As the one year anniversary of the Pulse tragedy approaches, I feel compelled to share a blog post which I published last year in reaction to our collective shock and sadness. Prayers and tears continue for the victims, their families and the community. +GOB
When I heard the news, I was sitting in the airport in Louisville, Kentucky, my CNN and Twitter feeds exploding. My natural reaction was to keep the horror of this event at a distance, keeping my heart safe from grief and outrage. But slowly, as an answer to prayer, the sadness, the weariness, the empty silence of mourning poured in.
So how can I condense what God has shown me since the horrific morning of June 12?
The answer is simple. I can’t. But because I care for the people all over the world who have been touched by Orlando’s Pulse tragedy, with the help of God, I will try.
- As someone has said, the deeper the grief, the fewer the words.
That’s how I feel. Words of condolences have little value in the face of this carnage. For right now, all we can do is grieve, pray, and support the family and friends of those who have died as best we can.
I will leave it to others to look for someone to blame. Instead, right now, all I want to do is stand aside, pray, and love. There will be time later to raise questions about security, gun violence, and homophobic rage. There is no justification for this atrocity. I categorically condemn what has happened. Better solutions must be found.
- Love is stronger than death.
The promise of resurrection brings courage. And the promise of a new heaven and a new earth should fuel all of God’s people to help build a better world. After all, what Christians pray is “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
- People are holding us up in great love and in prayer.
In my office alone, I’ve received words from Michael Curry, the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church, as well as Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury in London, England, who took the time to write a handwritten note and then send it as a .pdf email. I’ve heard from friends in Egypt; the Congo; Korea; Canada; Pakistan; Honduras; Nigeria; and Paris, France. People are supporting us in love and prayer as well as in countless vigils across the planet.
- In spite of this horror, the magic is not gone from our city.
I adapt these words from Jon Gillooly, an Orlando native and editor of a newspaper in Macon, Georgia, who notes the many reports of kindness and heroism amidst the pain: The Marine who worked as a bouncer at Pulse and found a way to help 60 to 70 people escape. The mother who lay on top of her son to protect him, she dying, he alive at that club. The heroism of Dr. John Corsa and his blood-soaked tennis shoes as well as that of the first responders and all those who served at Orlando Regional Medical Center.
Jon writes, “That magic is alive and well. Not in the form of a fantasy theme park, but because people came together during a terrorist attack to help their brothers and sisters.”
- We have a long way to go before “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.”
Here, I present a story of contrast sent to me in a private email by a young man who loves The Episcopal Church. He tells of growing up and being forced to come out of the closet in high school as a gay young man because he confided in a friend. That friend began to spread the story, and it didn’t go well.
This young man writes, “I was physically assaulted throughout my sophomore year of high school.” He is now a college student, so it wasn’t all that long ago. “I didn’t want to talk about it,” he says. “I wound up joining the football team just to cover my injuries as sport-related accidents. I did not want to tell my parents how it happened, because I knew I would only sadden them and cause them to walk in the fear that I already knew.”
Sadly, even in our own community, while the Pulse attack was horrific and out-of-the-ordinary, something terrible happens when you’re gay. You fear the day the shoe will drop and you will be rejected next. As an added layer to this tragedy, the majority of those who died in this massacre were Puerto Rican, another minority group in our culture.
Truly, we have a long way to go.
- We gather under the extended hands of Jesus, who says with tremendous passion and timeless relevance, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28).
Here, you see, is the great leveler. No matter who you are, no matter how many times you want to point the finger at a “them” rather than a “you,” we come into God’s presence and find all kinds of people gathered: friends, neighbors, enemies, people with whom we are theologically in disagreement, people who would oppose some of the things that we say and believe.
And yet it is here that we gather. Because it is here, in the presence of the God who made the whole earth that all of our own stories and experiences are brought into alignment. And that is only something God himself can do. Without that kind of community as well as the presence of God, all you have left is yourself.
Why walk in such aloneness?
- God has put a hunger in our hearts for eternity.
Yes, I can take solace from others, who will certainly stand with me. But no human presence answers the void inside, not entirely.
Because people are temporal, just like I am. They are broken, just like I am. They have their faults and their gifts and their graces, just like I do.
It is always a miracle when two broken people can finally find a way to align together into a relationship that bonds us. But the fact is that outside of this great presence called God, who fills us and shows us love (which is what we see in the face of Jesus), even the best of our relationships never entirely take care of the hunger that will not let us go.
We all have a hunger for something larger than we are, to know something more than we presently know. And it is that curiosity, often playful, sometimes demanding, that invites us into a presence bigger than ourselves. We look to God with a hope beyond hope that the words of Revelation about the place where there is no pain or grief, where God wipes away every tear from every eye, can in fact be true. We look to God with hope that we, by the mercy of God, not because we deserve it, can in fact know a foretaste of that kind of love right now.
Because that’s what we see in the face of Jesus Christ.
- Christ’s love will give us the fuel we need to both know and to extend mercy.
His love is stronger than anything that we would bring into his presence, regardless of how beautiful or how vile and ugly. And because of that, all of us, all those who have died, including the shooter, are invited to gather underneath the cross of Jesus Christ and know his forgiveness; and his mercy; and his great, great love.
So I would ask, open your heart to that God, that as we go forth from these days, we will have what it takes to build this better world.
Because that love is stronger than death.
Because that’s what he’s given to us. Nothing more, but certainly nothing less.
Because that’s what love does. It extends mercy. It gives mercy.
What has God shown you through the Orlando Pulse tragedy? Share this blog and your comments on Twitter and include my username, @revgregbrewer.
(This post is an adaption of Bishop Brewer’s sermon on June 19, 2016, at the Vigil for Healing and Hope, the Cathedral of St. Luke, Orlando.)
Unless otherwise noted, scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.