A pastor addressing a group of seminary students uttered that phrase Monday afternoon and it has been swirling in my mind ever since as I have tried to distill my feelings and thoughts in the wake of the horrendous events that unfolded this past Sunday in Texas. It has been a challenge for me to give voice to everything in my heart regarding this tragedy, In this post I don't intend to offer a theology of suffering or a recommendation of what a practical "gospel" response to the threat of violence looks like.
When the shooting at Sandy Hook happened I was a school teacher and I couldn't help placing myself in that situation and realized that, given how I knew I would have responded had it been my school, Kelsey would have been a widow that day. That event hit close to home in a way no other tragedy ever has. Until Sunday.
I couldn't help but think of my congregation and to put myself in the place of the Pastor Frank Pomeroy. I can easily imagine the special variety of survivor's guilt he will struggle with. Shepherds always feel that they are responsible to be present with their flock, especially in times of great trial. He is simultaneously mourning the loss of his daughter and 25 members of his church. He is simultaneously juggling his personal grief, the ordinary burden a pastor carries when ministering to a grieving family times 25, and a national spotlight as the country's attention asks him to already render decisions about the future of his facility.
So while there are many thoughts I have regarding many theological and practical matters, none of them are clear because I can't shake the thought of what that pastor is experiencing and what I would be doing if in his place. Because whether we like it or not, what was said to me on Monday is true: the sanctuary is not secure. For centuries it was true that church buildings served as physical sanctuaries from violence because even the most lawless brigand respected the sanctity of the church. That has not been true for some time and Sunday was just the most recent reminder. And yet it is important for all of us to lean in to the other truth I encountered Monday from Isaiah 49:16 - "Yahweh has engraved you on the palm of his hand." In an insecure time, we as his people, sheep and ungdershepherds (aka sheep), are always and ultimately secure, carved into the hand of our heavenly Father. So we can say with another sheep: what can separate us from the love of God? Shall terrorists or madmen, trucks or guns, hurricanes or wildfires? No! In all these things we are more than conquerors through Christ.
See you all Sunday at the sanctuary.