I got a call late on Wednesday, June 17. The ring jolted me out of sleep into a confused, nearly panicked state. When I answered, the voice on the other end told me there had been a shooting in Charleston, that it had happened at a black church, historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church (Mother Emanuel), and that a state senator was believed to be a victim.
Could that really be?
What are the right words in that moment? Even now, I’m not sure there are any. I hung up and knelt down beside my bed. I prayed. I wept.
An old boss of mine used to tell a story:
Growing up Southern Baptist in the deep south, he attended more than his fair share of pancake breakfasts. Every year, a gentleman in his town sold and redeemed the tickets, always trying to sell as many as he could to raise money for the congregation. But, if children could recite a memory verse, they were admitted free of charge.
John 3:16 was popular, as was Philippians 4:13. But there were always kids who, for one reason or another, had failed to commit something of substantial length to memory. So, one by one, they walked up to the ticket counter, recited “Jesus wept,” and were admitted.
John 11:35 is the shortest verse in the bible, but don’t let that fool you. These two words tell us a few notable things about the Christian faith.
Our God grieves. Jesus, God incarnate, cried at the sight of a lifeless Lazarus. He felt heartache, as we all do. He was overcome with emotion, as we all sometimes are. I am reminded of the Nicene Creed. “[Jesus] came down from heaven, and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man.” Fully God and fully human, tears flowed down his face.
What we do matters matters to God. So maybe this isn’t a huge surprise. Of course God cares, right? Yes. But too often, our omnipotent God gets caricatured as a stern, commanding white man in the sky. Imagine instead a God affected by our behavior. Good or bad, it causes God to weep or celebrate. S/he does not love us any less (that’s the grandest miracle of all), but surely a loving God cares what we do and don’t do.
We can redeem and be redeemed. Jesus did not weep forever. Instead of remaining in a sorrowful state, Jesus reacted in a way that was, quite literally, life giving. Raising Lazarus from the dead was one of his last miracles before his own crucifixion and resurrection. As his followers, we too are called to turn darkness into light.
Yesterday, on Friday June 10, 2015, my spirit is renewed. In secular America we call it a silver lining or making lemonade out of lemons. But as Christians, we have different language. It is redemption through God. It is (striving for) beloved community. It is the creation of the Kingdom, in small moments, here on earth.
This morning, I stood outside the South Carolina statehouse grounds and watched the Confederate flag come down, once and for all. I am no longer weeping. Along with my friends and thousands of others, I cheered and clapped and shivered with goosebumps despite the sweltering heat. Love at last triumphed over hate.
Jessica Church is a faithful Democrat living in South Carolina. You can reach Jessica on twitter at @j_r_church or by email at church.jessicarae@.