"Alongside Babylon’s streams, there we sat down, crying because we remembered Zion."
Psalm 137:1 (Common English Bible)
The day started like any other day. Getting up and getting dressed came easily because I didn’t know what the rest of the world already knew. After a busy day on Wednesday, I fell asleep earlier than I had planned, not getting any of my work done, but resting peacefully. So Thursday morning came, I dressed and walked to the Classic Center where United Methodist pastors were in “holy conferencing” all week, in our annual business meeting. But when I walked into the Classic Center, something was different, and after Bishop Michael Watson started to speak, I knew what it was. The nearly 3,000 people gathered were hushed in silence, prayerful, remembering.
We don’t expect that meeting in a church on a Wednesday night for a prayer service is a dangerous thing. We don’t even think that when our husbands or wives or children leave home to go to a church service, they won’t be coming home. Several families of the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina probably were like us, not thinking that disaster would strike during a normal prayer service, but it did, and several of our Methodist brothers and sisters were killed or injured on Wednesday evening. While we were safely tucked into beds or reading just one more bedtime story to our children, others were shocked, hurting, crying, grieving the loss of precious family. Their loss touches all of us, regardless of our denomination, for they were our brothers and our sisters in the Body of Christ.
The Psalmist’s words reflect our own feelings: “Alongside Babylon’s streams, there we sat down, crying because we remembered Zion.” On Thursday, as the news sank in, I remembered my six years of living in Charleston, of seeing Citadel Square churches on a weekly, or sometimes daily basis, never dreaming that this would or even could happen. I cried for my Methodist church family in Charleston. I cried for my Low Country friends – knowing that their security has been compromised and their world has been rocked. As Bishop Watson called for Methodists and Christians everywhere to remember our kindness and our common bond in Christ, to lay aside bitterness, hatred and contempt for one another, and to love others with the love of the Lord, I shed tears of compassion and grief for friends and for those that I don’t know who are touched by this senseless act of violence. The Psalmist looked back on the oppressors, and while hurting and crying, called down revenge on the oppressors. But unlike the words of the rest of Psalm 137, Bishop Watson reminded us that Jesus calls us to peace and compassion and praying for our enemies. Indeed, the rest of the week was spent remembering those families that are hurting and praying for the heart of the attacker to be turned to love instead of hatred.
Jesus reminded us that in this world, we will always have trouble and hunger and sickness and violence. “I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In the world you have trouble and suffering, but take courage—I have conquered the world.” John 16:33 (New English Translation). Jesus came to live and die and rise from the dead to remind us that death is not the end. At the end of it all, God has the final word: “I heard a loud voice from the throne say, “Look! God’s dwelling is here with humankind. He will dwell with them, and they will be his peoples. God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more. There will be no mourning, crying, or pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” Revelation 21.3-4 (CEB).
So where was God on Wednesday night during the prayer meeting? God was already holding those who would lose their lives as they met in prayer. God was already holding those whose loved ones would not come home, and was crying with them because sin wreaks havoc in the world. And God was whispering in their ears, “Don’t be afraid and don’t be troubled. I have conquered hell and death and I am alive forever more.”
Yes, we will continue to have senseless violence and sorrow in this life, but remember that “weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes in the morning.” Psalm 30:5b (Common English Bible). Do not be afraid. Do not lose hope. Continue to pray for the comfort of the families, the peace of Charleston, the peace of Jerusalem, and the peace of the world.
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
Rev. Jan McCoy is the Associate Pastor of Covington First United Methodist Church in downtown Covington. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at www.covingtonfirst.org.