This past Friday, I was privileged to visit the Oklahoma City National Memorial with a group of around 200 Episcopalians from across the country. The visit to the memorial was part of the concluding events of the 3-day Reclaiming the Gospel of Peace conference I had been attending (my reflection on the conference here). The visit was poignant and bone-chilling. To stand in the very spot thought to be where the bomb went off. To walk through the field of empty chairs. To imagine the pain those people felt while they were trapped in the crumbling building. To watch birds clean themselves in the pool of water along what used to be Fifth Street, along what used to be a street covered in ash and blood. This is sacred ground.
On this sacred ground, the City of Oklahoma has done a beautiful job of memorializing those people whose lives were lost, and in making the act of violence that caused so many deaths something that will never be forgotten. We cannot forget the lengths that people will go to in the name of evil. And while we cannot forget, we must remind ourselves that love always wins. The water in the pool in the center of the memorial along what used to be Fifth Street is in fact a symbol of life…I couldn’t help but think of the waters of baptism in that pool.
One of the most beautiful stories I heard while visiting the memorial was the story of the Dutch Elm tree that still stands to this day in the lot next to where the bomb went off. A 100-year-old tree, when it was planted, the surrounding neighborhood was residential. The tree survived to the day of the bombing, where it stood in a gravel parking lot directly next to the spot where the bomb exploded. After the bomb went off, the tree was surrounded by twisted, burning cars. In the aftermath, the tree suffered fire damage and was thought to be dead. They were planning to cut down the tree. But by the time they got around to cut it down, they noticed something…there were signs of new life. Instead of cutting it down, they decided to let it grow. To this day, it continues to stand, over 100 years old. What is even more amazing is that most Dutch Elm trees in North America have been killed out by Dutch Elm disease. This particular tree is a monument to life, resiliency, and to peace.
I am forever changed from the conversations and experiences I had in Oklahoma City. I pray that my life may forever be a conduit for sharing God’s love in the world, and that wherever I encounter violence or hatred that God work through me to shine light into the darkest places of people’s hearts.
Almighty and everliving God, in your tender love for the human race you sent your Son our Savior Jesus Christ to take upon him our nature, and to suffer death upon the cross, giving us the example of his great humility: Mercifully grant that we may walk in the way of his suffering, and also share in his resurrection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
–Collect for Palm Sunday