Sermon on the Marathon

Two years ago I declared that Deacon Mike Rogers was a better person than I am. Last year I admitted that I still hadn’t forgiven Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the recently convicted Boston Marathon bomber. Now that the last athlete has crossed the finish line of the 119th running, I confess that I still hold an angry grudge against that coward Tsarnaev and his older brother Tamerlan. And, as if the list wasn’t long enough already, we can add Bill and Denise Richard to the list of people who are better than me.

The Richards lost their son after Dzhokhar stood behind him for four minutes on Boylston Street and then placed a bomb at his 8-year-old feet. Little Martin lost his life, his sister Jane lost her leg, and their family, and our city, has never been the same since. Somehow these remarkable people have found it within themselves to forgo vengeance and have called upon the United States government to take the death penalty off the table.

The 5th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel is one of my favorites in all of scripture, but that may be because I have such a tough time with it. In His Sermon on the Mount, the Lord teaches us that “whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.” That sums me up pretty accurately. Shortly thereafter He says that “when someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one to him as well.” Two years later, I’m still the one who wants to do the striking.

Jesus finishes by imploring us to “love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.” While I pray for a conversion of his heart, I don’t know that I will ever love any of the Tsarnaevs. I am certain that I don’t want to love them, and recognize the hardness of my own heart in that sentiment.

I have always opposed the death penalty, but here my reluctance to seek an eye for an eye is not because I see the face of God in this 21-year-old terrorist. Instead, it is because if he lives another 60 years, he will likely spend 57.5 of them in a solitary cell. With little to do but think, I hope most of those 23 hours a day are spent contemplating the families he destroyed in the city that accepted and aided his family when they arrived on our shores as refugees.

I will never be fast enough to qualify for the Boston Marathon, an event where people train for years to shave seconds off times that are measured in hours. Like everyone who has ever come close, however, I can’t tell you the number of times in the last two years I have thought about how I could have run five minutes faster, placing my family directly across the street from little Martin Richard. I continue to thank God I was so slow.

April 15, 2013 was one of the best, and then worst, days of my life. After running 25.5 miles, the brothers Tsarnaev pressed me into service for another mile, and eventually I want to say that I have gone the second mile with them. That finish line, painted in forgiveness, has proven to be even more difficult to cross. For now, I am still one who mourns. I pray that someday I may be merciful.