A Pastoral Letter from our Bishop on the Charleston Tragedy

June 19, 2015

Dear brothers and sisters,

Shortly after the devastating news of the mass murders at Emmanuel AME Church began to spread, a deacon of our diocese wrote to me.  “Why?” he asked.  “How could such a thing happen in a sacred place?  What can I say to people who are looking for an explanation?”  I have pondered those questions for a day and still am unable to answer.  The “Why?” and the “How?” are unfathomable in the face of overwhelming evil.  Nine people are dead, brothers and sisters in Christ.  They were cut down solely because of their race.  How could one human being inflict such a thing on another?  How can we hear God’s voice in the midst of the storm of emotions – from fear to anger to bewilderment – that sweep over us?

In the end, we are reduced to silence and prayer.  I find myself seeking to be still in the presence of the Lord.  I find myself gazing at the cross, and into the face of the One who suffered immeasurably on our behalf.  I find myself allowing the questions simply to be, now and perhaps forever unanswered.  Meanwhile, we can seek comfort in the familiar and oft-prayed words of the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer – words that themselves were written by people who asked the same questions and struggled with their own version of the same pain.

Here are some texts that have seared themselves into my heart.  Perhaps they will touch yours as well.  In the first, the Psalmist – like us – pleads for understanding, and then slowly, tentatively, recognizes the Lord presence, without “explaining away” the evil.

O God, why have you utterly cast us off?
Why is your wrath so hot against the sheep of your pasture?
Remember your congregation that purchased long ago,
and the tribe you redeemed to be your inheritance,
and Mount Zion where you dwell.
Turn your steps toward the endless ruins;
the enemy has laid waste everything in your sanctuary.
Your adversaries roared in your holy place;
they set up banners as tokens of victory.
Yet God is my King from ancient times,
victorious in the midst of the earth.
(Psalm 74:1-4,11)

In the second, the author of Hebrews reminds us that Jesus himself suffered our sufferings and prayed our prayers (indeed, his Prayer Book was the Book of Psalms).  He walked the way of the Cross not only to rescue us from sin, but also to drink to the dregs the pain of human life.

During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.  Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered.
(Hebrews 5:7-8)

And finally, two prayers from the Book of Common Prayer.

Lord Jesus Christ, we commend to you our brothers and sisters Cynthia, Sharonda, Ethel, Tywanza, Clementa, Myra, DePayne, Daniel, and Susie, who were reborn by water and the Spirit in Holy Baptism. Grant that their death may recall to us your victory over death, and be an occasion for us to renew our trust in your Father’s love.  Give us, we pray, the faith to follow where you have led the way, and where you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, to the ages of ages.  Amen.
(BCP, p. 498)

O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son:  Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.
(BCP, p. 815)

I ask that this Sunday, in all the parishes of the Diocese of Northern Indiana, prayer be offered for the victims, for their families, for the city of Charleston and all touched by this tragedy, and for our nation.  With all blessings I am

Yours in Christ,
+Ed

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