Tragedy is a Universal Language
January 29

On Sunday afternoon I received a notification that stunned me, "Kobe Bryant has died in a helicopter crash." I grew up in Oregon, so I cheered for the Blazers (the only professional team in the state at the time) so I wasn't really a Kobe, or a Lakers fan, but his death shocked me. He was my age. He was a father. He died much earlier than he should have. After I saw the headline, I checked Twitter, other news sources, and my social media accounts. I opened the ESPN app and tried to figure out what had happened. What this a misprint? Had he really died? The global response seemed universal. Stunned. Shocked. Disbelief. How? Sad. It's strange how tragedy is a universal language. 

Why did I feel sadness for someone I had never met? I never owned a Lakers jersey with 8 or 24 on the back. I never lived in LA or saw him play in person. I probably cheered against him when he was playing a team I liked more, and even yet, I felt this news in my heart and my gut. I thought about his family and the pain that they were going through. I wondered if his parents were still alive and how sad it would be for them to bury their son. I wondered how those who are close to him would figure out the next few days, weeks, months, and years. 

I have never experienced tragedy of this magnitude, but I have experienced loss and I've sat with those who have lost loved ones who died years before they should have. I can't "recite" those feelings like something I learned in school, but we carry these feelings with us, and they quickly return when something tragic happens or we hear of something painful and unexpected. Why did I feel so much emotion for someone I had never met? Because some of our strongest connections are rooted in challenging situations and overwhelming emotion. Few things are as powerful as hearing someone say, "I know what it's like" and that they have gone through the exact same thing. You may have never met the person, but you are united through your pain, loss, and sorrow. The family, friends, neighbors, and acquaintances who hunker down in response to a tragedy and the bond that is formed because of the traumatic event. This may be the greatest unifying gift we have as a species. 

The shortest verse in the bible, “Jesus wept”, is found in the story of Lazarus. Lazarus has died and Jesus has come to visit his sisters, Mary and Elizabeth. When Jesus arrives, the emotion is overwhelming and in the middle of all of it, Jesus cries. Why would the one who fed 5000, walked on water, and opened the eyes of a blind man weep? Jesus knew what he was going to do, he was going to raise Lazarus from the dead and yet he cries. Tragedy is not only a universal language, it can also bring about unity. In this moment, God incarnate was so connected to this community that he wept with them, even though he knew he was about to bring him back from the dead. There was unity in the tragedy.

We certainly don't hope for tragedy, or go looking for it, but they can be holy moments. Maybe that's the only way we can get through them. Just as a parent doesn't want to see their child cry, but when they hold them as they sob, those are holy moments. I think God sees those as holy moments too. The hurt is overwhelming but, in that moment, we find strength in one another and in a God who loves us more than we can understand. In this time of great division, may we never forget how connected we are, both in celebrations but also in loss, and that this unity can never be broken.

Grace and Peace,

Pastor Chris
Last Published: January 30, 2020 5:21 PM