We welcomed a guest preacher at New Community this morning, so I took a few minutes before his sermon to reflect on the violence of this past week before we spent time in silence and prayer.
Early on a Sunday morning in September 1953, four members of the Alabama Klu Klux Klan placed dynamite under the steps of 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham. A few hours later, when the church was full, the bomb exploded killing four girls, ranging in age from 11-14. Three days later Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. stood before their families and community to eulogize the victims. Towards the end of his sermon he said the following,
Life is hard, at times as hard as crucible steel. It has its bleak and difficult moments. Like the ever-flowing waters of the river, life has its moments of drought and its moments of flood. Like the ever-changing cycle of the seasons, life has the soothing warmth of its summers and the piercing chill of its winters. And if one will hold on, he will discover that God walks with him, and that God is able to lift you from the fatigue of despair to the buoyancy of hope, and transform dark and desolate valleys into sunlit paths of inner peace.
For many families in Newton, Connecticut, the past few days have been as hard as crucible steel. The sheer magnitude of this crime threatens to overshadow the unique grief of each parent, each grandparent, and each friend. What happened in that school on Friday was demonic, an expression of a present evil we would prefer to ignore but cannot avoid. This week we are reminded that our enemy knows no distinction between race or class or geography. Like a lion, he prowls around looking for someone – anyone – to devour.
So while our country mourns the lives devoured in Connecticut, we, the reconciled people of God, cannot overlook the lives devoured in our own city. 488 lives taken so far in Chicago in 2012, many of them young men and young women. Our nation is shocked that such evil would be visited upon Newton: an affluent town, 95% white, that has known only one murder in the past decade. But we, the reconciled people of God, must know and speak aloud that murder and violence anywhere – including the neighborhoods within our city where outsiders crassly expect such things to happen – that any such violence is an act of profound injustice, a stench to a holy God in whose image these children are made.
Reverend King was right about the bleak and difficult moments of life and he was also right about the God who walks with us, “who lifts you from the fatigue of despair to the buoyancy of hope.” This is what we remember during Advent: that the Son of God, for our salvation, stepped into the grief of our world. So we do not need to rush past this pain. We don’t need to medicate our lament with distraction or entertainment. The man of sorrows who bore our sin allows us to stop and grieve. The same one who ensures our hope and our future, the one on whom all evil was brought to bear, the one whose body could not be held by our ancient enemy, death, He grants the courage this morning lament this present evil age. He is our example of righteous living for the advancement of God’s kingdom. And He too gives us the hope that one day, such grief will be a fading memory and nothing more.