Obama preaches ‘a state of grace’ in Boston

President Obama began and ended his remarks at the Interfaith service in Boston for the victims and survivors of the … Continued

President Obama began and ended his remarks at the Interfaith service in Boston for the victims and survivors of the bombing at the Boston Marathon with a the same biblical text from Hebrews, and declared a “state of grace” in Boston and in the country.

“Tomorrow, the sun will rise over Boston. Tomorrow, the sun will rise over this country that we love, this special place, this state of grace. Scripture tells us to run with endurance the race that is set before us.”

Running the race, finishing the race, both those injured and the whole country in a struggle with senseless violence, was a theme throughout the president’s address.

The president also eulogized those three who had been killed in the bomb blasts: Krystle Campbell of Medford, student Lingzi Lu of China, and Martin Richard, the youngest victim, only 8-years old. The president paid particular tribute to Martin, both his smile and his haunting, wise plea for peace. Martin is captured now “forever smiling for his beloved Bruins and forever expressing a wish he made on a blue poster board: “No more hurting people. Peace.’’ No more hurting people. Peace.”

But in truth the president’s speech was not in the main a eulogy, nor was it actually about running, in my view. Instead, the larger frame was the evocation of the driving religious vision of those who first came to Boston, the Pilgrims, who sought religious freedom, and believed they found it in this new world by the grace of God. Over centuries, this religious vision of a people specially blessed by God has sometimes devolved into an easy assumption of God’s favor and an “American exceptionalism” that permits all and demands little from us.

Astonishingly, in his Boston speech, President Obama claimed that vision anew, but it took it back to something of the original Pilgrim meaning. The president’s subtext was that when we are knocked down and struggling, the “state of grace” is what holds us, binds us, gives us strength beyond our own strength.

The president took this conviction and pointed it straight at the perpetrator or perpetrators of the Boston bombing, the “small, stunted individuals who did this.” He said to Boston:

“Your resolve is the greatest rebuke to whoever committed this heinous act. If they sought to intimidate us, to terrorize us, to shake us from…the values that make us who we are as Americans, well, it should be pretty clear by now that they picked the wrong city to do it.”

So it was that the president called on the nation to recognize that a state of grace is love and mercy given, not because it is deserved but because God is gracious. No bombs or hate or fear can separate us from that. So while we mourn loss, we “also come together today to reclaim that state of grace, to reaffirm that the spirit of this city is undaunted and the spirit of this country shall remain undimmed.”

“A state of grace.” Not triumphant, merely grateful.


Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite is Professor of Theology and immediate past President of Chicago Theological Seminary. She is also a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress. Her most recent books are "#OccupytheBible: What Jesus Really Said (and Did) About Money and Power" and, as contributor and editor, "Interfaith Just Peacemaking: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Perspectives on the New Paradigm of Peace and War."
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