Sudbury faith: What can be said in times of unbearable tragedy?

Uche Osagie, right, is comforted by a community member during a candlelight vigil in Sudbury, Ont. on Thursday January 16, 2020, in memory of her three children who died in a collision on New Year's Day. The ceremony was held at Tom Davies Square to commemorate the lives of Destiny, Flourish and Britney Osagie. John Lappa/Sudbury Star

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Pastor Tom Arth

 

The past weeks and days have taken my emotions on a roller coaster ride. The build-up to Christmas is always a time of joy and excitement for me. I love the season. I love the music on the radio and in the stores. I love the lights and decorations inside and outside of the house. There’s the planning and shopping and wrapping and secrets of presents for friends and family.

At church, preparations are leading up to the Sunday school pageant and then the Christmas Eve worship service. In our church we try not to rush to Christmas, observing the season of Advent when we prepare for the coming of the Christ child and look with anticipation for the day when Christ will come again.

Then come the Twelve Days of Christmas. The 12 days don’t start until Christmas Day and they run through Jan. 5. And in our church, we continue to observe Christmas right through. We were still singing carols and hearing more of the Christmas story on Dec. 29 and Jan. 5. Then Jan. 6 is the festival of the Epiphany of Our Lord, when we hear the story of the Wise Men visiting the Christ Child. And that wraps up our Christmas observance.

And there are the various Christmas concerts at schools and churches. Since we moved to Sudbury a year-and-a-half ago, we discovered the CTV-Lions Children’s Christmas Telethon. A few days before Christmas my wife and I, our boys, and a couple of friends went up and down the street singing carols for our neighbours. Then we took some time and headed down to Hamilton and Burlington to visit family and friends.

I started out talking about an emotional roller coaster. That was the climb and the height of joy, excitement, and love. But there comes news that can bring you down again. We hear about the ongoing environmental and ecological catastrophe in Australia. There is the threat of war in Iran and the Middle East if cooler heads don’t prevail. The devastating plane crash in Iran touched so many in Canada. And we heard about the tragic car crash that killed the three Osagie children here in Greater Sudbury. It continues to be a heartbreaking story. The death of any child is oppressively sad but to lose three children from the same family all at once must be an unbearable pain.

As a man of faith, as a pastor, a spiritual leader, I sometimes feel like I’m supposed to be able to do something or say something that’s supposed to make it better. What can I say? What does our faith tradition have to say to make the pain go away? How, in the face of such tragedy, do you recover the joy of Christmas? How does a heart that is so sad find again the peace that the angels sang about to the shepherds in the Christmas story?

Well, sometimes there are no words. Sometimes sadness remains. I refuse to haul out some of the old platitudes that I don’t even believe. I won’t believe that this is part of some divine plan. Some clouds, many clouds, do not have a silver lining. And I will not say that they are in a better place. They should still be here.

So, what can people of faith hold onto in these kinds of circumstances? Being a Christian doesn’t mean that life is always good and happy and nice. We are all human beings and that means we experience good and bad, sunshine and rain. Jesus himself knew sadness and pain. The shortest and one of the most poignant verse in the Bible simply says, “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). One thing that tells us is that our God knows the sadness we all experience at times.

What we can say is that God feels with us, knows our sadness, shares in our grief. The Jesus we know in the Bible had compassion for those he met who were suffering. The Scriptures tell us that nothing will ever separate us from the love of God we know in Jesus (Romans 8:38-39). 

Another thing that God gives us is each other. The Bible says that we can console and comfort one another with the comfort and consolation we have received from God (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). I have seen that in our community with the love that has been shown for the Osagie family. The sadness will remain for some time but together we can go on, even if it’s difficult for some time because we have each other to lean on and we can trust that God is always with us, loving us forever.

Rev. Thomas P. Arth is with Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church in Sudbury

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