We hope to post links or excerpts from a few of the sermons preached yesterday in the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut in the wake of the Newtown massacre. They come to us through the good offices of Karin Hamilton, the diocese’s director of communications. This one is by the Rev. Molly James of Saint James, Higganum.
Well, there was the sermon I wrote earlier this week, but then I spent Friday afternoon and evening with our bishops at Trinity, Newtown, and somehow it didn’t seem so relevant.
But the Holy Spirit is the Holy Spirit, and so our Scripture readings for today are relevant. They speak to us of God’s comfort, of God’s presence in the midst of terrible disaster and heartache. They remind us to rejoice. That is what we need to hear. I would imagine that all of us are reeling from Friday’s events, perhaps it is only begin to sinkin or perhaps we are still holding it at arms length because we can’t let it in. It is too awful to imagine the horrors of that day, to imagine what if that were my son, my daughter, my parent, my loved one. Wherever we are at, I hope we will open ourselves to the hope that is in our readings and has been in the response to this event.
As you might have noticed, I like technology. I was on Twitter and Facebook Friday afternoon, and I have to say social media was a gift. As I assisted our bishops and the staff at Trinity, Newtown in preparing prayers for their Friday night service, I reached out to friends and fellow clergy online. Within minutes I had been connected with wonderful resources, including a beautiful prayer that had been written specifically for Newtown. I put out another request for resources to help talk with children and families about violence and death. I have been posting these resources on our diocesan website, and the response has been overwhelming. I know that throughout the day Friday and yesterday prayers and messages of support have been pouring into our diocese from fellow Anglicans around the world (See here).
The wonders of social media have meant that we have known – almost instantaneously – of all of the prayers for our communities, our state and our nation. These touching messages of prayer and support are a source of great hope and inspiration to me. In the face of unspeakable tragedy. The kind of tragedy that makes you feel as though someone has punched you in the gut. The kind of tragedy where you know that life will never quite be the same. In the face of all that, there is hope. There is hope because it is times like these that we see the best of humanity. We see that we are all connected. We see that our first instincts are for community, to gather together, to reach out to support each other. We see, that as Genesis attests and Archbishop Desmond Tutu reminds us – we human beings are indeed “made for goodness.”
And it is in the goodness that God is present too. As Kathie Adams-Shepherd, rector of Trinity, Newtown, reminded those gathered on Friday evening, it could have been so much worse, but for the acts of love and bravery of teachers and staff at Sandy Hook. Those teachers are no longer with us because they were willing to put their lives on the line to protect the children in their care.
In the face of a tragedy such as this, it is easy to be filled with a desire for vengeance, to be filled with anger at the perpetrator. Particularly with a Gospel lesson like we have, it can be tempting to think with smug satisfaction that the man who did this is an example of the bad fruit that is thrown into the fire. Anger is a normal part of the grieving process, but we cannot allow ourselves to stay angry. For if we allow events like us to make us angry or bitter than the evil one has won out. No matter how bad the day may be, no matter how tragic the circumstances, we cannot allow ourselves to be overtaken by anger or by fear.
We are a resurrection people. We believe in the possibility that goodness can come out of the darkest of days. That is the Easter story that is at the heart of our faith. You may have noticed I am wearing a rather substantial cross today. I wore this cross on purpose. It was a present from a friend from his trip to Mozambique (we in CT have a companion relationship with a diocese there), and it is a cross that is made from parts of a machine gun. Mozambique suffered a terrible civil war in the not too distant past, and as a part of the reconciliation at the end of that war, soldiers were invited to turn in their weapons for farming implements – truly swords into plowshares. The guns were then dismantled and their metal turned into art, such as this cross. I love this cross, because like all crosses it is a symbol of hope. It is a sign of the depths of God’s love for us, a sign of God’s humanity and presence with us. And it is a reminder that no earthly power – no matter how strong or terrible it may seem – is stronger than the love of God. This cross is a reminder that transformation is possible, that good things can come out of devastating circumstances.
And we have the opportunity to live out that truth in our lives. The greatest legacy we can offer to honor those children and educators who lost their lives on Friday, is to live our lives in a way that honors their bravery and their love. It is to live with a more profound awareness of how fragile and precious life truly is. It is to live our lives grounded in the knowledge that God is with us and to live in a way that proclaims the truth of God’s transforming love to a broken and hurting world.