From the Prophet Isaiah:
All hands will be feeble,
and every human heart will fail,
and they will be dismayed.
Pangs and agony will seize them;
they will be in anguish like a woman in labor.
They will look aghast at one another;
their faces will be aflame.
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Isaiah 13:7-8 (NRSV) – December 16, 2012.)
Today is the Third Sunday of Advent; in the tradition of the church it is known as Gaudete Sunday, Latin for “Rejoicing Sunday” so named because of the medieval introit to the Mass, “Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete”, St. Paul’s words in the Letter to the Philippians, “Rejoice in the Lord always: again I say rejoice.” (4:4) (A reading from that very portion of Paul’s letter is this year’s epistle lesson for the Eucharist today; we will hear and consider those words at church this morning.)
But on Friday, at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, twenty children and six of their teachers were gunned down by a 20-year-old man wielding two semi-automatic assault weapons. Before entering the school, if reports have been correct, he murdered his mother, and after killing the children, he shot himself. In the face of such insanity, how does one rejoice? Isaiah’s words of feebleness and failure, pangs and agony, anguish and faces aflame seem somehow so much more appropriate than Paul’s admonition to rejoice.
On Friday, following those tragic events, the Episcopal Peace Fellowship published this poem by Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann on its Facebook page. Entitled Grieving Our Lost Children, I offer it again here:
another school killing,
another grief beyond telling . . .
and loss . . .
among the Amish
Where next? (In Connecticut)
We are reduced to weeping silence,
even as we breed a violent culture,
even as we kill the sons and daughters of our “enemies,”
even as we fail to live and cherish and respect
the forgotten of our common life.
There is no joy among us as we empty our schoolhouses;
there is no health among us as we move in fear and bottomless anxiety;
there is little hope among us as we fall helpless before
the gunshot and the shriek and the blood and the panic: we pray to you only because we do not know what else to do.
So we pray, move powerfully in our body politic,
move us toward peaceableness
that does not want to hurt or to kill,
move us toward justice
that the troubled and the forgotten may know mercy,
move use toward forgiveness that we
may escape the trap of revenge.
Empower us to turn our weapons to acts of mercy,
to turn our missiles to gestures of friendship,
to turn our bombs to policies of reconciliation;
and while we are turning,
hear our sadness,
We dare to pray our needfulness to you because you have been there on that
and watched your own Son be murdered
for “reasons of state.”
Good God, do Easter!
Here and among these families,
here and in all our places of brutality.
Move our Easter grief now . . .
without too much innocence –
to your Sunday joy.
We pray in the one crucified and risen
who is our Lord and Savior.
Good God, do Easter! It may be Advent. We may be getting ready for Christmas. But our hands are feeble; our hearts will fail; we are dismayed; our faces are aflame. Please God, do Easter!
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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.