I want to begin today with words not from our lectionary texts but from the prophet Jeremiah: Thus says the Lord, A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.
Let us pray
God, do not hide your face from us in our anger and grief for the death of your children in Uvalde and throughout the world. Renew us in hope that your justice will roll down like mighty waters and joy spring up from the broken ground in a living stream; We pray for the repose of the souls of, Uziyah Garcia, Amerie Garza, Xavier Lopez, Tess Mata, Ellie Garcia, Rojelio Torres, Jose Flores, Jailah Silguero, Jayce Luevanos, Nevaeh Bravo, Jacklyn Cazares, Annabelle Rodriguez, Eliahana Torres, Alithia Ramirez, Layla Salazar, Makenna Lee Elrod, Lexi Rubio, Miranda Mathis, Maite Rodriguez, Eva Mireles, Irma Garcia, and Salvador Ramos. We pray this in the name of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Friends, I am already praying for the victims of the next mass school shooting.
Not because I want to.
But because I know, just as well as you do, that this will not be the last time I have to stand in a pulpit and address the massacre of innocents in our land.
And it is certainly not the first.
I am praying for the next mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles, grandparents and godparents who will hear there is an active shooter at their local school and wait with bated breath and the bile of grief to learn whether the child they hurried out the door to school that morning will get come home again—to track in dirt on a clean floor, to talk back when adolescence hits, to have their first kiss, to graduate, to vote.
I am praying for the teachers, underpaid and under fire, who will give their own bodies for children not of their own blood.
I am praying for all of us who will breathe a private sigh of secret thanksgiving that it wasn’t our school, at least not this time.
I wish I could tell you that if everyone in this parish wrote our political leaders demanding action, that it would be different next time.
I wish I could tell you that if we all went out and marched for change, then it would be different next time.
I wish I could tell you that a sermon, a speech, or a charitable foundation in the victims’ honor would make it so there was never another “next time.”
But the stark and uncomfortable truth is that all those things are what we do every single time.
Some of us have been doing that for a decade or more.
I wish I could stand here this morning and tell you that things will be different next time. But I don’t believe in offering false hope or unrealistic optimism, because I don’t want us to whistle past this graveyard of children.
I don’t pretend to know the answer, friends. But what I do know is what we are doing, and have been doing for two decades, isn’t working.
At a certain point, it begins to feel like feeding quarter after quarter after quarter into a broken, empty vending machine and still expecting it to spit out a soda.
On Wednesday morning, perhaps like many of you, I felt like I went through the stages of grief in a matter of hours. Denial, that this could happen again. Anger, that this could happen again. Bargaining, what could I do so this wouldn’t happen again, anything because I just want to live in a country where kids aren’t murdered in their elementary school classrooms.
And finally, and scariest of all the stages of grief, acceptance that this could happen again.
In that moment, I realized, at some point in the past two decades since the Columbine shooting, I had quit hoping for the shootings to end, because it didn’t seem realistic to do so, and I started hoping for longer intervals between them.
So I began to pray for the will and the courage to refuse to accept that these shootings that have become so normal are anything but normal.
Because, here I am, a minister of the gospel, called to proclaim the resurrection in these final, waning days of Easter. And yet, in this season of joy and resurrection, death and sorrow presses on our souls, as if Ash Wednesday has lost its way and stumbled into the shimmer of Easter, leaving its cruciform thumbprints of burnt dust and fragile mortality all over the beauty of polished candlesticks, gold fabric, and blooming flowers..
And so, here at the tail end of Eastertide, the Great 50 days of feasting and celebration, I feel more like fasting and lamenting.
I know this all sounds so despairing and bleak. But, I don’t wonder if it’s the only hope we have left—deep lament. Maybe grief is the only thing left of our collective humanity in our nation.
This probably isn’t the sermon you came to hear this morning.
Lament doesn’t give us any of the catharsis of railing against the usual suspects, and it refuses to succumb to what has become our ritual in the wake of shootings, a ritual that helps us to put yet another one behind us. We rage in horror. One side calls for thoughts and prayers. One side calls for political action. As if we don’t need both. One side says mental health, the other gun control. As if we don’t need both. And like any dysfunctional family in grief, we take sides. We fight and yell and scream at each other rather than weep and grieve and deal with our brokenness.
But lament is different. Lament won’t let us just move on or seek the twisted comfort of demonizing each other.
Though we often ignore it, lament has a long and storied tradition in our communities of faith, when we finally admit that we’ve done our best to save ourselves for so long and only managed to sink ourselves deeper into the pit, when the limits of our collective will and anger are finally exhausted and we simply fall on our knees. It is the overlooked strength of our faith in the midst of unspeakable and incomprehensible tragedy.
Lament is a deep and profound wail from the depths of our souls that, O my holy God, something has gone terribly wrong in the soul of this nation, that we are sick, and we cannot heal ourselves, have not been able to repair what has been broken. For generations, we have sown violence of one kind or another, and now we are reaping a bitter, poisoned harvest.
So we cry out, broken in hopes of being broken open, longing for the day when things will be put back together, “Come, Lord Jesus, Come.”
There’s a reason between one-third to half of the Psalms are cries of lament, according to Walter Brueggeman, one our greatest modern-day biblical scholars.
“Lament summons God,” he says.
And so I have turned to the wisdom and the longing of the Psalms, who have given voice to every generation at their wits’ end with the evil and tragedy of the world, and it is stunning how fitting the Psalmist’s ancient words are to our modern-day moment.
Remember your promise for the dark places of the land are full of the haunts of violence.
Direct your steps to the perpetual ruins; the enemy has destroyed everything in the sanctuary. (Psalm 74)
By the waters of Babylon, we sat down and wept, when we remembered you (Psalm 137)
I am weary with crying; my throat is parched. My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God. (Psalm 63)
Every day I call on you, O Lord; I spread out my hands to you. Do you work wonders for the dead? (Psalm 88)
And yet, in descending to the depths, we find light in the abyss, strength beyond our capability.
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth be moved, and though the mountains be toppled into the depths of the sea
It is he who makes war to cease in all the world; he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear, and burns the shields with fire.
“Be still, then, and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46)
I wish I had something more profound to say this morning. All I can do is call us to holy lament, call us to grief, to hold up the brokenness of our world, the brokenness of our hearts, to a God who was broken by us and our violence and say, “Come, Lord Jesus, Come.”
Because I am broken by this. We all are. But our brokenness, our deep lament, means we are not without hope, because we have refused to grow numb to witnessing the immense suffering of our neighbors and ourselves, even as we feel powerless at times to do anything constructive about it..
In her book Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer writes of grief and lament borne of witnessing violence and death and being unable to prevent it. As a scientist and indigenous woman, she has experienced this time and again, both in the natural world and the human-made one.
“There must be an end to this,” she writes. “By the time I get home it is late, and I cannot sleep, so I walk up the hill to the pond behind my house. I want to light a sweetgrass smudge, to wash away the sadness in a cloud of smoke. But the fog is too heavy and the matches just bleed a red streak across on the box. As it should be. There should be no washing away tonight; better to wear grief like a sodden coat.
“Weep! Weep!” calls a toad from the water’s edge. And I do.
If grief can be a doorway to love, then let us all weep for the world we are breaking apart so we can love it back to wholeness again.”
Come, Lord Jesus Come.
For our land is haunted by violence.
Stand in the midst of our perpetual ruining.
We are weary from crying.
We are weeping for our children, because they are no more.
Do you work wonders for the dead?
Shatter our weapons and violence.
Be our refuge.
Let us know that you are God.
Do not leave us comfortless, but send your Holy Spirit to strengthen us.
Let us pray.
Loving God, Jesus gathered your little ones in his arms and blessed them. Have pity on us who mourn for all those slaughtered by the violence of our fallen world. Be with us as we struggle with the mysteries of life and death; in our pain, bring your comfort, and in our sorrow, bring your hope and your promise of new life, in the name of Jesus our Savior. Amen.