With Christ at the center, we are encircled by love.
interpreted by Deborah Beach Giordano
O Lord, our King, how profoundly is Your name spoken across all the earth!
And the heavens! Their brilliance proclaims Your grace and majesty.
Babbling babies and gurgling infants are Your defense against Your enemies:
an army of life assembled against the forces of death.
Your foes can make no answer; they are silent as the tomb.
When I raise my eyes to Your heavens and behold the sun, the moon, the planets in their never-ending sojourn, the myriad swirling stars, the vast galaxies, the infinite stretches beyond the beyond — all the glories You have set forth….
why do You give a moment’s thought to human beings?
How do we rate? What are we that You care about us?
Surely a better question is this:
What are You that You care about us?
Yet here we are, formidable and free, glorying in our own borrowed grandeur — nearly Your equal, often Your foe;
capable of great good and of terrible wickedness; able to create and to destroy, to bless —
and to curse.
O Lord, our King, give us wisdom and humility, that we may not betray You by negligence or intent, but be true and faithful subjects, living proof of Your righteousness.
I was getting ready to post my most recent reflection when the news broke about the murders at the Christian school in Nashville. My response, as for most of us, I imagine, was silence; shock at lives stolen — some young, very young, lives. Then grief, an unspeakable grief, an all-encompassing, tangible grief, as if a massive overshadowing cloud covered over all the earth. Then the noise and racket began, news crews invading, insistent, irreverent, pushing, shoving aside distraught parents and families, almost trembling with ill-disguised glee as they informed their viewers of “another tragedy.” It seemed … yes, I’ll say it: demonic, an almost fiendish delight in A Big Story, and particularly in the deaths of children, sure to be a national headline.
“There is no health in us.”
~ the General Confession, the Book of Common Prayer
Even before prayer there is the cry of the heart — the outrushing of our spirit, dashing to the heavens, to the arms of Our Father: Lord! If only You had been here…. And then, perhaps, tears, and then, only then, do we find the words.
I discarded the Reflection I had written. My thoughts went to the pastor who was even now praying for the right words for the funeral of a nine year-old child; O Lord, give him strength. What words are sufficient?
Over the years I’ve led a number of funerals and memorial services, but never for a child. Nearly all my people had reached the psalmist’s threescore and ten (70) span, and several far beyond. Their stories were a delight to tell, filled with hope and resilience and joy. All had good, solidly human and deeply lived lives, even the most (apparently) flawed.
There was one service in particular which revealed how wondrously God can bless and heal us. We were laying to rest a fellow who had struggled with alcoholism, a battle he more often lost than won, sadly. There was a lot anger within the family; disappointment and resentment and heartbreak: how could Lou throw his life away, and Where was God in this?
It was a somber memorial. And then a young man stood up and told how he had been set on the right path, away from drink and despair, because of Lou’s honest confession of his own misery and hopelessness. Literally from beyond the grave the son and brother spoke to his family in a way he had never done, of his regrets for the pain he had caused, and of his great love for them. Those words brought new meaning and hope to the Scripture lessons I had prepared, and turned the family’s anger into awe and a new understanding. God is good.
But now back to Tennessee, to the very real, very immediate heartbreak, and the very real question: Where is God in this?
God is not in the clamoring voices that would use these deaths for political purposes, who shriek of purported other “victims” while trampling over the bodies of these children and the adults who died trying to protect them. It is a cacophony of Hell — to distract and dissemble, and deny the honest mourning over those who have been killed. “If they really believed in heaven, [those Christians] wouldn’t be sad,” a sneering Tweet (since deleted) proclaimed.
Take a deep breath. It is hard to not react in anger at such judgmental nonsense, such bigotry and hatred. But again, that’s a distraction that we must ignore. Realize, though, that’s what Christians are up against in many places, that attitude is real.
Let us look to the Light, to the Giver of Life, the Holy One.
I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.
~ Psalm 121:1-2
There is no comfort in trite phrases. “I’m sorry for your loss,” doesn’t begin to say what is truly felt. Words are meaningless at such times — and yet, in those noises we make at one another, in our feeble efforts to communicate what cannot be said, there is humanity; our shared human connection. We care.
As we reach out — in words, in support, in prayers, in tears too deep for words… as we pray for those ministers presiding over the burials; the teachers and students, the families, friends and community who mourn, we are in communion. Perhaps that is the meaning of the surrounding cloud I saw in that initial vision, not of grief, but of community; an encompassing circle of prayer and love for those who are suffering.
And here’s where that “Jesus business” comes in so powerfully, so essentially. In Christ, God is revealed as with us, here, in the midst of it all. The Lord Jesus, born of a woman, lived with us, experiencing our needs and wants, hungers and thirsts, joys and sorrows. We are understood, in our humanness.
When Lazarus died, Jesus wept. He wept. The fully-human, fully-divine Messiah felt the grief and loss of the death of his friend. Our God is not a remote, careless clockmaker who set things running and then wandered off, unconcerned, and now the watch is past its warranty. No. God is deeply and passionately a part of our lives and our world. Christ is the witness of that divine / human intersection: we live God-infused lives.
We are not alone, we have not been abandoned, God in Christ is with us. All of the time.
What, after all this, can I offer to you, as a gentle blessing for the days ahead? I wonder.
No mere mortal can ease the pain, or do more to comfort the sorrowing than to be present and to speak Christ’s words of assurance, gently. Gently, I repeat. In our rush to be comforted within our own minds and hearts, we are prone to become glib, trite; repeating greeting card platitudes, and irreligious theology: “Everything will be all right.” “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle.”
That’s just so much rubbish, and you know it. Soppy sentiment does not give life or strength. Let us, in all things, be conscious bearers of Christ’s Gospel; proclaiming God’s love and redeeming power. Nothing can separate us from the love of God. In life, in death, in suffering and joy, God is with us.
In the midst of it all, God is with us.
Christ’s peace and healing love sustain you,
Pray, and be strong in Christ.