Isaiah 57: 7 - 8
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.
By a perversion of justice he was taken away.
Who could have imagined his future?
For he was cut off from the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people.
Nine lambs were led to the slaughter this past Wednesday evening at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. By a perversion of unfathomable, incomprehensible evil they were taken away to their deaths.
After 60-plus years of life, I am still rendered speechless when such ugly, hateful evil engages in such mindless violence as we witnessed Wednesday evening. Nine people gathered in God’s house to study the scripture. Nine people who welcomed the stranger at their door as Christ himself. Nine people who in the very act of Christian hospitality and kindness were betrayed and mowed down, their life-blood soaking the floors of the very House of the God they loved. And all for one reason and one reason only: because they were Black.
I am rendered mute by the sheer obscene insanity of it all. I am not so naïve to delude myself that my shock is everyone’s shock. African-Americans are all too accustomed to white people, through overt and covert racism, rendering their lives as insignificant, sub-human, and dispensable.
Just as the disciples in today’s Gospel find themselves in tempestuous, storm tossed seas, today, we, our nation, is in the midst of such a storm.
In the ancient world the watery deep – especially in the midst of a violent storm- represented total chaos. And for us today, that total chaos is the storm of our un-addressed – our denial - racism. When it comes to race and racism, our nation is in many ways no less filled with virulent hatred and malice from Whites toward Blacks as it was 50, or 100 years ago.
Rather than ushering in a post-racial era, the election of our first Black president has clearly unleashed sublimated hatred. It’s like the Hydra, we thought we cut off the head of racism and yet it grew back two and became more vicious.
We are in a chaotic, tempestuous storm and with each new abuse, with each new atrocity, with each new death, our Black sisters and brothers, like the disciples cry out, “Teacher, (Jesus, God) do you not care that we are perishing?" Where are you Lord? Why do you sleep while we are so imperiled?!
If God is asleep. If God is uncaring. If God is absent in this storm then what hope do we have? What is our lifesaver that will keep us from being drowned and all of us together dying as the boat of our society sinks to the bottom of the sea.
Is there hope for we people of faith, for the parishioners of Emanuel AME, for black and white people, if God does not hear our cry in the midst of our peril?
The evil demon of racism would love the answer to that to be no, there is no hope and your God is not there to save you? But that is yet one more lie, that evil would have us believe. Just like the lie that whites are superior to Blacks which has created the storm we are in, it is a lie that there is no hope, that there is no God who will still the sea and keep us safe.
My faith tells me that God was with the nine when they were murdered, just as God had been with them in all their lives. My faith tells me that Jesus embraced each of them as they died. My faith tells me that because these beautiful children of God were faithful that God was faithful to them. Not sleeping, not absent but embracing and comforting them through the horror of their last minutes.
That’s the theology of the cross. That even in the midst of evil and death, God is there. And that there is not evil or death that is stronger than love. Love always wins. This is the foundation of our faith in Jesus.
This faith is born out – given witness to/incarnated - in the response of the relatives of the nine Charleston martyrs.
Just as acts of absolute evil render me speechless, so do acts of unfathomable compassion and love. Which is what the families and friends of those who died Wednesday night have done in response to Dylann Roof murdering their loved ones. Dylann set out to ignite chaos and violence, to create the catalyst for a race war in our nation, to fuel evil to create greater evil and the response of the families has been to offer forgiveness, compassion and love. Jesus on the cross, “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.”
I am rendered speechless by this witness to our faith. They bear out a profound truth.
It is in these voices of love that Jesus is present. It is in their voices that we hear the words, "Peace! Be still!"
Their voices help quell the storm. Their incarnating the love of Christ - the commandment to love one another as I have loved you - calms the storm. It brings hope to a seemingly hopeless situation.
It brings hope to us, compelling us to lift our own voices with the only way to still the chaos that threatens to subsume us. And that is the love of God in Christ. Peace, be still: Healing that brings the light that can and will end evil’s desire to destroy us.
The blood of the Martyrs of Charleston demands nothing less of us. May their souls and the souls of all the departed, through the grace and mercy of God, rest in peace.