“’Comfort, comfort, now my people; tell of peace!’ So says our God. Comfort those who sit in darkness mourning under sorrow’s load.” ELW 26
“In deepest night, in darkest days, when harps are hung, no songs we raise, when silence must suffice as praise, yet sounding in us quietly, there is the song of God. When friend was lost, when love deceived, dear Jesus wept, God was bereaved, so with us in our grief God grieves, and round about us mournfully, there are the tears of God.” When through the waters winds our path, around us pain, around us death, deep calls to deep, a saving breath, and found beside us faithfully, there is the love of God.” ELW 699
These are the words of hymns that were posted to Facebook on Friday afternoon.
This is what we do in the midst of tragedy and need – we sing. We sing hymns from our faith; we recite psalms we know by heart. We pray the Lord’s Prayer. Why? Because these are words we can say when there are no words to say. It is what Jesus did on the cross, crying out the words of Psalm 22 – “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
In light of this, in light of the tragic events of Friday, this text from Philippians seemed all the more appropriate. Philippians is the Apostle Paul’s farewell letter to a congregation that is precious to him. While Paul’s situation is not the same as those in Newtown Connecticut, he is no stranger to darkness and evil, suffering and pain. He sits in prison as he writes this farewell letter, believing that it will be his last letter because he would soon be killed. The other side of it is that life for the Philippians wasn’t looking so good either. As Christians they were likely to be persecuted for their faith. So like a good mentor, a good parent, Paul gives them guidance about how to live their life going forward, in light of what is their ever-evolving reality.
He tells them to love one another, he tells them to find a way to come together, he tells them to not be selfish, but to consider other people before considering yourself. And then…he sings. He sings to them one of their songs, an ancient hymn, known as the Christ Hymn. Because that’s what we do when facing insurmountable struggles in this life – we sing. Because there are no other words.
Through this hymn, Paul reminds his people who Christ is: though he was in the form of God, he did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form. He humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death –even death on a cross.
Jesus empties himself. He takes the form of a slave. Jesus humbles himself to the point of death. Does that sound like a god to you? Does that sound like the all-powerful, all-controlling God? No. Which means, maybe as Christians, we have to remind ourselves that the god found in Jesus Christ, the god who created the heavens and the earth, the god who seeks always to give life is not like the god we often think about. God is so head over heels in love with this world that God pours God whole self out into the world. God empties God’s self. God is so in love with the world that God becomes weak and vulnerable. God takes on the very flesh of the world and becomes a part of it. God even loves the world so much that God is willing to die for the world.
This Christ hymn, this ancient song, says that Christ became a slave, a servant. A slave or a servant is one who bears the life of another on their shoulders. Which then means that to be like God means to bear the lives of others on your shoulders. Or to witness God at work in the world is to see other people bearing the lives of others. So, when we hear about teacher protecting her students, that is God at work in the world. When hear about a teacher reading to her students so that her voice would drown out the gunfire. When police enter to care for the wounded and when a coroner stays up all night to care for these precious bodies, that is God at work in the world.
So let us not forget who this God in Christ is. As this ancient hymn sings, the God found in Jesus is a god so in love with the world that he would become vulnerable and become part of creation.
Which means God’s heart was the first to break on Friday morning. And like most of us, God will not be comforted this weekend either. God will not be consoled. And that even God begs the question, “Why?”
May we remember that when all seems lost, when the darkness seems to have finally closed in on us, may we remember to sing. To sing the hymns of our past so that they might break through our hard hearts and bring to light the promises of Christ Jesus – to be with us. To stay with us. To bring light out of darkness.
I recently heard a story about a man who mother was in hospice for three weeks before she died. In that first week, he did everything he was supposed. He said, “I love you, Mom. Thank you, Mom. You’ve blessed me, Mom.” But after a week, you stop saying those things because to keep saying them seems to almost cheapen them. And instead, a certain type of silence falls into the room. In the second week, the family was gathered together keeping vigil one night and the room was filled with silence because no one knew what to say. And then all of sudden, one person started singing – A mighty fortress is our God. They were all Lutherans, so they all started to sing it together. After that, they started to sing every hymn that would come to mind out of the old hymnal. And then he said, “All of a sudden, it dawned on me…this is why we learn these hymns and psalms, for a moment like this.”
“In deepest night, in darkest days, when harps are hung, no songs we raise, when silence must suffice as praise, yet sounding in us quietly, there is the song of God. When friend was lost, when love deceived, dear Jesus wept, God was bereaved, so with us in our grief God grieves, and round about us mournfully, there are the tears of God.” When through the waters winds our path, around us pain, around us death, deep calls to deep, a saving breath, and found beside us faithfully, there is the love of God.” Amen.