t the only one felt this way. A friend in our church who came from the same event, through the same streets, summed it up by saying, “A simple ‘is everyone here okay?‘ elicited streams of conversation from a shop clerk, a waiter—those who watched hundreds wander through their doors on Monday. Boston is aching and has no idea how to really, truly make it better.”
So as the smoke clears, what’s the church’s move? Walking through downtown I found myself asking, “Lord, show me what you want us to do.” I walked. I wondered. After some waiting, a thought occurred. Perhaps it was memory, perhaps divine guidance. I’m not skilled enough to parse between the two. But the thought came as though God himself were saying, “I’ve already told you what to do. Go.” I knew what that mean. For the Christian, “go” is a very meaningful word. “Go” is the standing order that Jesus himself gave to the church which, until he returns, is in effect. We’re to go to the hurting, empty streets. We’re to go to the aching who can’t make it better.
Going, by the way, doesn’t mean simply showing up with water, blankets, and medicine. I mean, this is Boston. The best hospitals in the universe are here. It’s a world-class city. The people don’t lack for much, materially speaking. So when we go, what—or more accurately, who—do we bring? Well, put simply, Jesus. The city doesn’t need my stuff, they need my savior.
Tragedy has a unique power to open the human heart to its frailty—to true need. If that is true, then should we not bring truest grace to truest need? The dramatic contrast between the prayer meeting and my street walking shook me. My city is hurting. Could it be that his people have a moment to speak to the pain that we’re all suddenly aware of? Isn’t it possible that God, in making beauty rise from ashes, is opening an opportunity to speak this truth? I think it’s more than possible, it’s what God does. The gospel of Jesus’ death and resurrection shows us that God is able to make the greatest good arise from the most torturous evil. The emotional whiplash I felt between my two experiences last night showed me at least this: Boston should get a shot at singing, too. The church has to go into this city.
Yes, I will sing “It is well with my soul.” And as the smoke clears from this tragedy, I’m going work harder than ever to invite Boston to sing along with me.0