Two days after Palm Sunday, Holy Week was marred by twin terror attacks in Brussels. As an expat Canadian who works five minutes from Maelbeek metro station where one attack took place, I was struck in the heart by these horrific events. On the day itself, I was at home praying when I learned the news.
Good Friday, three days later, was a day we began learning the names of the victims. Hope waned that missing loved ones were still alive. As some suspects had not yet been found, we had a choice to live in fear of another attack, or live in faith.
The collective spirit during those three days vacillated between salvation and despair.
The despair was in the knowledge there is still so much sinfulness in a world blind to Christ’s sacrifice. Instead of remembering he died for us and rejoicing, we were remembering human lives lost in the name of senseless violence and asking God why he had forsaken us. A widely circulated photograph of a man shaking his fists at the sky, teeth bared, captured this sentiment.
Salvation was in God’s love, apparent in the outpouring of human kindness. Witnesses helped survivors emerge from the wreckage of the metro station and Brussels Airport, police worked tirelessly to apprehend perpetrators, and people spoke out in defense of Muslims. Traffic jams in the city were peaceful.
An initiative set up on social media saw hundreds of strangers offer hugs to one another at the memorial at La Bourse, Brussels’ stock market exchange building. The sight of it was overwhelming—flags from nations around the world, letters of peace, works of art, flowers, incense, slogans of solidarity written in chalk, people openly weeping, and in the centre, a cross. I placed my Palm Sunday frond before kneeling on the pavement to pray for the people who had died or were hanging on to life, for their loved ones, for our city and our world to heal. All around me, I saw love and goodness. In the face of unspeakable tragedy, I had never felt so much in the presence of God.
In the months leading up to the attacks, the Anglican church I belong to, Holy Trinity, had been praying to keep our city, the cornerstone of Europe, safe. In the same way early Christians were warned of Christ’s death on the cross, we in Brussels had been warned an attack was likely to happen in Belgium. Following the November 13 attacks in Paris, when military patrolled the streets near churches due to threats to places of Christian worship, our minister began his sermon with an emergency procedures explanation not unlike a religious in-flight safety demonstration. In our Prayers of the People, we prayed for policymakers and heads of state to make the right decisions to guide Europe through what has been referred to as one of the most trying times since the Second World War.
On Easter Sunday, we prayed for one of our congregation, Mark, who had survived the attack, having received only shrapnel in his forehead. The Eucharistic Prayer and the sermon that day held greater meaning, the offering of the Peace was longer, more profound.
Leaving the service into an uncharacteristically sunny day, the miracle of God being among us is what will help restore us in the many weeks it will take to recover. We are humbled. We are steadfast.