And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
Last night, sleep eluded me. The brutal plight of South Sudan took its hammers and beat down upon the sidewalks of my mind. Distant neighbors and pastors, their last seconds of this life butchered. Some of these harassed peoples huddled in churches for safety but God left the doors unlocked.
The question of God’s willingness to give us no immunity this side of heaven jolts me as I look into the eyes of my wife and my children, my church community and my neighbors.
There in South Sudan, they say this December is the last month for life unless 50 thousand children can find food. Here in Webster Groves, Missouri, its the weekend.
Doing this Day is itself an Act of Protest
How do we do a weekend when the world rages? Psalm 37:1 stretches out a lane for our walk in the night. When evildoers prosper, it says:
Perhaps there in those African nightmares, these words would come too soon, heal too lightly. The vomit and the blood must first wash away in rivers of tears and time. Silent presence, the tearing of clothes in ash, collective cries, time spent bodily flung into the ground, spittle in dirt. Such acts of neighbor love and trauma must come first.
But here, for me, distant on this day, pacing in night, I must somehow trust, do good, befriend faithfulness and dwell as an act of defiance to violent living. These words form our version of “Don’t let the terrorists win.” We overcome evil, not by returning it, but by relentlessly persisting in doing that which is good (Rom. 12:21). We do what our African friends will one day do again, just as they will do on our behalf, should terror ever come to our town. In this way, love doesn’t quit but maintains its witness in the world. Remembrances of Eden, foreshadowings of heaven, both refuse to die.
Jesus’ Song When the Violence Came
I wonder. Is this why Jesus sang a hymn? Was it a declaration? Was he taking a stand for a way of life with God and each other?
Judas had just betrayed him. Peter was about to deny him. Gethsemane waited. Lustful injustice was about to publicly demean him and hammer and hack, hammer and hack him down. And yet, he offers food and sings a hymn. He toasts the mercy of friendship to the betrayer. He foreshadows forgiveness to the denier. He cries the agony of seeking shelter with God and finds God leaving the shelter unlocked and infiltrated. He gives voice to the forsaken question, “Why.” He offers a vision for community life for a mother and a son. He acts in defiance of the violence. Even his enemies hear him speak of their forgiveness. In all of this, He maintains an alternative way of life and grace for human beings. He pays for it. He purchases it. His song in the night takes its stand in opposition to their swords in the dark. And soon, with tomb emptied, the singing redeemer will rise!
The World in our Neighborhood. Our Neighborhood in the World.
So, I search the internet and type in “South Sudan Pastors,” and the like. I read articles, see pictures, cry and pray. And I also persist to do the mundane act of riding my mower. What else can we do? Beneath blue sky, I clear grassy space for children to play. Tonight, its Parent’s Night Out. Our home turns hospitable toward junior and senior high school students, who hope to raise money for summer camp.
Tonight, four and five year olds will romp and laugh about the yard and rooms. They will squish playdo and color with crayons. They will need warm washcloths for cheeks smudged by the enjoyment of chocolate chip cookies. From the closet I grab the red plastic table cloths made for disposable use. I spread out toys and turn living rooms into playgrounds, made for song and laughter, safe provision for scuffs and tears.
Afterwards, I check my phone to see who has called. Two African Immigrant pastors give voice to my ears. The irony settles in.
How do we do a day in our places when distant neighbors suffer and our personal skies are blue and easy?
We donate money? yes. We pray sleepless, earnest, aching? yes. We learn to weep with those who weep? yes. We go there? yes.
And sometimes, oftentimes, we also vigorously get on with noticing the world in our local messages. We take our stand by picking up the phone and answering the call. We ache, pace, weep and wail for our distant neighbors, remembering that in the shadow of the cross, Jesus sang. They cannot, not today, but we can on their behalf. We carry them in our hearts and minds, songs and prayers. Not trite songs that underestimate our horrors. But hymns from the shadows. Just as they too will carry on songs to God, if tears should engulf and drown our voices, on some future barren day. And soon enough, in the light of conquered tomb, the coming One will come again, and together, we will sing the song of peace, all at the same time. The Savior’s hymn in humiliation will turn to anthem amid his glory! And never again will God leave the shelters unlocked. Never again.