A sermon of tears

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Reverend Andrew Taylor-Troutman prays for peace. Troutman leads Chapel in the Pines, which opened its doors to all church communities to participate in an ecumenical vigil for lament and action after another horrific mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, last month.
Reverend Andrew Taylor-Troutman prays for peace. Troutman leads Chapel in the Pines, which opened its doors to all church communities to participate in an ecumenical vigil for lament and action after another horrific mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, last month.
Staff photo by Kim Hawks
Posted

On June 9, at Chapel in the Pines Presbyterian Church, nine different readers stepped to the lectern and took turns reciting each of the 65 mass shootings in this country since November 2018. After each tragedy was named, the reader added, “Give to the departed eternal rest.”

The congregation then responded, “Let light perpetual shine upon them.”

I doubt I will ever forget this experience.

I knew it would be an emotional evening. I have three young children in a local elementary school and preschool, and the vigil was prompted by the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas.

I had already cried several times in the previous weeks while watching news coverage, reading an eyewitness report of a doctor and researching the lives of the two teachers killed in the classroom, Eva Mireles and Irma Garcia.

But that evening as mass shootings were remembered, one after the other, I cried in a different kind of way. I wept.

When I was a child, about the age of the victims of the recent school shooting, I memorized Bible verses in Sunday School. The easiest one to remember was John 11:35 — “Jesus wept.” Only two words!

As an adult, this Bible verse has moved from my head to my heart. Jesus wept at the death of his friend, Lazarus. Weeping occurs at the pain of loss and the injustice of death. Tears of grief, sadness and anger. I imagine we all weep, for to live is to suffer loss.

But such grief is generally reserved for private times, either alone or with our closest family and friends. At least, that is true for me. In public, I bite my lip and swallow the lump in my throat. I think there are occasions when this is justified. After all, it’s hard for the service to move forward if the preacher is crying a puddle on the floor, right?

Or, do the tears preach for themselves? When Jesus wept, the onlookers did not respond with criticism. They didn’t tell him to pull himself together! “See how he loved him!” (John 11:36.) Jesus spoke a lot of words, yet those tears gave voice to how he felt. We say a picture is worth a thousand words. Perhaps the same is true for weeping.

At the vigil, I sat near my colleagues and fellow worship planners, the Rev. Larry Neal of Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church and the Rev. Brent Levy of The Local Church. At the start of the litany of mass shootings, I tried to keep it together.

But looking at my dear friends, I saw their tears. Something shifted inside me. And I let the floodgates open.

Toward the end of the service, I offered a few words from the pulpit. I hope they were helpful.

What I know is that, when the service was over, a worshipper from another congregation approached me at the door. She reached out and held my hand between hers.

“Pastor, I saw your tears — that was the best sermon.”

Andrew Taylor-Troutman is the pastor of Chapel in the Pines Presbyterian Church.

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