Prior to church last Sunday morning, my wife asked, “Are you going to say something about the school slayings in Connecticut this morning?”
Frankly, I hadn’t planned to. The whole thing was just too horrible to think about, much less talk about.
Besides, what would I have to say? That there are evil and wicked men in the world? That the innocent always seem to suffer the worst? That no one is ever truly safe anywhere? That many people, myself included, are mad at God because so many innocents lost their lives?
“Do you really think I should?” I asked.
“Yes, I really do.”
The sermon that morning was about Mary, the mother of Jesus. I spoke about her favor with God, about the questions she had, and about her example of submission to God’s will. I spoke about the baby she was to bring into the world. I just couldn’t find a place to mention the sorrow of Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Even during the prayers, I kept silent about the shootings.
Then it was time for Holy Communion, a solemn and sacred time during our services — the high point, really. After the offertory hymn, I went to the lectern and shared that, “Not everyone will have a Merry Christmas this year.”
I mentioned the retired patriarch of our denomination, a man we loved and knew well, whose wife died two days prior. I shared about a lady in our church whose 33-year-old son had a fatal heart attack a week earlier, leaving behind a wife and 5-year-old daughter. And then I mentioned Sandy Hook Elementary School.
I shared that, though we felt helpless, we could pray for the victims and their families. I began to read the names and ages one by one, beginning with the adults, all women:
“Mary Sherloch, age 56. Anne Marie Murphy, age 52. Dawn Hochsprung, age 47. Lauren Rousseau, age 30. Rachel Davino, age 29. Victoria, Soto, age 27.”
And then, the really hard part began; “Daniel Barden, age 7. Olivia Engel, age 6. Josephine Gay, age 7. Ana M. Marquez-Greene, age 6. Dylan Hockley, age 6.”
Our children had just returned from children’s church and were sitting with their parents, many of whom wrapped their arms around them and drew them close.
“Madeleine F. Hsu, age 6. Catherine V. Hubbard, age 6. Chase Kowalski, age 7. Jesse Lewis, age 6. James Mattioli, age 6. Grace McDonnell, age 7.”
Tears were being shed now, sniffles being heard. Hard and tough men were red-faced, wiping at their eyes:
“Emilie Parker, age 6. Jack Pinto, age 6. Noah Pozner, age 6. Caroline Previdi, age 6.”
The list seemed to go on forever. Except for the weeping, one could hear a pin drop. My voice cracked several times as I looked at eight of my own grandchildren who were present. Two of them were in the age range. One of my girls, Cassia, was 6. The other, Eliana, was 7.
How could anyone commit such violence upon such precious and totally innocent ones?
“Jessica Rekos, age 6. Avielle Richman, age 6. Benjamin Wheeler, age 6. Allison N. Wyatt, age 6.”
Finally, it was over. We were all spent — exhausted with the emotional pain of hearing the names and ages, knowing that so many homes would be filled with grief and sorrow this Christmas season.
As the people came to the altar to receive the Holy Sacrament, they knelt and lingered, praying for those who had lost so much. Some were still weeping, some still choked and red-faced. Some had running mascara and make-up. It didn’t matter. We were touched in a very deep place by what people, we would never meet, were going through.
It may not seem like much, to pray for people whose lives have been shattered ... but it was what we could do. We could not ease their pain or assuage their grief, but we could bring them to the One who could.
We will continue to do so. It’s all we know to do.
[David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, 4881 Hwy. 34 E., Sharpsburg, GA 30277. Services are held Sundays at 8:30 and 10 a.m. (www.ctkcec.org). He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese which consists of Georgia and Tennessee (www.midsouthdiocese.org). He may contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.]