Christchurch, New Zealand, is a relatively small city compared to places like Paris, Beijing or even Calgary. But on Friday, March 15th, 2019, it was catapulted into full view of the world when worshippers at two mosques in the city were viciously assaulted and attacked. 50 died and another 50 were injured. The Prime Minister of the country, Jacinda Ardern, called the terrorist attacks “one of New Zealand’s darkest days.”
Muslims were gunned down while at prayer, innocent and vulnerable. A 28 year old Australian man, described in media reports as a white supremacist and part of the alt-right has been charged with murder. When he appeared in court, he made the universal sign for white power. And during the rampage, he livestreamed the crying and dying people. He watched them die, without a moment of remorse. He wanted white supremacists around the world to watch as well.
How has this young Prime Minister responded to these vicious terrorist attacks? She has condemned, unequivocally, white supremacy. Her government has offered to pay for all of the funerals of the victims and is providing material support to their families. She has visited the mosques, wearing a hijab to stand in solidarity with her Muslim citizens. She has refused to publicly utter the name of the attacker, thereby denying him the notoriety he so desperately craves. And within a week of the massacre, her government brought in legislation to ban assault rifles and handguns throughout the country.
Ms. Ardern has been a leader offering grace and a calm determination to her citizens in the midst of a chaotic moment in the life of her country. Leaders such as Ms. Ardern are rare in the world today, reaching out to heal the wounds of her country and acting boldly in the process. There are many leaders in the world who could learn much from her grace, humility, steely determination and empathy for her fellow citizens.
Two members of our congregation, Fay Milk and Bob Hindley, were holidaying in New Zealand when the attacks occurred. They were, in fact, housed in a hotel just 400 yards from the scene of the first assault. Today, they are with us to share this “up close and personal” experience with us. To describe for us the response of the New Zealand people and to remind us that there is, indeed, a turning toward grace, even in the midst of the most barbaric and painful events in human life.
We thank them! May you leave worship this morning filled with hope. And may we hold up to the world the kind of leadership that Jesus offered to his disciples, a leadership based on courage, empathy and love, the leadership modeled for us by a young woman who was thrust into the chaos of death and mayhem, setting an example for all of us of love and fortitude.