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They gathered to pray. They know that can get you killed. What an act of sheer faith and utter defiance.

 

 

The victims ranged in age from five to 72. Maybe the news story you read or heard about Sutherland Springs, Texas started in a similar way. Twenty-six dead. Killed while they were gathered in church, praying.

For those Christians who follow a liturgical calendar year, the shooting happened on All Saints, or All Soul’s, Sunday. One of the scripture readings for many Christians around the world that day who share a common lectionary was Revelation 7. The text is a vision of the faithful who have survived persecution and destruction, and are gathered to worship.

“Who were those champions still standing before the throne?” asked the pastor as he lit a candle and placed it upright on the altar. “Well, maybe one was…” and then he named a member of the congregation—not from the early Christian church of Revelation, but from our church—who died this past year. He lit a candle for each person, calling each by name and saying something about them, telling their story before we prayed.

Meanwhile, in Sutherland Springs, the shooter was entering the church. Twenty-six saints, gathered in prayer, dead.

Who are these champions?

Sutherland Springs is less than a half-hour’s drive from the small Christian college I attended. It is about two hours from the high school I went to in a Texas town even smaller than Sutherland Springs. This hit too close to home. But even for friends not from a small town in east Texas, it seems too much. Too many shootings, piling one on top of the other. Too many guns and too little control. From the lips of even those who are not religious, who are not consciously calling on any deity, come the words, “Dear God, what is happening to us?”

Who are these champions still standing?

Sunday night, in Sutherland Springs, they gathered to pray. They lit candles for their dead and asked Father God for healing for their devastated church and town. They gathered to pray. They know that can get you killed. What an act of sheer faith and utter defiance.

There are many names and images of God: Father, Mother, ground of all being, community, source of life. I have taken to addressing God as Abba-Papa-Mama-God when I pray. That’s a little embarrassing to admit, but I like the sound of it, the comfort of it. And I have no better name at this point in my life and faith journey.

Whatever you call God, we must call on something bigger than the tiny, fragile, finite life that we call our own. We must pray, not because we are deluded, lulled into a false sense of security. We have fewer and fewer delusions left. We must pray—and we must work—because it is who we are called to be in this world: the faithful, defiantly still standing and seeking healing for a broken world.

Desmond Tutu, former Archbishop of the Anglican Church of South Africa, who knows about praying, said: “I certainly know that I would not be able to survive if it were not for the fact that I am being upheld by the prayers of so many people.” Tutu, a champion of the faith by any measure, also knows a great deal about defiance and working to heal a broken world. They are for him, as they must be for us, inseparable.

Who are these champions still standing?

“Lord, listen to your children praying. Lord, send your Spirit in this place. Lord, listen to your children praying. Send us love, send us power, send us grace.”

 

 

Sources cited:

Lord, listen to your children praying. Lyrics and music by Ken Medeema, https://youtu.be/8UdemvD688g?list=RD8UdemvD688g

 

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