Along with many of you, I have found myself devastated in these last days at the news of the murders of the nine who had gathered for prayer and study last Wednesday night at Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston. As Presiding Bishop Eaton of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America so eloquently wrote in her statement of June 18:
It has been a long season of disquiet in our country. From Ferguson to Baltimore, simmering racial tensions have boiled over into violence. But this… the fatal shooting of nine African Americans in a church is a stark, raw manifestation of the sin that is racism.
The church was desecrated.
The people of that congregation were desecrated.
The aspiration voiced in the Pledge of Allegiance that we are “one nation under God” was desecrated.
“Why does this seem worse?” asked a member of my congregation at our coffee hour this morning. We pondered it for a moment and only came to this. It was in a church. A sanctuary. A place where one and all should always be safe.
And so yes, not unlike the two described in the stories before us now, it seems as though this gaping wound will never heal. Indeed, these two or those closest to them at some point must have despaired — not believing that life in all its fullness would ever be theirs again. How this must have been especially true for Jairus once he received news that his daughter had died. Oh, how we are like them — for we — all of us in small towns and cities, in our communities where we all look alike and most certainly in those places where the colors of our skin are more diverse. How we are like them. And yes, it seems to me, we have been hemorrhaging for a whole lot longer than twelve years. And I myself wondered for at least a moment this week if all hope of anything different had finally died.
I find myself to be so very blessed to serve in a community where we don’t all look alike. Oh, like most every place I know, we have not yet found a way to welcome greater diversity into our pews on Sunday mornings. However, if you are living in this community, it is simply not possible to be so isolated that we are not deeply aware of the differences between us. Differences which begin with the pigment of our skin which all too often painfully end in markedly different experiences of this world. At least our common experience of living with such differences makes it easier and more immediately important to talk about it. I know this is not necessarily the case for all of you.
So it is that last fall I sat at a volunteer hospital chaplain’s lunch with a colleague who is African American. We were trying so hard to talk about what had happened in Ferguson in my congregation and we found ourselves stumbling in our attempts — feeling as though we were just talking to each other. And we were. I leaned over to Pastor Joe Mitchell and told him what we were trying to do. I pleaded with him, truly, asking what we could do. And the next day I got a call asking if we would host the next Beloved Community Dinner.
These monthly gatherings have been a start at least. We gather in one church fellowship hall or another. We bring food to share. We do our best to ‘mix it up’ — sitting with people we don’t know who don’t look just like us. We have listened to one another’s stories. We are starting to know one another’s names. And histories. And hopes.
Last Thursday afternoon I called up Pastor Joe. The news of this horrific event in Charleston was the only thing on my mind, and yet I found I did not know what I would say to him. When we did connect on Friday morning, I was stumbling all over myself trying to find words. I knew, I know of course, this is not about me or us and I did not want to sound as though I thought it was. And yet, I knew we needed to talk about it. Or at least I knew that I did. I hoped he would think so, too.
Mercifully, he stopped me. And he suggested that we worship together.
And so on Tuesday night at 6 p.m. we will gather at New Hope Missionary Baptist Church here in DeKalb for worship.
But here is what Pastor Joe was really suggesting. He was saying that together, like the woman in our story now — together we touch the cloak of Jesus.
Will the devastation that racism causes be immediately healed as this woman experienced so long ago? Oh, I expect not. But it must be so that the simple act of turning to Jesus together will go a long ways. And perhaps, as with her, doing this together will at least stop the hemorrhage and then maybe we can get on to the work of restoring life between us and among us.
For beyond the miraculous physical healing this woman experienced in the presence of Jesus, this was perhaps her true healing: this being able to again be fully a part of life in her community. And as long as we are separated along racial lines? We are all as cut off from the life God intends for us as she was before she made her way through the crowd and touched the cloak of Jesus.
And this we can be sure of. There were, no doubt, a whole lot of things to be figured out for her as she found her way back into life in her community. It probably was not all easy. But once the bleeding stopped? Once she experienced that first healing? All the rest was possible as well.
- In your setting, in your worshiping community, how have you responded to the horrific event at Mother Emanuel A.M.E. church in Charleston? Has this prodded you to further action? Why or why not?
- Very often illness isolates. This can be especially so when it is suffered over a long period of time as it was by the woman in our story now. Is it fair to compare our experience of and with racism to the illness which isolated her? Why or why not?
- What does it mean to you to touch the cloak of Jesus? What is it that you will be able to do once the bleeding stops?