“A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled,
because they are no more.” [Mt. 2:18]
The shooting of 20 children and six school officials in Newtown, Connecticut, has shocked the world. We don’t expect such a thing to happen, certainly not here in Canada, nor even in the United States.
The fact that most of those who died were children in one of the most beautiful and safest communities in New England makes what happened so much more inexplicable. We are simply numbed by the horror of it all, how on a crisp, clear Friday morning a 20-year-old gunman could force his way into Sandy Hook school and cause so much death and destruction-and this in an idyllic Connecticut town full of Christmas decorations, with messages such as, “God bless Sandy Hook” and “Hug a Teacher Today.”
There are no “answers” that will soothe the pain of hurting parents. No doubt politicians will debate gun control. Psychologists will speculate on the killer’s motive and whether proactive treatment would have prevented the slaughter. Security officials will plan ways to more effectively secure schools. Cultural pundits will raise issues about values and morality.
These discussions have their place, but for now, the most important thing for us is to grieve-grieve the deaths of 20 children and six school officials, including the principal, the school psychologist, two young teachers and two teaching assistants.
And yet, as St. Paul says, we grieve as people not without hope. Death is not the end of life; God is. When tragedy occurs, there is God. When death strikes cruelly and unexpectedly, there is God. In life, as in death, in our joys and in our sorrows, there is God. No matter what happens to us, or when it happens, or how it happens, or where it happens, there is God.
I have no doubt that God was there with those children and school officials, even as the bullets were flying and bodies dropping to the ground. God is there with the survivors-the children, the parents, the school officials and family members-feeling their pain, shedding their tears and experiencing the heartbreaks and heartaches of people who are suffering an unbearable loss. After all, what parent ever wants to bury their child?
Many of will have seen an image of Michelangelo’s Pieta, the magnificent sculpture of the lifeless body of Jesus in the arms of his mother Mary. Any parent who has lost a child can feel the pain Mary must have experienced at that moment. The feeling of loss on Mary’s face is heartbreaking. On the first Good Friday, it must have seemed to Mary that when her son died, hope died with him. But on that first Easter Sunday, the resurrection changed everything. Hope proved stronger than despair. Life proved stronger than death. God had won the victory over all the sorrow, pain and evil that the world can throw at us.
That’s the good news of our faith in the face of the Newtown shooting-that nothing can separate us from the love of God. Not bullets or guns, not a crazed killer, not the shedding of blood or the murder of innocents, not even death itself can cut us off from God’s love. And where there is love, there is life.
This Advent season we once again prepare to celebrate the coming of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ into the world as a helpless, vulnerable child. Several days after Christmas we will commemorate the Feast of the Holy Innocents, when as many as 20 or 30 children were killed by a paranoid king threatened by this child’s birth. And yet, we know how the gospel story ends. Jesus is raised from the grave and God wins.
So shed your tears but keep hope alive! God will wipe away the tears from our eyes, just as God wiped away Mary’s tears on the day of her son’s resurrection. God will open wide his arms to the little children and embrace all the fallen ones into his fellowship. We grieve and pray for those who have died and for those who have survived. Yet we are not without hope, because love leads to life-always!
Let us pray. Gracious God, through your Son you have taught us that nothing in life or in death is able to separate us from your love. Look in mercy on all to whom great sorrow has come, especially on the parents, family members and friends of the children and school officials who died in the Newtown shooting. Heal the hurting and soothe the scars of those wounded in body or spirit that they may have strength to face the future in the power of your love. Console and protect those who have lost loved ones. Give your light in darkness to all who are near despair, and assure them that you hold all souls in life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The Rev. Dr. Gary Nicolosi is the rector at St. James Westminster Anglican Church in London, Ont.