I was getting ready for a busy Sunday at church when I saw something on my news feed about a “shooting in Orlando.” I thought little more than “Here we go again” as I put the finishing touches on my sermon. A sermon on the Greatest Commandment, as it happens, the command to love.
At church someone mentioned it to me, saying it looked like the worst mass shooting in American history. I raised my eyebrows at this with a “Really?” and knew I’d have to check it out once the church day was done.
By the time I heard the full story it was already late afternoon. My mind was filled with Sunday school wrap-up, church picnic and races, church people’s stories and faces—and my sermon from the morning, that sermon on the Greatest Commandment, the command to love.
It’s a strange feeling, that grief you feel for someone you never knew. Especially when it’s multiplied 50 times, then multiplied again for their parents, sisters, brothers, and friends, then multiplied yet again for the injured, the traumatized, and all their kith and kin.
I was numbed into silence, this strange grief an ever-present aura even as we went about a normal Sunday evening as a family. Talking, teasing, laughing. Eating, cleaning up, singing. Playing games, watching hockey, praying. That’s what we did. And always in the back of my mind—all those families, what were they doing?
Mourning. Weeping. Consoling each other. Seeking answers. Demanding an end to all this death.
No doubt some were ashamed. Ashamed of their child, where they were found. No doubt some of these felt a pang of guilt at their flush of shame, maybe even greater guilt at the way they had treated their child, the things they had said, or left unsaid.
I can’t think of any recent tragedy this close to home visited by so many of the scourges currently plaguing humanity. Homophobia. Religious extremism. Gun violence.
When will we repent of our stark greed, our desire for power over others, our willful ignorance and fear of the other, our propensity toward violence in word and deed? We who have power and privilege—especially middle-aged, white, straight males like myself—when will we be willing to set aside our own desires and needs, to give up our own rights and privileges, to ensure a better future for all of us together?
In other words, when will we be willing to follow Jesus?
I grieve that strange grief for those I do not know, those who have died, those who have been injured, all their families and friends. But I grieve another grief as well, a grief for those touched more indirectly—yet just as truly—by this tragedy.
I grieve for LGBTQ+ persons, who have already borne the brunt of so much misunderstanding, rejection, and violence, even in places that should be safe spaces, like homes and churches. O God, may you keep them safe in the aftermath of this horrific act of hate.
I grieve for Muslims, the vast majority of whom simply want to live in peace and safety with their families and friends, able to practise their religion and work an honest living and watch their children and grandchildren grow up. O God, may you keep them safe from backlash to this horrific act of hate.
And I grieve for all humanity, sometimes even despairing for the human race, until I am reminded of God’s relentless love, and the moral universe’s long-bending arc toward justice, and the many times in human history when heaven has broken through the hell of earth, resurrection bursting out from death. O God, may your kingdom come, your will be done, your kingdom without borders, your will for justice and peace, on earth as it is in heaven.
Love will win. Love must win, or we all lose.
One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?”
Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’; and ‘to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself’—this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” (Mark 12:28-34)