While many of us were in the 11 a.m. worship service a few days ago, rested with an extra hour of sleep, 270 miles south of us, 26 people tragically lost their lives and 20 were wounded in a mass shooting at First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas. The victims include children, a pregnant woman, the pastor’s daughter, a guest preacher and his family, deacons, Sunday school teachers, and faithful members of this small community church. The grief that they bear is unfathomable, and the trauma that they endure and will endure is heart-wrenching.
It seems that mass shootings are commonplace these days, and we become numb to the overwhelming statistics of senseless violence in every corner of the globe. We know the litany of places who have suffered tremendously, and we have witnessed people come together in their heartache for strength and solace. We can name the places around the world that have suffered, and we can recite the attacks on our own soil in recent times that shake us to the core: Las Vegas, Orlando, Newtown.
We remember with particular pain brothers and sisters in Christ who experienced shootings in their houses of worship, like Sutherland Springs did this Sunday. Those of you who lived in Fort Worth eighteen years ago recall, of course, the deadly attack at Wedgewood Baptist, and you witnessed how a community grieved and supported one another. The shooting at Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston two years ago is still fresh in our minds. There seems to be no escape or “sanctuary” from the violence of our day, not even in our churches. We cry out with the psalmist, “How long, O Lord, how long?”
How do we respond as disciples of Jesus? What does the gospel have to do with how we respond, not only in comforting the grieving but also in condemning the violence? In striving to live amid disorienting uncertainty, even in our churches, how can we deepen our dependence and trust in our God who weeps with us and promises to be with us? May such horrible headlines that are all too frequent lead us to pray for and act on behalf of all those who suffer, leaning on God as refuge and strength (Psalm 46.1) for prayerful action and active prayer.
Peace be with you.