It is another sad time in the world. Names like Newtown, Charleston, and Columbine ring in our minds as we hear the name Manchester. Twenty-two people were killed in Manchester, last week and another fifty-nine wounded as a bomb exploded just as young people were leaving an Ariana Grande concert. As throngs of teenagers were exiting the concert with their hearts filled of music, laughter, and love, they were hit in the face by an explosion. Although thousands made it safely away from the arena…eighty-one did not…and twenty-two of those lost their lives.
Among the ones who died were Soffie Rose Roussos, a beautiful eight-year-old girl from Leland, England whose teacher described her as “quiet, unassuming, and filled with creative flair.” Sadly, Soffie will never be able to develop that creative flair that God put inside her. Her teacher sobbed as she said that Soffie was “loved by all.” Another victim was Olivia Campbell, a fifteen-year-old teenager who loved Ariana Grande and couldn’t wait for her concert. She texted her “Mum” before the concert that this was one of the greatest nights of her life…getting to see her idol, Ariana, perform in person. Sadly, Charlotte Campbell, Olivia’s Mum, never got to hear Olivia describe the joy of the concert. Olivia was one of the twenty-two killed in Manchester.
Questions flood our minds: When is this horrific and senseless killing going to stop? How do we live in a world where these acts of violence occur with regularity? Why would someone DO this? As we seek to get our minds around this tragedy, there are two theological truths that bring me comfort. First, the Holy Spirit is present to walk alongside us and strengthen us in time of trouble… when life no longer makes any sense. Jesus said, “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But, the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” (John 14:25-27.)
As he prepared to leave the Earth, Jesus indicated to us that he will send “an advocate to come alongside us”. The Holy Spirit will be our counselor, our coach, and our advocate. The Holy Spirit will continue to walk with us, and, as Paul says in Romans 8, will intercede for us with “sighs too deep for words.” The Holy Spirit will give us strength when we do not have any strength. The Holy Spirit will stand up for us when we feel all alone!
Sometimes we wonder, how we can go on amid the devastation and tragedy in our lives? Sometimes we wonder how the people in Manchester are going to move on, particularly as Prime Minister Theresa May indicated that another terrorist attack could be “imminent”. How do we go on? The answer is that the Holy Spirit will walk alongside us… even within us… and will give us the strength to move forward one step at a time. And, the good news of the gospel is that when times seem the darkest and bleakest, that is when the Holy Spirit is closest to us, and will never ever let us go.
The second theological truth is that the essence of the gospel is incarnation. God loved the world so much that he sent his only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him might not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3:16.) One of the ways that we as Christians serve as peacemakers in the world is to show up in times of tragedy and incarnate God’s love to others in simple acts of service. A homeless man who was knocked to the floor by the force of the explosion did just that. Chris Parker was hanging around the venue in Manchester to ask concertgoers for spare change when the bomb exploded. He ran in to see who he could help and ended up cradling a dying woman in her 60’s…who died in his arms…as he sobbed.
In a world where horrific deeds happen with regularity, our calling as followers of the Prince of Peace is not to understand the tragedies but to incarnate the love of God in the midst of them. And, when we get frustrated and tired and can’t do it anymore…the Holy Spirit, our Advocate, strengthens, guides and comforts us with “sighs too deep for words.” That is our hope. May it be so.