The eyes of all Canadians – as well as many from abroad – have been turned this past week toward Humboldt. It has been less than a week since the accident that killed 15 aboard the Broncos’ hockey team bus, but it seems much longer than that given the intensity of the attention and concern.
Christians have had particular reasons for giving their attention to Humboldt. The memorial vigil at the hockey arena on Sunday night was one of the most explicit manifestations of Christian faith in our common life. At the 9/11 memorial on Parliament Hill, Jean Chretien banned all prayer, later characterizing it as one of the “best decisions” of his premiership. So, to have Prime Minister Justin Trudeau politely and appropriately taking his place at a prayer service organized not by the federal government, but by the residents of Humboldt, is noteworthy. It was a moment of grace in Humboldt, at which politics was not given pride of place.
I have served 14 years as the chaplain of the Queen’s University football team. The most difficult day in that time with the Golden Gaels was Good Friday 2005, when I got the news that one of our boys had been murdered the night before. A murder is altogether different than a highway accident, but of course still deeply traumatic. I did the best I could to offer words of comfort and a comforting presence in the days that followed. I don’t think I really offered though the consolation of the Gospel.
A few months earlier, a high school student in my parish was killed after being hit by a train on the tracks near the church. It was a few days before Christmas, and I was asked to speak to his classmates from school. I told them that such suffering and unexpected death reminds us that the world is not as it should be, that it needs a redeemer. At Christmas, I told them, we give thanks that the redeemer the world needs has come.
On neither occasion did I really say what needed to be said. Or at least not completely. So I admired greatly the words of Pastor Sean Brandow of the Humboldt Bible Church and chaplain for the Broncos hockey team. Christians across Canada have been listening again and again to them, in which Pastor Brandow spoke with sincerity about the pain of loss, and with certainty about faith in Christ. He spoke as many a preacher would wish to speak. I would encourage readers to read over – and pray over – his words.
Pastor Brandow did not blanch from confronting the difficult questions that arise when we are confronted by the mystery of death, especially sudden death, especially the death of the young.
Yet I would draw attention – especially for those, like myself, who work with the young on campus or in sports – to the last part of his preaching, when he reflects upon his mission with the team: