This post originally appeared as an article in Faith’s Foundations, the monthly newsletter of Faith Lutheran Church in Three Lakes, WI.
It’s hard. I know it is.
It’s hard to experience what we all experienced these past couple of months and still remember that we worship a God who is Sovereign and Lord.
We watched in horror as 49 people were killed and 53 more were wounded in a shooting spree at a gay night club. We couldn’t believe our eyes when two black men were shot to death by police, one with no real motive at all. We cried in sorrow and in fear when five brave police officers were assassinated in the line of duty during a peaceful protest, and again when three more were killed just a few days later. We kept a tight grip on our seats as bombs continued to go off in France and the middle east, including more than one that killed over 80 people, and one wounded over 300 more. And we sat in shocked silence when we heard that a priest had been stabbed and had this throat slit during morning Mass in France, which brought up comparisons to the murder of Archbishop Óscar Romero.
I also know it’s been hard to hear me preach on these events. Oftentimes I think we wish preaching in church could be all about love and happy things, how great God is, how wonderful it is to be a Christian, and all that.
The past few months have been a stark reminder that we live in a broken world in which, for some, God feels so very far away. It’s important to know that. It’s important to acknowledge that. It’s important to wrestle with that like the psalmists do, who ask God, “Why do you sleep, O LORD? Awake, do not cast us off forever! Why do you hide your face? Why do you forget our affliction and oppression?” (Psalm 44), and “How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long?” (Psalm 13). Not everyone’s experiences are the same, and we do injustice when we filter or judge another’s story or experiences through our own to determine their validity.
And yet, we are a people who are bound by something else. A few weeks ago I presided over a funeral for a woman who died suddenly and without warning. I sat with the family in their numbness and shock, trying to figure out what they needed to do next and how they were going to move forward. And then we read from Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians:
“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died. For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died. For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18)
This is what makes the Christian life livable, even in the face of national tragedy, international terror, martyrdom, and sudden loss. This is why those same psalmists who cried out to God in lament could end their psalms, “Rise up, come to our help. Redeem us for the sake of your steadfast love,” and “But I trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me.” This is why we as children of God can confront the evils we see and experience in the world around us. We have the courage to both wade into the pain of people suffering—including ourselves—and bring not a message of woe, but a message of hope. That God is present during our sufferings. That God hid with the hostages in Orlando, and was there to care for the wounds of Alton and Philando, and held the officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge in God’s arms after they were shot, and dug through the rubble after the bombings across the world, and wept as Father Jacques Hamel took his last breath.
We are a people of hope. Our God is not silent, and neither are we. In this newsletter you’ll find letters from the Rev. Elizabeth Eaton, the Presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You’ve heard me mention her many times over the past few months, and there’s a reason for that. I want you to know something else about us as Christians: that we never face life’s trials alone. We are part of a wider community than just our congregation. We part of a regional synod and a national church. We are part of a global tradition of Lutherans and a community of saints that extends into the past and will live on in the future. When the world groans in pain we groan with it, together. When tragedy strikes, we respond together. When any one of us is in need we act out of love together.
And when it seems like we can’t go on, when the weight of the world crushes down on us, we lift each other up together.
It’s hard. I know it is. But we will face the evils in our world together, and together, the message of hope will be shared for and through us.
The letters and messages from the Rev. Elizabeth Eaton, Presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, can be found here.