In light of recent tragedies, we decided to change the reading selected for our Advent Wreath to reflect our corporate sorrow and grief. We decorated the altar with butcher paper and wrote the names of the 27 victims of the Newtown, CT shooting in crayon. We also placed small tea light candles (28 of them) surrounding the Advent Wreath. In place of the reading, we read the names and ages of the victims, lighting a candle in their memory. (This was particularly difficult for me since my two boys were exactly the same age as many of the victims – ages 6 and 7.) With tears in our eyes and questions on our lips, we acknowledged that there was much darkness to overcome this advent season.
After lighting the candles, we went right into the message. We have been working our way through the Lord’s Prayer, phrase by phrase over the past 10 weeks or so. Sunday was the day we got to phrase “deliver us from evil.” Needless to say, the week’s events had already been an unwanted commentary on the passage that had been appointed for this day weeks ago. We talked about the various forms of evil, which I illustrated with concentric circles (cosmic, systemic, individual, internal).
Early on in the message, I handed out river rocks to everyone to hold during the message. Near the end of the message, I suggested that, just as a rock thrown into water creates ripples that moves ever outward, we needed to begin our response by praying for deliverance from the evil in our own soul. This, I said, would be the proverbial rock thrown into the lake. As we find deliverance for our own soul, it will give us strength to forgive individual evil in others (Matthew 5), confront systemic evil in our world (Ephesians 6), and ultimately see the defeat of cosmic evil through the Christ (Revelation 12). Similarly, the rock was a reminder of the words of Christ, “He who is without sin throw the first stone.” (You can hear the entire message here)
During the time of invitation, members of Ecclesia spontaneously began to get up and place their “stones” among the names and candles of the victims of the Newtown shooting. I knelt in the back of the church weeping, unable to control my emotions, as we sang these words:
Deliver me out of the sadness
Deliver me from all the madness
Deliver me courage to guide me
Deliver me Your strength inside me
It was an unscripted moment, a holy moment, a moment when God showed up and healing began for our little congregation. It was a moment for which I am thankful to have been a part.
God, I pray that the decisions made Sunday will take root in hearts and lives. I pray that the healing that began in our little congregation will be carried out into our community and continue to ripple outward. I pray that you will give me the courage to refrain from pointing fingers, unless they are pointed at myself as I acknowledge the sin in my own heart and the complicity I have in helping create the kind of world in which tragedies like this take place every day. Amen.