Singing in the midst of evil is what it means to be disciples. Like Mary Magdalene, the reason we stand and weep and listen for Jesus is because we, like Mary, are bearers of resurrection, we are made new. On the third day, Jesus rose again, and we do not need to be afraid. To sing to God amidst sorrow is to defiantly proclaim, like Mary Magdalene did to the apostles… that death is not the final word. To defiantly say, once again, that a light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot, will not, shall not overcome it. And so, evil be damned, because even as we go to the grave, we still make our song alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia.”
― Nadia Bolz-Weber
There is so much to worry about in this world. How can anyone find a voice to sing? So many people in so much pain. What song can fill the heart in the midst of such pain? I just finished reading a story about the eight injured and one killed in a Tennessee church this morning after a gunman opened fire. Heartbreaking and scary to say the least. It all had me thinking about my own place of worship and the safety and security that I enjoy each week. What must it be like to face such darkness in the midst of morning of praying and worship? I cannot even imagine.
I know very little about Burnette Chapel Church of Christ where the shooting took place. Media reports would indicate that it is a relatively small worshiping community. Their webpage indicates that they are Bible based community where its okay to wear bluejeans to church. While I know so very little about this particular community, I know a little more about ‘the Church’. For centuries now the Church has striven to be a place that is a beacon of light and hope for all who are ‘in the valley of death,’ those who are ‘like a lonely bird on a house top,’ those whose ‘hearts are stricken and withered like grass,’ those fearing that ‘each evening the enemy will come back howling like a dog and prowling around the city,’ those whose ‘hearts are in anguish’ because they feel,
‘the terrors of death have fallen upon them.’ The people of God have constantly tried to give voice to hope in what is often filled with fear and despair. Time and time again, the people of God assemble in the midst of the difficult of circumstances and bring light.
I am certain that the people of Brunette Chapel Church will regather and they will sing – evil be damned – they will sing! In defiance of darkness of violence they will sing of a God who will come to their aid. They will sing of grace. They will perhaps sing the words of the Psalmist:
8 You yourself have kept track of my misery.
Put my tears into your bottle—
aren’t they on your scroll already?
9 Then my enemies will retreat when I cry out.
I know this because God is mine.
10 God: whose word I praise.
The Lord: whose word I praise.
11 I trust in God; I won’t be afraid.
What can anyone do to me?
Nadia Bolz-Weber writes this about church:
I have given many answers to the question “Why church?” This one may be the best and most needed. We cannot create for ourselves God’s word of grace. We must tell it to each other.
“We must tell it to each other.” The church is at its best when we tell God’s grace to one another. When we are able to sing love in defiance of hate, when we are able to sing Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! – even at the grave. When we sing the assurance that God has put our tears into God’s bottle in the face of the misery of the worst of days, we enflesh the Body of Christ and give breath to the the Holy Spirit.
I have come to know a little about this because of the witness of one of God’s beloved. On Tuesday our community will gather to sing as we say goodbye to that beloved child. We will sing even though our hearts are rent with grief at the loss of a fellow pilgrim. John Westgate was a testimony to what it looks like to live with an abiding faith in God. John was a hard working, kind, compassionate, and humble man. For ten months he LIVED with the darkness of cancer. Each time John and I discussed the future I was reassured that he was unafraid. He was ‘singing,’ He was ‘telling others’, in words and deed – Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia. John refused to miss work or church, or Knights games – he simply lived with the assurance of his abiding faith knowing that his attitude was in concert with that of the Psalmist; “I trust in God; I won’t be afraid. What can anyone do to me?” He took opportunity to tell the community at St Aidan’s how much their prayer and concern for him and his beloved Barb meant. He took every opportunity to remind me that he was so fortunate to have Barb and his children Michael and Michelle at his side. After his diagnosis John lived as one who’s every action defiantly said, ‘a light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot, will not, shall not overcome it.’ I am happy to record in the log book of my own journey that I got to know John Westgate. Joyful to log those moments because for the time that I got to sojourn with John, I learned more about singing in the midst of the most unspeakable darkness. Thank you John. I will miss you.
You can join us in singing our Alleluias on Tuesday Morning at 11 am at St Aidan’s Church. The Funeral Details can be read by clicking here