Shortly after noon today, we will ring the St. George’s bell 17 times as we remember the victims of the mass shooting on Wednesday at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. We ring in mourning for the dead. We ring for all those wounded in body, mind, or soul. We ring in the knowledge that every day, people die in violent tragedies and need our prayers.
What can we do, besides ring a bell? On Wednesday evening, we gathered for the Ash Wednesday service having heard the horrific news. Before the service I announced that there had been a tragedy in a school in Florida (I didn’t mention specifics, because there were young children present), and we sat in silence for a few moments and then began the service. For many of us the words of the liturgy provided the context many of us needed: remembering our human failings which result in so many tragedies, praying for God’s forgiveness and mercy, and receiving God’s unearned and bountiful grace which sustains us in the midst of the worst times. Part of what we do is gather and pray, over and over again.
After we pray, we are sent back out into a broken world to show loving compassion and courage. One of us may be the person God is calling to respond to someone who may be on the edge and needs the message of God’s love. One of us may be the person who speaks up for sensible policies around guns that can kill so many of God’s children so quickly. One of us may be the one who is willing to have an honest conversation with neighbors about the weapons in our community and how we can all work together to prevent such a tragedy.
In the wake of this tragedy, we will gather this weekend with our Lent speaker, Michael Battle. Yesterday, I asked him for his thoughts, and he said that this tragedy is another chapter of the nightmares we read about in the Book of Revelation. Revelation then shows us how God can turn us from the nightmares to a new vision of life. I look forward to those conversations about how, in the midst of horror, we can practice heaven together.
The Rev. Joe Hensley, Rector of St. George’s Episcopal Church, Fredericksburg, VA