Our thoughts and prayers are not enough.
This has been a season of tragedy upon tragedy and so many shades of injustice and grief: Charlottesville and its aftermath; the devastating losses wrought by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Jose, Maria; calamitous earthquakes and mudslides; ongoing violence in Myanmar, Syria, Yemen, and beyond; and most recently, the Las Vegas massacre.
These events can make us feel so small. They can overwhelm us, especially in this era of nonstop coverage–headlines and pictures and reports. They can reduce us to helpless platitudes on social media. Confession: I often want to shut it all out, to turn off the news, to walk away. I’ve been so dismayed by some of the debacles in American politics that when I travel, I’m tempted to say I’m Canadian. When I read, I seek the comfort of fiction.
Yet here’s the nonfiction reality: We’re not called to turn away, because we have a different story to tell. As the people of God, we’re called to name evil, to work for justice, and to proclaim the good news of love and hope.
It’s can be so difficult to hold onto that good news in the wake of carnage like we’ve seen in Las Vegas or the devastation in Texas, Florida, the Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico. But amid such suffering and death, it’s crucial to remember that the Gospel is a story of resurrection. God, through Jesus, leads us through death, not around it. Christ’s example empowers us not to shy from suffering but to walk with others through it.
Next week’s Lectionary readings include the Apostle Paul’s familiar exhortation from his letter to the Philippians, which was written in the darkness of a prison but in the light of that resurrection story: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.”
Such words can ring as hollow as “thoughts and prayers” in times like these. Rejoice? How is this a time for gentleness rather than profound anger and immense disappointment at the many ways in which our unjust systems are failing the most vulnerable? How near is the Lord really?
I wonder what it might look like if we heard “The Lord is near” not as a statement akin to “thoughts and prayers,” but as a call to loving, concrete action. What if we read “The Lord is near” as “Let us show one another that the Lord is near”?
Through our love for each other, we can show that the Lord is near to those who need good news. Through our generosity, we can demonstrate that the Lord is near to those who have lost so much. Through our embrace of those who weep, we can help reveal that the Lord is near to those who suffer. Through our efforts to bring about a more just nation and world, we can proclaim that the Lord is near to those who have been neglected and harmed by society.
Let our joy be our defiance, and our gentleness a firm rebuke to the evil and violence of this aching world. Let us unify in the great hope of the story that Jesus has written, a story of resurrection. And let us embody our thoughts and prayers with love in action, helping to bring healing and to demonstrate through our care and generosity that our Lord is indeed near.