Beyond the Edge of Knowledge: An Ecological Hope for Lent

The Sarah Champlin
The African Elephant
Good Friday, March 29, 2024

Every single creature is full of God
and is a book about God.
Every creature is a word of God.
If I spend enough time with the tiniest creature,
even a caterpillar,
I would never have to prepare a sermon.
So full of God is every creature.
Meister Eckhart

The African Elephant, mother and baby

African elephants are awe-inspiring creatures. It’s hard for me to pick which of their features is my favorite. Is it the immense size of their bodies? Their tree-trunk legs? Their wide, flappy ears? Their curling trunk? It’s hard to say which aspect of theirs is the best, but each of these fascinating facets add up to one majestic mammal, one of the largest to roam land on the planet.

Yet for poachers there is only one notable feature of an elephant: their ivory tusks. Though the sale of ivory is illegal in many places, poachers still hunt down elephants by the dozen to steal away their long incisors. The death of a hunted elephant is brutal and cruel. It ends with poachers cutting half its face off, taking the tusks, and leaving the rest of the four-ton animal to rot on the ground.

The inhumane death of any animal is reprehensible. Yet somehow my heartbreak over this tragedy is compounded upon learning that elephants grieve their dead in much the same way that we do. They even cry. Gayle Boss describes the aftermath of a matriarch felled by poachers: “For weeks her family returns, smelling, tasting, caressing the one who was their well-being. In rumbling groans below human hearing they tell their distress to all the elephants of the plain. Families come and touch, acknowledging a great leader is gone.” This thread of emotional connection between our species confirms for me that these elephants are painfully aware of the dishonorable death their fellow has suffered at the hands of hunters.

On this Good Friday we turn our attention to reflect on another dishonorable death of an innocent, the Son of God. We mourn in solidarity with the elephants of the African plain. As they gather around their fallen matriarch, we gather at the foot of the cross. Sometimes hope does not look like new life. Today hope looks like the understanding that God is with us in the depths of our deepest sorrow. There is nowhere that God cannot or will not go for us: even into death itself. Hope nudges us ever onward, trudging towards life, reminding us that we do not bear our grief alone. Sunday will come, of this we can rest assured. For now let us kneel by the bodies of our beloveds and let the earth hold our groans.

God of grieving elephants, God of all beginnings and all endings,
Be with us in our sorrow.
Help us remember the lengths to which your love was willing to go for us.
May our tears water the seeds of new life.
Help remind us that every end is a new beginning,
Even if we are not yet able to see what that beginning might be.

March 29, 2024

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