I remember many months ago, teaching a Sunday school lesson on the parting of the Red Sea. I teach a group of mostly-well-behaved young elementary kids at church. These kids are, for the most part, responsive and thoughtful and inquisitive and such fun to teach. During this particular lesson, they were getting pretty excited, and also getting really silly. When it got to the part of the story where the Egyptian army was wiped out, they were laughing and cheering and such. An understandable response, for sure. These Egyptians and their ruler had certainly been the enemy in the story, and after all those plagues and all that pleading, it sure was a relief to get to the part of the story where the Israelites' victory was sure. But I stopped the kids. I explained to them that these people DIED, and that that is always a very serious thing, and not something to laugh about. We were able to go on to talk about the fact that the Israelites were not better than the Egyptians but that the mercy of God was upon them. Similarly, that we deserve death just as much as those Egyptians did and that it is only the mercy of Jesus that saves us from an awful fate.
Tonight, I read all the news on Bin Laden's death. I watched Obama's address, I read articles and blogs, and I followed all the various facebook responses. What I was really searching for, a couple hours after the announcement, was a response from New Yorkers at Ground Zero.
My first experience at Ground Zero was visiting with a friend in 06, during my first visit to NY. This friend had lost a dear friend in the 9-11 attacks. During the process of grieving for that friend and watching that friend's family grieve with a hope in Jesus, my friend had become a believer. So being able to visit that sort of "sacred" space with a friend whose life had literally been saved through the death of a friend in that tragedy was a pretty incredible and sobering experience. I have visited Ground Zero several times since, always with that little story in mind, always saddened by the losses and intrigued by the many stories with 9-11-01 as their focal point.
I don't know what I expected to find in video footage of Ground Zero tonight. Maybe people praying, reflecting, embracing each other and feeling a certain sense of closure after an impossibly rough 10 years of grieving together. What I saw instead reminded me of my Sunday school kids. People were simply excited and cheering and laughing and cursing and chanting. It was sad. Understandable, but sad. I don't think I've ever in my lifetime seen a mass rejoicing in the death of another, and it's sort of an unnerving experience. And I wonder if somewhere in that crowd were people longing to think quietly of their lost loved ones 10 years ago, longing to reflect and pray and grieve, and instead finding themselves in the middle of a party.
Certainly, I'm relieved Osama is gone. I'm certain his heart was full of evil. But I'm also certain my heart, apart from the grace of God, would be capable of that same evil and deserving of his same fate. And I think that death, no matter whose it is, is a serious matter and not a laughing one.