Early this morning in Aurora, Colorado, a young man entered a movie theater, unleashed a gas canister and began shooting at those in the theater. As of now, 12 of those people are dead. More than 50 are injured. Countless more are frightened, traumatized, dazed. Families who sent loved ones off for an evening’s entertainment are sitting across empty tables too numb to even think about what has happened, let alone understand it. And somewhere, the family, friends, neighbors, schoolmates and co-workers of the man who did this are in shock - shock that they didn’t see it coming or shock that their own worst fears have been realized. And in ordinary towns across America, people are holding their children just a little tighter, looking over their shoulders a little more often.
On the blogosphere and around the internet, already people are lining up shouting, “ not enough guns” or “too many guns” . . . calling names at those across their own divides . . . while in the eye of the storm in Aurora, four people gather on the street and hold hands and pray.
It is that image, finally, that moves me to tears . . . tears of hope in the midst of hopelessness and despair . . .
And so today, let us offer up our own prayers . . . for prayer is the first, not the last, the most, not the least, that we of faith have to offer . . .
God of all grace . . . of all things loving . . . of all caring . . . God large enough to encompass a universe and small enough to fit in a baby’s tiny grasp . . .
Help us to do the hard work of prayer . . . the knee-falling kind of work . . . the praying-for-enemies-even-when-we’re-not-sure-we-mean-it kind of work . . .
And so we begin not where we want to, with the fallen . . .
No – we begin with the one who felled them . . .
They say his name is James – James Holmes . . . but we know better . . . we know his name is “Beloved” . . . Beloved by you . . . made by you . . . nurtured into being by You . . .
And we know this is not your image in him which did this ugly thing he can never go back from . . . but we also know that forgiveness is there for him – right there in Your cross – the place we call Calvary – the place where you cried out “Forgive!” – for ‘they know not’ . . .
The truth is, Father of us all, we don’t want you to forgive him – not really – we know we should, but we also know he has earned his suffering. So before we even pray for his forgiveness, soften our own hearts that we might bring this prayer to you in a genuine spirit of love for him . . .
We seek from you, O God, not cheap or easy grace – no, we seek the grace of the cross – the most expensive grace there is – and we seek it for James, whom we call as you call, Beloved.
Melt him, O God.
Mold him and mold him again until he comes forth restored into your own image.
Walk with him in the days and weeks and years granted him to come. Especially walk with him in the horror when the enormity of what he has done finally dawns upon his spirit. Help him to bear it.
Send him ministering angels and human hands of care who see him as Your beloved.
And as we pray these things, help us to mean it. Help us to remember and to live out enemy love as your own divine command for the working of your kingdom.
For those who have died, they have no need of our prayers, for they now rest into your care and there is no better, safer place.
But they have left behind loved ones – family and friends, people who will try to make sense of the senseless, who will seek comfort – some from you – and some from anywhere but you. For those already in your arms, we give you thanks, even as we know they suffer, for we also know their suffering is borne in your arms.
For those who would claim to know you not, please hold even tighter to them. When they seek out the numbing of a bottle or a pill or a blank screen television . . . if they descend into anger or despair . . . when, having nowhere else to take their pain, they turn on each other, make your healing presence known . . . enter their hearts and lives in ways they cannot ignore . . . answer the prayers they do not even know they are uttering . . .love them as only you can . . .
And we pray for us as a nation . . . help us not to turn on each other in blame and recrimination . . . grant us the space of mourning, for you have told us that there is a time to mourn, and this is such a time . . . remind us of your nearness especially when we doubt and cannot sense your presence . . . lead us into your silence – . . . [SILENCE] help us to hear your still small voice that whispers “I am here” . . . “You are not alone in this – you never were” . . .
And now, O Lord, we say together to our own comfort, your 23rd psalm:
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.