“I Forgive You.”
Nadine Collier spoke these words some three years ago as tears ran down her face. She was speaking to the person accused of killing her mother, Ethel Lance, who had been studying the Bible in Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.
Nadine went on: “You took something very precious away from me. I will never get to talk to her again. I will never be able to hold her again. But I forgive you, and may God have mercy on your soul.”
After much sobbing, she managed to continue: “You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people. But God forgives you and I forgive you.”
What’s even more amazing is that Nadine was not alone. One by one, the members of the families whose loved ones were murdered at this church rose to do the same: Forgive! The message was repeated again and again: Forgive!
The power of their faith still resonates across America and beyond. It was a day when grace — amazing grace — won out over hate. One commentator said: “Even atheists had to see divinity in these families built by love.”
But where did that miraculous power come from that enabled these heart-stricken people to reach out to a mass murderer with such mercy?
Perhaps today’s Gospel gives us a clue. This Gospel passage sends an enormously important message to each of us: Trust in the grace and power of God.
To illustrate this message, Mark tells the story of a woman and a young girl.
The woman had been hemorrhaging nonstop perhaps for as long as the girl had been alive. The woman, and the young girl’s father and mother hoped beyond hope that there was someone who could hear a desperate cry and answer it or feel an anguished touch and respond to it. What they both discovered was that there was someone. His name was Jesus.
God, in Jesus, hears the cry of pain and is touched by human anguish. All those in today’s Gospel story discovered that the God we believe in through Jesus is a God who can be experienced in real life — right now. Consider a few examples: In that church in Charleston, South Carolina; in the everyday wonders of parenting; in the healing that happens in medical centers, or in the birthing of children, or in the celebrations of life-long marriages; in the recovery of addicts, or in the raising to new life of people imprisoned, or in the imparting of forgiveness to people who have harmed us.
What Mark is trying to help us see is that grace is everywhere. God truly is Emmanuel … with us, for us, among us, between us.
And today’s Gospel takes it a step further: God is present especially to those most afflicted. And, because of that, God creates new miracles every day: miracles of conversion and repentance and new beginnings. Miracles of hope. Miracles of courage. Miracles of faith.
Jesus has the same message for each of us who has proclaimed our hopes dead, for those who have given up on the possibility of a new beginning. It is the same message he gave to those people who were mourning a death in today’s Gospel: “The child is not dead, but asleep.”
And then it happened: “Little girl, I say to you, arise!”
He says the same to us to this day: Arise from your hatred. Arise from your blindness. Arise from your smallness. Arise from your prejudices. Arise from your fears. Grace can win out over hate. The people of that church in Charleston, South Carolina, made that abundantly clear.