Image created by Tim Hindes
This evening, we came from churches, synagogues, and mosques to gather together. We parked on the grass lawn of a local synagogue that, despite its massive size, did not have enough parking spaces for all of the people who came to grieve. In the wake of the tragic shooting yesterday at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Jews, Muslims, and Christians came together tonight to lament and to stand in solidarity, love, and unity in the face of antisemitism, hatred, and division.
Last Sunday while I was praying at church, I felt the Lord guiding me to Luke 8:2. For context, I’ll back up a verse and add verse 3:
After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.
I read these verses repeatedly, turning them over in my mind, and I loved thinking about Jesus surrounded by a following of women. As I read the verses, I felt Jesus’ love for women, and a thought–or perhaps I should say a deep longing–struck me. I knew suddenly and with great clarity that I want to be one of those women. I want to be a woman who is found wherever Jesus is; the more time I spend with Him, the greater my desire is just to be near Him.
While I was at the vigil tonight, surrounded by men and women of different faiths, ethnicities, races, and generations—people who decided to focus on love and unity instead of on all the ways we are different— our pastor’s sermon from this morning echoed in my mind. He read about Abraham showing hospitality to angels (Genesis 18:1-7) and said that the way we treat the stranger, the vulnerable ones, and the ones in pain is a direct reflection of our relationship with God. He spoke of our need to recognize people as coming to us from God and said that when we bless others, we are blessing God.
As I stood just outside the doorway to the synagogue sanctuary that was overflowing with people, I looked out over a sea of yarmulkes, hijabs, taqiyahs, and uncovered heads. I sensed Jesus standing next to me, directing me to keep my right hand at my side for Him to hold on to. We stood there together and bore witness to the voices offering words of encouragement, support, hope, and love. As the sound of Hebrew songs washed over me from the Jewish members of the synagogue, I thought of Jesus singing hymns with His disciples.
As I was leaving, I wondered why Jesus chose that moment to let me feel His presence standing next to me. A thought bolted into my mind with the suddenness that lets me know it did not originate from me: I had said that I wanted to be found wherever Jesus is, and this is where He was tonight. Of course He is all places always, but scripture says that He is near to the brokenhearted, so He can always be found right in the midst of those who are in pain. If we want to be found wherever He is, we have to be wherever there is suffering.
In one of my very favorite books, Tattoos on the Heart, Gregory Boyle talks about moving beyond serving others until we are instead standing with them. He writes, “If we choose to stand in the right place, God, through us, creates a community of resistance without our even realizing it. To embrace the strategy of Jesus is to be engaged in what Dean Brackley calls ‘downward mobility.’ Our locating ourselves with those who have been endlessly excluded becomes an act of visible protest.” When I am tempted to blame others and rage against those in charge, this is such a good reminder that standing with others is an act of resistance.
Later, Boyle writes, “Soon we imagine, with God, this circle of compassion. Then we imagine no one standing outside of that circle, moving ourselves closer to the margins so that the margins themselves will be erased. We stand there with those whose dignity has been denied. We locate ourselves with the poor and the powerless and the voiceless. At the edges, we join the easily despised and the readily left out. We stand with the demonized so that the demonizing will stop. We situate ourselves right next to the disposable so that the day will come when we stop throwing people away… Kinship is what God presses us on to, always hopeful that its time has come.”
In our passionate pursuit of Jesus, we will find ourselves drawn to places and people that we would not have seen or loved otherwise. The more I find myself wherever Jesus is, the more often I find myself among those who are hurting. And yet, as our capacity for pain and grief expands, so does our capacity for joy. When we allow ourselves to feel the full range of emotions involved in human experience, I believe that we actually become more human and connected to every other person in the process. Bill St. Cyr of Ambleside Schools International defines joy as “It’s good to be me here with you.” By that definition, this evening of sorrow was also one of great joy. Let us be found wherever Jesus is and find joy in standing with those who suffer as He stands there too, holding our hands and making us into instruments of His peace.