The Rt. Rev. David M. Reed, Bishop of West Texas, writes about the mass murders in Sutherland Springs, near the diocese’s see city in San Antonio:
My dear brothers and sisters, Lord, have mercy upon us. Christ have mercy upon us. Lord have mercy upon us.
I was in church at 11:30 yesterday, celebrating the Holy Eucharist, as were many of you, when a young man walked into First Baptist Church, Sutherland Springs, and murdered 26 people, and wounded 20 more, with an assault rifle. Young children and the elderly were among the victims. This evil violence felt all the more obscene because of the place that it occurred: in a little church in a little town, in a setting of familiarity, trust and safety.
Our world seems to be awash in bloodshed, with spasm following spasm of violence against the innocent. Certainly, the media magnify our sense of the pervasiveness of violence (while at the same time possibly numbing our ability to respond). But the awful fact is that the Sutherland Springs massacre is the worst mass killing in the history of Texas, and it follows by mere weeks the Las Vegas shootings — the worst mass killing in U.S. history. This one hits close to home, in part because Sutherland Springs is just 30 miles southeast of San Antonio, but maybe more so, because it happened in church during worship, in a place we rightly regard as holy ground and a sanctuary.
As I drove home from church, listening to the chaotic early reports of the shooting on the radio, I thought of Jesus weeping at the grave of his friend Lazarus. And I thought of Jesus, shortly before what we remember as Palm Sunday, looking out over the city of Jerusalem and weeping. Jesus wept — grief, mourning and lament overtook him, for love of the individual and for love of the community.
There are things we can do — things we, the Church, should do — in response to violence such as this. Bishop Brooke-Davidson and I will reach out, on behalf of the Diocese of West Texas, to the people of First Baptist and of Sutherland Springs, and assure them of our (and your) prayers and of our willingness to support them in their sorrow. If you have family or friends in the area, please let them know the diocese is ready to serve as needed, and then let us know. Please pray for the repose of the souls of those who died, for the healing of those wounded, and for their loved ones and their town.
We need to, perhaps, turn to prayers and psalms of lamentation — expressions of grief, sorrow and remorse — to pray as faithful persons who cry out to God in the face of ungodly and unjust horror. Such lamentation expresses an anguished sense of the absence of God, and also calls upon him to be true to himself and to his promises. It speaks out of the fear and darkness of present circumstances, and also trusts that God is greater. As an example, hear this portion of Psalm 88: “O Lord, my God, my Savior,/by day and night I cry to you./Let my prayer enter into your presence;/incline your ear to my lamentation./For I am full of trouble;/my life is at the brink of the grave.” (See also Psalms 3, 6, 13, 28 and 56)
While the desecration of God’s house adds to the awfulness of the murders, we should remember that assuring our own security and safety while at worship is not the goal. The kingdom of the Prince of Peace is intended for the whole world. The holy desire for the peace of the Lord, and our habit of exchanging it in worship, is meant to form us for how we live in the world, with our neighbors and co-workers, in our schools and towns. We are called to take “church life” out away from church and bless others with the same mercy, forgiveness, grace and love which we have received. Though theories will abound, we will likely never know why the murderer did what he did. (And what could we possibly learn that would make it “sensible” or “understandable”?) But we do know what we have been given in Christ, and we do know “the only Name given under heaven for health and salvation is the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (BCP, p. 457, based on Acts 4:12) We can’t solve violence in a fallen world, but we can act in so many ways, large and small, to stand against the myriad factors that contribute to the anger, despair and violence of our times. Spend time in prayer and in conversation about how your own congregation can be a means of healing and peace. By our words and in our actions, individually and in our churches, may we hold fast to our baptismal identity, renouncing evil and turning again to Jesus and following him.
The Psalms of Lament speak with blunt honesty about pain and suffering, both individual and communal. But out of that hurt, they lead back to a renewed and deepened trust in, and reliance upon, the living God: “But I put my trust in your mercy; my heart is joyful because of your saving help.” Last night, the people of Sutherland Springs gathered in groups large and small, and deep in their grief, lamented together and sought to turn again and trust in the Lord who desires for us not death, but life. They are, for us in this sad time, a grace-filled reminder.
Please be assured of Bishop Jennifer’s and my continued prayers, and our gratitude for the many ways your church brings light and hope in dark times. Know that we are available for conversation with you about ways your church might be a haven of healing and peace.