The Boston Marathon, first held in 1897, is a time of joy. People from all over the world gather in Boston every year on Patriots’ Day, the third Monday in April, to test their endurance and celebrate the nobility of the human spirit. Usually 500,000 gather for the happy event, including about 20,000 registered runners. On the third Monday of April, one of the best places in the world to be is the finish line in Boston.
Not this year. As everyone now knows, at about 2:50 p.m. two bombs went off within twelve seconds of each other close to the finish line, killing three people and wounding many others, including children. At time of this writing, Boston is a city in mourning, locked down and looking for the assailants. Understandably, the police are scouring everything—the vast area now designated a crime scene, and surveillance footage from many cameras. President Obama has promised that those responsible will be found and will feel the full weight of justice.
Though the words “terrorist attack” were not used in the President’s initial statement to the press, people from his office later confirmed that they are treating the events in Boston as an act of terror, given that the bomb explosions seem to have been coordinated. It has been over a decade since the tragic and traumatic events of 9-11. Vigilance has relaxed somewhat, and fear has subsided. It has been a long time since America has come under a terrorist attack on its own soil. News footage from Boston has renewed American vigilance. The public is even now being warned to be aware of its surroundings.
This is, of course, just common sense. Even as children, we were warned to look both ways before crossing the street. Vigilance is good, especially at times like these. But as believers in Christ, we must also take care that vigilance does not degenerate into fear and rob us of our peace in Christ. As the prophet Isaiah taught us, “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on You” (Isaiah 26:3).
The truth is that we knew this was a dangerous world even before the bombs went off in Boston. The world is torn and ravaged by disease, subject to accidents of nature and to the evils of men. Women die in childbirth, babies die in infancy. Tornadoes and floods work their carnage. Wars slay multitudes of men, including innocent civilians. The world into which we have been born is a scary one, and every life will, sooner or later, end in death.
Yet even in this world, God promises us peace if we look to Him. The words of the Old Testament find their fulfillment in the New, and the Gospel renews the promise of the prophets: “In the world you have tribulation,” Jesus said, “but be of good cheer—I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Recent events tempt us to look about nervously, to let fear fill our hearts. What’s in that package that someone left by the road? What’s in that bag? What’s around the next corner? It is possible to let fear rule us, so that our attention is claimed and held captive by unseen possibilities for terror. The Gospel calls us to put our attention elsewhere as we run our own race: “Let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:1-2). Whether we have ever set foot in Boston or have ever run a marathon, if we serve Christ, we have a race to run. It began with our baptism, and has its finish line in the Kingdom of God, where the Lord is “seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2). As we run our race, let us not let fear dislodge our gaze from its proper Object, nor be afraid to cross the finish line. If we keep our hearts rooted in Christ, we can have perfect peace, even in Boston. When we cross our finish line, through whatever circumstances, be they inwardly peaceful or outwardly tragic, we enter into joy. Nothing can change that—not falling towers in New York, not exploding bombs in Boston. Let us run in peace, looking always to Jesus.