Even as the bodies of what we now know to be twenty-two dead or dying lay on the floor of a Walmart in El Paso, their names not yet know to the broader community, the police going about their harrowing duty of processing the crime scene as first responders care for 26 wounded. Even as anxious relatives waited for the news they feared the most, 12 hours and 35 minutes later in Dayton, there is another mass shooting and another nine deaths. In both cases, a white twenty-something man, carrying a military-grade assault rifle with a large capacity magazine were the perpetrators of these acts of domestic terrorism. In a matter of just a few short seconds, lifetimes of misery and hurt for hundreds of people are generated by these young men. Tears sting the eyes and stain the wailing faces of anguished parents and relatives, friends, and religious communities who gather to mourn the dead and try to find comfort and solace in the communal act of solidarity — trying to make sense of the senseless and finally plunging the depths of despair. “Why”? Why O God? Why do we do this to ourselves time and time again? They are echoes of centuries of senseless loss.
The prophet Jerimiah reminds us that a voice was heard in
Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing
to be comforted because her children are no more. Rachel is the wife of Jacob and
the mother of Joseph and Benjamin. But the text is more than that, Rachel is
the mother of the Patriarchs who will later lead the country, see its exile and
then be restored. Rachel weeps not just for her flesh and blood but for the
loss of a nation. Her wails could be heard in Ramah, the place where the Judean
exiles were gathered before being taken to Babylon. Rachel herself dies in the
cries of childbirth with Benjamin in the area we understand Ramah to have been.
She never reaches the land promised to Jacob, Rachel’s agony in the birth of Benjamin later becomes a
picture of the painful waiting of the sons of Israel for the promised Messiah.
You know it’s all well and good to offer ‘thoughts and prayers,’ but sometimes you need ‘shouts and swears.’ I do not think I am alone in saying the teleprompter led President Trump, giving his lackluster and superficial address to the nation in response to the domestic terrorist attacks was the antitheses of the authentic voice of present-day ‘Rachels’ who again saw her descendants lives cruelly taken at the hands of a homegrown white supremacist terrorist. I pray that today the President may be more authentic in his actions and his words. If we are to begin to look for lessons from all of this that we as a nation could learn in these times; one would be that words matter. The Nobel Laureate writer Toni Morrison, who died yesterday, said this in receiving her award. “Oppressive language does more than represent violence; it is violence; does more than represent the limits of knowledge; it limits knowledge. Whether it is obscuring state language or the faux-language of mindless media; … or language designed for the estrangement of minorities, hiding its racist plunder in its literary cheek – it must be rejected, altered and exposed.” Language and rhetoric that stokes the fires of racism and nationalism does have consequences, they are being played out in the shopping malls, nightclubs, and streets of our cities daily, sometimes, with deadly consequences.
As Christians, we are called to love one another, to offer the hand of friendship to the stranger and comfort to the afflicted. We should roundly condemn all forms of hatred, bigotry, racism, and white supremacy. To do anything less is allow the weeping and mourning of Rachel to go unheard and unheeded. Amen.